Build a Practice Staffed by Partners, not Order-Takers


by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

“Here, take the rope,” said riding instructor Ryan Rose as he handed me a black lead rope that I connected to my horse Belle’s halter in the outdoor arena of a local stable. He was holding onto the other end atop his horse Pistol assuring me that he could help. (I was at Parelli Custom Camp…my version of the Ironman!)

I climbed on my horse and realized I was gripping the reins hard—my stomach gnawing with fear. The outdoor arena was a wide open space filled with horses and riders doing all kinds of impressive exercises together. The indoor arena was full so it came down to work in this outdoor space or do nothing (and we’re not quitters!). You see, Belle and I had not ridden in a wide open space much before. (Unless you count a few rides that I’d like to forget.) We have always had the safety of rails or walls should things get “interesting.” Belle really likes to express her high spirits. She is more “go” than “whoa” as they say. My mind was filling with stories about how Belle might take off and we’d end up bewildered in Idaho. 

Ryan encouraged me to concentrate on my riding while he kept me safe. I was instructed to shadow him like a game of Simon Says. Things were going fine until Belle decided to nip at Ryan’s horse Pistol. All of a sudden the horses were moving fast and fighting with each other and I started to fear the worst. Just as my wild imagination started to fire up, everything came to a halt. It was still. I was okay. Ryan did what he said he would do.

It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Ryan gave me the experience that strong leadership feels great. It allowed me to relax, focus and learn because my needs were supported. Being a leader is about taking care of others so that they can grow. It is giving and kind.

Have you been on the receiving end of true leadership before? After this moment, I reflected that I had been acting like a lone ranger feverishly looking out for myself and trying to stay safe. It was holding me back from riding out in open areas the way I had wanted to for years. Accepting and trusting Ryan’s leadership was vulnerable, but it felt amazing and took us to the next level. Belle and I spent the rest of the clinic smashing through our past limits and trusting each other. It was so much fun!

How about you? Even if (especially if) you’re the formal leader of your practice or team I invite you to try it. Can you accept the leadership of others—particularly from those who report to you? Dynamic partnerships allow for flexible leadership depending on the people involved and the tasks underway. In this situation with this particular task, Ryan was the appropriate leader who could help me with the task of learning to ride confidently in a wide open space. As a business owner, you are technically the “leader” of your practice. Do you shoulder the full responsibilities of all leadership because of this role? 

If so, here’s what you’re missing: -New, fresh ideas from others -Engaged staff who act like partners -People who work and solve problems independently -A higher level of confidence exhibited by your team-Solutions to problems from people who may be better at something than you are -Reduced turnover -More investment in individual performance as well as the practice as a whole -Your own freedom to innovate -The ability for you to focus on the urgent instead of the important -A higher level of productivity and efficiency as the team deploys its full strengths and talents -A more strategic and effective use of talent

If you believe that you always have to lead you will create an environment of people who always have to take your orders. They will watch the clock and act more like employees and less like partners. This is to be expected when the environment is the classic boss versus employee model. 

If you want to run your practice in a new way, start by examining your own beliefs about leadership. Are you open to being led? What would it feel like to let go and have someone else take care of leading while you focus on something else that needs your full attention?

Once you have experienced what it’s like to relax into the leadership of others, you are prepared to become a new kind of leader. When you lead by taking care of others so that they can grow, it is safe for your team to take risks, try new things and feel valued and supported. True leaders understand that helping other people do their best work is the mark of the most skilled leader—not a flashy display of power. Try “holding the rope” for your staff as they explore new, unknown terrain. The safety you can provide will allow for a level of performance that isn’t possible without you.

Leadership creates relaxation, not conflict. Leadership inspires people to take a risk, not take unquestioning orders. Leadership is service, not control. Leadership builds up, and never tears down.

Coaching Tip Many leaders are wary of accepting the leadership of others because they fear a loss of control. It’s true! You will lose some control. What’s so bad about that? My hunch is that your need for control may be in the way. Start with letting go of low risk tasks. Watch how your team handles them. You may be pleasantly surprised that a new way emerges when someone else tackles something. Relax into the feeling that leadership isn’t doing everything yourself (what’s the point?!), it’s more about delegating!