Optometrist leadership has never been more important than now for eye clinic growth. Patients are becoming more like eye health consumers than just patients. Employees are more exposed to global knowledge with ever-changing working demands. With all these changes, the eye care industry is overdue for management and leadership disruption. Therefore, as optometrists, we must develop leadership skills just as is required in other industries.
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
-John Quincy Adams
Leaders have always been classified as born or made. I personally believe leaders can be either. Even if born a leader you must still develop yourself. If not born a leader, you can develop yourself into a great leader. As an optometrist, even if you are a born leader, you still need to develop as an optometrist leader.
We are quick to condemn politicians, especially those elected to serve. We easily forget that most professionals are leaders in one capacity or the other. If for instance, an election is required for leadership roles in your eye clinic, will your staff vote for you to be the CEO? Would you need to manipulate them to support you?
We will all agree that managing people must involve some form of leadership. The question is: who is a leader and what does leadership mean?
What Is Leadership For An Optometrist?
According to the Professor in a course, I took – The Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Managing People at Work, defining leadership is difficult. It is not as easy as we could define optical principles which are proven by research. In fact, he made reference to Bass who pointed out in 1981 that the definition of leadership is almost as many as those who have tried to define it.
For instance, 3 authors gave 3 different definitions as follows:
Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts towards goal achievement in a given situation.
– Hersey and Blanchard in 1988.
Leadership is a process of influence between a leader and those who are followers.
– Hollander in 1978.
Leadership is the influential increment over and above mechanical compliance with the routine directives of the organization.
– Katsankan in 1978.
You may wish to see a pdf article of many definitions of leadership
One definite and common leadership keyword in the above definitions is influence. A leader must influence a group of people towards some defined goal. This simply means there must be a vision broken down into goals before a leader can even influence.
In your eyecare business, your leadership as an optometrist must be hinged on a vision beyond attending to patients and dishing out prescriptions.
What is your vision for your practice? What higher impact do you want to make in your community or the larger society. Can those who work in your clinic clearly identify your higher purpose? Is there a well-defined culture in your clinic?
The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.
-Theodore M. Hesburgh
You are not the leader in your eyecare business just because of your ownership. You will only be leading if your employees are willing to follow the vision you champion. In other words, you could be the leader but not effectively leading.
What Are The Optometrist Leadership Traits?
The traits that are usually applied to other leadership roles are equally applicable in an eye clinic setting. According to Dr. Lauretta Justin in her article- 5 Traits of an Effective Leader, there are five qualities a leader must adopt to become effective. They include
1. Be a good listener –
To be a successful Optometrist leader, you must be able to listen so to be able to communicate effectively. According to Dr.Lauretta, being a good listener also requires you ‘to be aware of body language, facial expressions, mood, and natural behavioral tendencies.’ The outcome will be increased trust and loyalty. When you embody this as an Optometrist, you will be able to effectively influence those you lead towards a common vision.
2. Communicate with your team –
If you take the first step of listening to understand, you will then be able to communicate most effectively. As an optometrist leader, you must be able to let every stakeholder see the bigger picture and willingly align with it.
3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes –
Own your mistakes and give room for others to make mistakes and learn. This creates room for increased creativity and personal initiatives.
4. Surround yourself with smart, talented people –
The goal of a true leader is to get on board those who will complement his strengths.
5. Always be looking forward –
Whatever you can imagine, you can achieve. A true Optometrist leader is a dreamer, who is always ready to explore ideas to discover growth possibilities.
How Can An Optometrist Develop Into An Effective Leader?
John Gerzema and Will Johnson in their book, the Athena Doctrine, surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries. For the modern leader, they discovered the following traits – empathy, selflessness, collaboration, expressiveness, flexibility, and patience were among the traits most correlated to the ideal modern leader. On the other hand, they found independence, aggressiveness, decisiveness, and controlling as counterproductive.
The modern-day business environment requires leaders to expand their skills and competencies. For you to develop as an effective optometrist leader, you must hone these skills. Some steps you can take include but not limited to the following –
1. Enroll In Leadership Online Courses and Webinars.
The unfortunate and deadly coronavirus pandemic has also shown how much can be achieved through digital platforms. There are a lot of online courses and training to avail If you want to become an effective optometrist leader able to enhance your eye clinic growth. Some like coursera and edX are free unless you want to pay for a verifiable certificate. Some programs come in the form of specializations for an in-depth study. I will highly recommend Strategic Leadership and Management Specialization which I have personally taken.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
-John F. Kennedy
2. Interact With Business Leaders Outside The Optometry Industry
The business works with a universal framework. To be able to enhance your eye clinic growth as an effective optometrist leader, you must embrace business leadership principles. Your perspective will remain narrowed if you only interact with and learn from those within the eyecare practice. Networking with other business leaders and managers will help you understand the business climate, keep up with the ever-changing consumer behavior and understand evolving business models. You will learn more creative and innovative ways of growing your eye clinic beyond what is common in the eye care industry.
3. Join Business Associations And Trade Organizations
Nigerian Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (NASME) is one association my Nigerian optometrist colleagues should join. Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) is another top choice. Joining such associations will help you keep abreast of the latest business trends and government policies which can affect businesses irrespective of the industry. They also afford you the opportunity to network and build relationships across industries.
4. Develop Your Communication Skills.
A leader who will be able to influence people towards a common vision must be equipped to communicate effectively. The importance of great communication skills can never be overemphasized. It embodies every trait you would need to effectively lead as an optometrist. It will bring together all you have learned, align them with a shared vision, and effectively impress on others to follow.
“In many ways, effective communication begins with mutual respect, communication that inspires, and encourages others to do their best.”
– Zig Ziglar
Leadership matters a lot. This is especially true for you as an optometrist who wants to grow your eyecare business towards a sustainable competitive advantage. Being an optometrist leader means having the willpower to say, “follow me.” It means being able to have a vision for the future or what needs to be done. You must be able to give your followers the power to make things happen. To bring yourself to this vantage position is to learn, interact with other business leaders, join business associations, and develop your communication skills and more.
The more you work on acquiring leadership traits and practicing the behaviors of leadership, the more you may be able to improve the overall quality of the workplace experience for your employees.