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Why it matters and how you can get there
It’s a question that every business owner faces: Am I working in my business or on my business? Can I even recognize the difference?
When you’re working in your business, you are absorbed in the daily, essential tasks of operation. Most owners find themselves immersed in every aspect of their practice, from financial management and bookkeeping to marketing, on top of treating patients. Practice owners often function like uber-employees—with a hand in every detail, and direct involvement in nearly every decision and action. It’s exhausting, and the reason why many physical therapy and chiropractic practice owners become what I call “overwhelmed operators.” (Do you know what type of practice owner you are? Take this quiz to find out.) It’s not an efficient, effective way to run a business, much less grow a business.
Working on a business looks very different. When you’re working on your business, you’re spending time thinking strategically, understanding where your business is and where you want it to go—and putting plans into action to get you there. You’re implementing systems that improve workflow, productivity, and profitability. You’re putting your time where it is most valuable, working with your own identified strengths and relying on the strengths of your employees, so you don’t have to be involved in everything. It’s big-picture work that involves vision and creative, strategic thinking.
Making the shift from working in your business to working on your business is essential to growth. It’s also essential to your work-life balance, and to your financial success. Experts in the fields of business development and management point to key components that allow you to re-direct your work from “in” to “on.” They include:
- Goal setting
- Time management
They’re right. These are all important functions that can enable you to work on—and grow—your business. We’ll be looking more closely at each of these in upcoming posts.
Here’s the reality, though. Depending on your approach to these areas, it’s possible to be working on your business or working in your business. As an example, let’s look at hiring:
You’re hiring frequently. In fact, you’re in a revolving-door hiring cycle, with people coming and going continually. In this scenario, you are responding to the immediate needs of your practice—and very much working in your business.
You’re implementing a hiring process that can recruit and train a cohesive team—and taking concrete steps to develop an organizational culture that makes them want to stay. That’s working on your business.
It is important to focus on planning and goal setting, on time management and delegation and hiring. But there’s another element that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough, and it’s the piece that can make all the difference: your mindset. Your mindset influences your perspective, your thought patterns and emotions, your decisions. It will affect how you hire, how you delegate, and how you manage your time. Addressing mindset is one of the most important elements of the coaching I do with my clients.
What is mindset?
When I talk about mindset, what do I mean, exactly? A mindset is a system of beliefs and attitudes. Your mindset encompasses your view of yourself and of the world around you: your own abilities and the abilities of others, your experiences, and the possibilities for your business and your life. Your mindset influences your perception (of yourself and others), as well as your experiences and decisions.
Mindset is complicated terrain. Each of us holds a unique mindset, created from our experiences going back to our earliest years, shaped by our family and friends, our culture and geography, and our personality itself. I wrote recently about the spectrum of mindsets that exist, and the ways they can be useful. All mindsets have value and purpose.
When it comes to working on your business, one mindset is especially relevant and important: The growth mindset.
A little background. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who has spent decades conducting groundbreaking research on motivation, learning, leadership, and achievement, divides mindset into two primary types: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. (Dweck has written and discussed her work in numerous articles and in her book, Mindset.)
A fixed mindset views abilities, intelligence, and personality as essentially static. When you operate with a fixed mindset, you know what you know, and are who you are. That fixed set of skills, intelligence, and character is what you have at your disposal to work with. A fixed mind tends to operate to avoid failure. This mindset is sensitive to negative feedback—and also more apt to dole it out.
Working with a fixed mindset tends to discourage a lot of rigorous self-reflection and self-awareness—because with self-awareness comes recognition of not only our strengths but also our biases, flaws, and mistakes. In a fixed mindset, acknowledging biases and weaknesses feels threatening. The fixed mind must constantly must constantly demonstrate mastery and prove itself flawless—an impossible (and stressful) task.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, sees abilities, talents, and perspective itself as things to be developed with effort, attention, and strategy. Challenge, setback, and failure are not enemies to a growth mindset: they are opportunities. Asking questions, learning new things, seeking help and guidance, admitting (and capitalizing on) mistakes are all hallmarks of a growth mindset. When we’re in a growth mindset, we recognize it’s not innate or current abilities, but effort and willingness to learn and develop that leads to success.
If you recognize some parts of yourself in the fixed mindset, you’re not alone! We’re all a mixture of mindsets, and most of us have spent a lot of time in a fixed mindset, without even knowing it. What Dweck, and other researchers and scientists, have learned is that mindset is malleable. With attention, we can adapt and adopt new mindsets.
How a growth mindset helps you work on, not in
The growth mindset is a mindset that embraces change. It is flexible and adaptive. It looks for opportunities to learn. It employs critical thinking without a rush to judgment. It stays observant to its own needs, and to the needs of situations and other people.
The growth mindset enables you to look clearly and honestly—without fear—at your own strengths and weaknesses. That rigorous self-examination is essential to your ability to shape your role as a business owner, and the leader of your practice team.
Let’s look at a specific example of how growth mindset can change an approach to delegation:
In a fixed mindset, delegation might look like this:
You’re hanging on to tasks for as long as you possibly can, thinking to yourself, ‘I’m the only one who can do this right.’ You often underestimate how much time you will need to get everything done. You wind up passing tasks off at the last minute, when you’re overwhelmed or missing deadlines.
In a growth mindset, delegation becomes something very different:
You practice a system of delegation that is based on trust, clear understanding and expectations. Your employees are empowered to do the work they do best, without your micromanagement. You are able to focus your time, effort, and attention where it is most effective.
It’s not only people that can have fixed or growth mindsets—organizations can, too. In recent years, Dweck and her research team have studied organizations, and found fixed and growth mindsets among teams of people. Growth mindset teams focus on effort and potential, collaboration, and professional development. The researchers have found that overall, growth mindset organizations have more committed, motivated employees and stronger cultures of innovation. As the leader in your practice, you have the opportunity to cultivate a growth mindset with your team. But it starts with your own.
What I’ve learned about mindset
It’s possible to have a growth mindset as a clinician and a fixed mindset as a business owner. We’re all a mixture of mindsets. You may have taken a growth-minded approach to your clinical work—seeking mentors, asking questions, focusing on personal development—and still, when you became a practice owner, have fallen into a fixed mindset.
Just knowing about mindset can stimulate change. Learning about what mindset means, and what it can do, stimulates self-awareness. The act of reading this article is a demonstration of growth mindset. When you leave this page, you can use this new knowledge and self-awareness to begin to recognize when you’re in a fixed mindset, and see those moments as opportunities to try a growth mindset on for size.
Mindset is a daily practice. Adopting a growth mindset isn’t like flipping a switch. Ah-ha moments happen for all of us. They feel remarkable—the world looks suddenly different, and we can’t imagine going back to before. But frankly, we don’t go on to live in those moments of exceptional clarity forever. Like gratitude, mindset is something to cultivate every day.
Tending to stress is critical. Healthy routines of self-care, including managing stress, make just about everything easier, including your ability to adopt the right mindset. Unchecked stress interferes with our ability to think creatively, clearly and strategically. Recent research indicates we can change our mindset about stress itself, allowing us to respond more positively—with perspective and flexible thinking—to stressful situations.
Your ah-ha moment matters. My tipping point—when I accepted that I needed to change not only how I operated my business, but also my mindset—came when a fire destroyed my practice. It took my business burning to the ground to prompt me to change my mindset and my approach to running my physical therapy practice. The good news is, it doesn’t need to be a catastrophe this that brings you to a point of real, lasting change. Do you know what your ah-ha moment was? It’s worth identifying and keeping in mind. These pivotal moments can serve us well as reminders and barometers of change and growth, and as motivation.
Change is gradual—but it can happen much faster than you think. It took me nine years of experience (with lots of trial and error), study, reflection, and self-examination to transform my own practice and to create The Practice Freedom Method. Today, I work in my Foundation Program with practice owners who achieve the same amount of change in 18 months it took me nine years to accomplish. I’ve seen it again and again: the right mindset—which includes the ability to seek coaching and support—speeds up the process exponentially.
Where does treating patients fit in?
Here’s a truth that might surprise you. Working on your business is actually the opposite of working as a clinician. Treating patients is often the biggest barrier that keeps clinicians from working on their business. I can almost see some practice owners raising eyebrows: “How can that be? Treating patients is what I studied and trained for—it’s what I do!”
When you decided to become a practice owner, your job and your mission fundamentally changed. It’s not that patient care is less important—far from it. The mission of your practice is to provide exceptional treatment and care for your patients. As an owner, your mission is to lead and develop that practice, for the benefit of yourself, your staff, and your patients.
That fundamental change requires a shift in mindset that many clinicians don’t make. Most aren’t even aware it’s a shift they need to make. It’s not their fault. The education and training you received as a chiropractor or physical therapist prepared you to care for patients. It didn’t teach you how to build and run a business. As a practice owner, the perspective that has served you well as a clinician now can limit and hinder you—without a shift in mindset.
Cultivating a mindset that embraces change and growth is the foundation of the bridge that carries you from clinician to practice owner and entrepreneur, and from working in your business to working on it.