9 Principles of Human Behavior Every Leader Should Know, Part 2

July 24, 2021

Every great leader knows that employee buy-in is the secret to successfully growing a sustaining business. Every great leader also knows that it’s not easy gaining this level of trust from their employees. The 9 Principles of Human Behavior1, created by leadership systems experts Dr. Ian MacDonald, Dr. Catherine Burke, and Karl Stewart, give a basis for understanding how to be the leader that your employees need. Last week we went over Principles 1-3. This week we will dive into Principles 4-6.

Principle 4: People Will Form Cultures Based on Judgements

People make judgments on their surroundings all the time and these judgments affect how they perceive the culture around them. For example, in the employee handbook and at multiple meetings you’ve told your team that unexcused lateness is unprofessional it will result in a write-up. One of your front desk workers shows up 30 minutes late to work without notice or answering their phone. Once they arrive, they start working as if everything is okay. You see how that was unprofessional of your employee, but you don’t like to get involved with office drama and rather focus on dentistry. Instead of writing them up for unprofessionalism, you have a one-on-one conversation on why that isn’t okay. Your staff is annoyed by this because their environment suddenly became unpredictable and anxiety-ridden, and their leader did not stand up for the standards and culture of the practice. This makes your employees ask questions and thoughts like: 

Is it favoritism? Why is it okay if they do something to hurt the team? Is my boss too afraid of conflict to stand up for us? I bet I would’ve gotten in trouble, why is that person special? My boss doesn’t care to protect the culture of the practice. 

I don’t trust my boss to protect how I feel.

These opinions and thoughts are often discussed among coworkers and those who resonate start to view the culture as a lie and their boss as a foe rather than an ally. By not sticking to the established culture and employee handbook, judgments have been made on your leadership ability. These judgments will divide your employees and create subcultures within the practice rather than one that everyone aims to uplift. Even as a boss, it’s imperative that you adhere to the culture just as much if not more than your employees do.

Principle 5: Change is a Result of Dissonance

Hand-in-hand with Principle 4, change in the culture of your practice or in your employees is a result of dissonance. People need stable environments, as discussed in Principle 2 (hyperlink). When there is instability, there will also be dissonance among your employees. Dissonance is a sign that growth needs to occur. Dissonance is not always negative; it simply means a change in behavior. However, as a leader, it is your task to make sure there are no practice cultural or behavioral changes as a result of instability, culture shifts from judgments, or distrust between boss and employee. Dissonance or change in behavior occurs when expectations of our work environment and coworkers or boss change. Take time to understand how dissonance is created and how to sustain any changes by remaining consistent so that your team can rely on you as their leader.

Principle 6: It’s as Important to Practice Emotional Intelligence as it is to Practice Dental Intelligence

Your employees believe in you as a dentist. They believe that you are an expert and that your work is important. However, it’s just as important for you to have strong soft skills such as being able to listen with empathetic ears, creatively solve problems, collaborate with your staff, and make the daily decision to work on your emotional intelligence just as you do your dental skills. A leader’s emotional intelligence directly impacts employee satisfaction and employee turnover. Leaders who may need to work on their emotional intelligence may commonly:

  • Lack of flexibility.
  • Devalue the opinions of others.
  • Fail to consistently show the same amount of respect for every employee.
  • Focus more on being a final voice than seeking win-win solutions.
  • Value hard skills over soft skills.
  • Work as a solo player rather than a team member.
  • Lack the ability to be open and comfortable with employees2.

If you identify with any of the qualities above, don’t panic! Everyone should constantly strive to improve their emotional intelligence just as most professionals continually strive to improve their professional skill sets. By committing to strengthening your emotional intelligence, you’ll see results like:

  • Less employee turnover.
  • Higher employee satisfaction.
  • Higher patient experience.
  • Better team engagement and teamwork.
  • Practice growth and improve internal systems.
  • Better culture.
  • Employee-buy in.

These principles can get pretty heavy! But we think that principles 4-6 are some of the most common struggles at dental practices. Sometimes it’s easy to think that being a boss and being a leader are the same thing. In our next blog, we’ll wrap up the series by going over Principles 7-9.

Looking to improve employee buy-in?

We’ve helped practices grow positive cultures that employees and dentists alike are proud to be a part of.

Whether you’ve begun to grow your practice’s culture or are just realizing it may be time for a change, we can consult you through creating employee buy-in into your practice.


[1] Ian McDonald, Catherine Burke, and Karl Stewart. Systems Leadership : Creating Positive Organisations. Aldershot, England: Routledge, 2006. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=270452&site=ehost-live.

[2] Arnod-Thomas, Manya. “Understanding Emotional Intelligence Can Help Alter Problem Behavior.” Physician Executive 30, no. 5 (September 2004): 36–39. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=16435701&site=eds-live&scope=site.