Five powerful leadership and culture-building statements

Dr. Joel C. Small discusses how to cultivate shared values and a common purpose

Edgar Schein, a noted authority on the subject of organizational culture, has stated that the primary job of a leader is to establish an organization’s culture. An organizational culture is considered to be the guiding principles that dictate how people work together to achieve a common goal. It has its foundation in shared values and a common purpose as well as other less tangible beliefs and assumptions shared by members of the organization.

Schein is not alone in his opinion as other distinguished authorities refer to the undeniable link between leadership and an organization’s culture. The leader is both the architect and the guardian of an organizational culture. Unfortunately, many of us fail to realize that we serve in this capacity and that like it or not, we cannot delegate this vital role that is so essential to organizational health. We have only to observe well-functioning, highly productive clinical practices to substantiate this statement. If we could pull back the curtain, we would find that every successful, highly productive, and well-functioning clinical practice has two essential ingredients — an engaged leader and a strong culture.

Having studied and witnessed both effective and ineffective leadership practices in healthcare organizations, I have come to the conclusion that there are certain types of statements that serve to define a strong leader and help build an optimal culture. It is not necessary to use these phrases in their exact form. Please change them to suit your specific comfort zone. My purpose is to present a different style of communication that has been shown to be highly effective in promoting strong leadership and developing optimal cultures.

“Tell me what you think.”

I know of no better way to empower staff and provide them with a sense of relevance than to ask their opinion on important practice-related issues. They not only will feel more a part of the team, but also will be more willing to offer helpful suggestions in the future. We will be more prone to ask for their feedback as well because we will likely find that they have valuable insights. Like my coach often says, “No one is as smart as all of us!”

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”

I am a firm believer that unless we are willing to be vulnerable, we will never fully realize our leadership potential. We often worry too much about being “right” and fail to acknowledge the importance of being “real.” Our team appreciates that we are knowledgeable, but they also want us to be approachable. A healthy mixture of both is the proper prescription for sound leadership and a healthy culture.

“How can I best support you?”

Checking in with team members is an important way to let them know that we care about them and what they are doing. This is also helpful in ensuring that team members feel as though they have received adequate resources and training to complete tasks. Ultimately, we will no longer need to ask. As our team realizes that we are interested in their success, they will willingly let us know what they need to be successful.

“How does this action align with our practice values?”

When actions and decisions are aligned with our shared values, our culture is operating at peak performance. Post the practice’s values throughout the office for everyone to see and refer to. (You do have shared values for your practice, right?) Whenever we need to evaluate our actions or decisions, we should ask this question of ourselves and others. There is no greater form of accountability than living our values.

“No one is perfect, including you and me.”

Mistakes will happen. What is important is to determine the intent. If someone has the right intention but makes a mistake, we have an incredible opportunity to show what leadership and culture is all about. This is a time to soothe the pain rather than demean the person. By accepting a well-intended misstep, we are then able to create a powerful teachable moment by asking a critical question: “What did you learn from this?”

I can almost guarantee that you will notice significant positive change in your staff’s attitude and performance if you become comfortable using these phrases. How do I know that communicating in this manner is effective? I know this because this form of communication is the foundation of executive coaching and has a long and proven track record for achieving results. Currently, I am working on a program designed to bring a coaching culture to clinical healthcare practices. The concept is to train healthcare professionals in basic coaching concepts, so they can improve their leadership skills and create a strong vibrant culture in their practice. Expect to hear more about this in the near future.

*If you have not already defined your practice values, please contact me and I will send you a step-by-step practice value exercise.

Joel C. Small, DDS, MBA, ACC, FICD, is a practicing endodontist and the author of Face to Face: A Leadership Guide for Healthcare Professionals and Entrepreneurs. He received his MBA, with an emphasis in healthcare management, from Texas Tech University. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas postgraduate program in executive coaching and limits his coaching practice to motivated healthcare professionals. He is a nationally recognized speaker on the subjects of leadership and professional development. Dr. Small is available for speaking engagements and for coaching healthcare professionals who wish to experience personal and professional growth while taking their practices to a higher level of productivity.

*To receive a free copy of my “Core Values Exercise,” please contact me at I am also available for a complimentary coaching session to discuss your practice-related issues.

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