I came to realize that a strong leader never works alone.

When things are going well, it's easy to rely on the notion that, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But at one point during my 40 years in the hearing health industry, it took a brutal run of misfortune in 2009 to give me a wake-up call that screamed, "IT'S BROKE!"

The reason it took a screaming wake-up call was because I was too busy to listen.

A primary quality of a leader is that they have presence, and I had tons of it - but just for my patients, and not my staff. It took almost losing my practice in 2009 to make me realize the critical balance between the two, and that one won't exist without the other.

The calm (and success) before the storm

Before 2009, things were going well for me. I was closely engaged with AHAA, regularly attending their quarterly owner meetings and annual convention. Their expertise combined with the peer-to-peer networking at these events was contributed to my success at the time.

Looking back, it might have been the success we were enjoying during this time that enabled me to stay in a sort of cruise-control mode in running my business. Nothing felt broke, and nothing appeared to need fixing.

Suddenly in the deep

Staff turnover...two words that still make me cringe to this day. What happened was not so much a result of unhappy employees, but instead something no business owner can avoid: life!

In 2009, in a relatively small amount of time, my scorecard read like this: an audiologist left due to pregnancy; a front office person left to open a bookstore; a second front office person moved out of the area; and a billing person accepted a position elsewhere.

I was happy for all of them, but at the time, it seemed like everyone was either packing a box with their things to leave, or unpacking and getting trained.

All this transition magnified the need for stronger leadership, and showed me how skewed my priorities were...strong on the patient care side, but practically non-existent on the business operations side.

I went on hiatus from working with AHAA (ironically, it felt like the right thing to do at the time), and my chaotic management of two practices wasn't working out for any of us.

I did a lot of hiring (many didn't work out), and spent very little time with new employees. I'd explain to them what they'd do, then check back with them only occasionally. My means of communicating with my staff was to encourage them to put their questions on sticky notes where I would find them.

Even my patients felt the pinch. I would read chart notes and realize several were coming in time after time with the same problem. Well-meaning front office employees were helping them without bringing it to my attention. So on top of not giving patients the type of help they needed and deserved, it was being done repeatedly!

My revenue went down 13%, and at the time, I didn't fully understand why.

You may be hearing a lot these days about cognitive dissonance. Well, I can tell you that was a picture of me. It was hard for me to separate my feelings as an audiologist when helping patients versus what I needed to be doing in order to keep my doors open. I now realize they go hand in hand. Lesson learned!

No more holding back

I had previously learned about the concept of an audiology practice DO (Director of Operations) at an AHAA owner meeting back in 2007. I didn't take the thought of hiring one seriously, but the time came to reconsider after what happened at AHAA's 2011 Convention.

At an audiologist session, we were given an exercise that gauged our leadership skills and abilities. My results, and the advice I received afterward, inspired me to make a sweeping statement when I returned to work: I AM HOLDING OUR PRACTICE BACK!

I was proud to admit that, and even prouder about what I did next. In a true act of strong leadership, I decided to bring in a DO that would organize and strengthen us all as a team. This wasn't easy for me...I was still skeptical about the idea. It felt too much like an experiment.

The right moves in the right direction

By the end of 2010 and into 2011, we were again working closely with AHAA, who had people working with us in our office practically every week. Their guidance touched our entire staff.

My front office people learned how much the patients enjoy and appreciate us keeping in touch with them; my PDR was trained on approaches for gathering physician referrals; my audiologists learned not to shudder when hearing the word "sales" (another point of cognitive dissonance).

And about that DO experiment...his influence was immediate, as he filled the management gaps that I couldn't. A mutual trust and personal connection was formed between him and my entire staff, and he methodically moved us through all the right things that needed to be done in order to settle things down.

We've not only recovered from any losses we experienced, but are showing measurable growth year after year. The optimism I feel about our future has never been so high, and my stress level has reached a new low.

Patients no longer come to see me

I think I realized what my dream was after it came true. I've noticed that our patients no longer come to see me for their appointments - they come to the practice. It tells me that they enjoy more than just my care. It tells me that they enjoy the entire experience of visiting our practice.

Having every employee clearly understand what is expected of them and how they contribute to each patient's journey to better hearing helps them understand that their jobs are just as important as mine.

That reminds me of another dream, but this one has yet to come true. I want the future of our practice to stay in our hands. I'd like to see one or more of my audiologists take it over someday, and make their own dreams.

I'll do my best to lead them there.

Does Linda's story sound familiar?

She is clearly an audiologist and businessperson that cares for her patients and employees. But at one point, it took a string of unlucky events to make her realize that having strong leadership in place is crucial - during good times and bad.

How about you? Are you leaving your dreams to chance, or are they in the hands of strong leadership? Let me show you how great the other side of your door can be.

Tina Soika   |   800-984-3272 x306   |   TSoika@ahaanet.com

American Hearing Aid Associates
800-984-3272 | www.ahaanet.com