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How to fit a round peg in a square hole


When managing staff, it is important to remember that employees are unique in their own way and want to be treated as individuals, so you should treat them as such.

Take-home: When managing your staff, it is important to remember that your employees are unique in their own way and want to be treated as individuals, so you should treat them as such.

Dianna E. Graves

Putting It In View By Dianna E. Graves, COMT

Growing up, one of my favorite holiday specials was “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

My mom would make sure all the baths were done, line us up on the couch, make cocoa with real marshmallows, and for one hour, we’d quietly be mesmerized by Hermie the Dentist and Rudolph. Once the Bumble emerged, my sister would spend the rest of the show watching from behind the couch-convinced the Bumble would enter the living room at any moment.

As I grew older, and still watched, the lessons began to emerge. Subtle at first, but then amazingly, more profound through the years.

King Cornelius and Charlie in the Box began to focus on each of our non-conformities. Now we politically correctly call them our differences.

I no longer looked at Rudolph as the savior of Christmas and the highly coveted toys he helped Santa bring. I looked more to King Cornelius and how he gave hope to all the unwanted toys on Misfit Island.

Each Christmas Eve there was hope that this would be the year Santa would come and take them-regardless of their nonconformities.

Applying to real-life situations

As I became a manager, and tried to find my practice style, I spent a long time trying to figure out how I would/could become the type of leader people would want to work for -and to follow. How could I get staff to buy in to my program?

I bought books, took management classes and quietly listened to conversations of managers/administrators who were more seasoned than me. I took class after class showing me how to manage my staff using staffing grids and flow charts, and then I would dutifully concoct my own charts so I could work to convince the staff that these charts would help us attain our mission statement. If we followed the grids, and the flow charts, we too would succeed.

I called it drinking the Kool-Aid.

But, not everyone would. Some even had the audacity to question the end goal or recommend variations to it.

In my younger days, I often frowned on this behavior for they weren’t conforming, or complying, with the mantra. Begrudgingly, I would try to change the flavor of the Kool-Aid. But instead of everyone going along with my new end goal, new nonconformists arose.

So, out would come the hammer.

One way or another, I would prove that you could get a round peg in a square hole. And for a while, it worked to some degree.

Until the next holiday season, when I would watch the Island of Misfit Toys and realize that I wasn’t allowing their nonconformities to help our practice, I was beating it out of them if they wanted to stay here and work. Then the New Year would begin, and the lessons were lost again to the hubbub of keeping the staff moving in the same direction.



As the nieces and nephews arrived in my life, I became the auntie that went to the movies with them. I had libraries of these movies for when they dropped in. I began to realize that each movie afforded me an education that the $5 ticket price never intended.

Kermit the Frog singing that it was ok to be green, Donkey and the love-struck dragon in Shrek, and Nemo realizing that he really didn’t have it so badly before he was snatched by the Dentist. It opened my eyes that my staff were these characters-each one in a different way-but uniquely different still the same. I was going to need to adapt to their uniqueness in order to get the best from them.

Most staff members want to do a good job, but at the same time, they want to be acknowledged for being themselves, not a peg that fits comfortably into a universal hole.

Staff members don’t want to be a duplicate of a mold-they want, and need, to embrace who they are within the group.

Now as I get older, I am finding that the newer employees are highly individualistic, and what we worry about when hiring new staff is not a concern to them. They look at what they bring to the clinic with their skills and knowledge, not the vessel it arrives in.

They seek new ways to express themselves individually. Just take a look around you: tattoos abound, piercing in more than your earlobes, and hairstyles. I remember the first time an employee in the OR came to the clinic with a Mohawk.

Seeking a solution

Where do we -or better yet, should we-draw the line?

The answer lies within you.

Yes, I agree. We are in a professional field and patients don’t want to see an employee covered with tattoos-I think. Yet, come to think of it, no patient has ever complained to me about the technician’s hairstyle, hair color or that they had a brow piercing.

Of course we have a dress policy: If you have a tattoo, I don’t want to see it. facial piercings are also not allowed at work.

But, I will admit, that when I had recent surgery, it did not bother me at all when the ICU nurse answered my bell at 3 a.m. having her eyebrows pierced.

What I do remember was that she spent 20 minutes gently rubbing my back to help the spasms I was having, and kindly checking my vitals while apologizing for waking me up again.

Recently, I was asked by a hopeful new manager who the most influential person had been to me when I was developing my manager model.

I smiled broadly and said: “King Cornelius, King of the Island of Misfit toys.”

Then I made a quick note to myself that when I got back to my office, I needed to remember to throw away my hammer-again-and then I needed to stop at the hardware store for some new sandpaper to help smooth the edges off of some of my pegs I have in the clinic, and maybe a few of my own. This way we would all fit comfortably into our round holes that we call clinic.



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