Leadership / How to Run a Dental Practice

The Global Leadership Summit is a 2-day speaker series on leadership sponsored by Willow Creek Association. The original Global-Leadership-Summit-LogoWillow Creek church is based in Chicago and it has grown under the leadership of Bill Hybels to support hundreds of local churches across the world. The Summit is telecast through 300 member churches and seen by 260,000 people.  Promoted as not just for pastors or ministry leaders, but for all leaders, I attended this year and found inspiration and practical application.

Top Takeaways

After 2 days and 8 pages of notes, here are the ideas that most impacted me. To be honest, I missed a couple of the speakers as the two days of the summit were also my kids last two days of summer, so I did a bit of running back and forth. So, these notes are not intended to be a full representation of the summit – but there were some powerful ideas I thought you could use. And, if you have read my blog for any period of time, you know I’m always trying to figure out how to apply new ideas, I’ll share my thoughts on that as well.

#1 – Yes, you can teach leadership, but it’s more than a simple process – the intangibles make it great.

Bill Hybels started off the summit with a presentation on the Intangibles of Leadership. Grit, Self-Awareness, Resourcefulness, Self-sacrificing love for others, Sense of meaning. Bill shared that in the past, he believed that by following a rather prescribed process, one could improve their leadership. However, he also observed many leaders blowing up and taking their organization down with them, which led him to look for, as Paul Harvey would say, “More to the story”.

We all like the idea of grit – persevering for decades, never giving up. And, most leaders like to think they are self-aware. According to some research though, we all have 3.4 blind spots. A blind spot is where we think we are great at something, but everyone knows we really stink at it. His personal example was that he believed he was cool under pressure and never let his stress show – but discovered through good friends and difficult conversations, that in fact, he showed massive stress under pressure. The best takeaway here was to realize – these are blind spots – you don’t know what they are! Once we figure out (through feedback from trusted supervisors, staff, friends) what our blind spots are, then we can move them up into weaknesses.

Resourcefulness suggests that people are more creative under constraints. So, for dentistry, that means having a budget isn’t a bad thing – it’s a constraint. Even Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar talked about setting constraints on his design teams in order to increase creativity. (And money certainly isn’t a constraint for them!) Self-sacrificing love for teams – do the work personally to get to this one. Sense of meaning – discovering your white hot why. Bill referred to Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why  – in dentistry, we know our What is to provide dental services, our How is through private practice, but what is our Why? The why is individual to each practice owner – and finding it is key to inspire and lead your team. People join purpose – and you can do this in your dental practice.

To do:

  1. Find your white hot why – and then talk to your team about it. How can you all make more of your focus about accomplishing this white hot why?
  2. Realize you have 3.4 blind spots – start to acknowledge that you need feedback to identify these so you can at least be aware, and at best, understand them as weaknesses.

#2 – Reframe your failures into a story about growth

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great spent two years at West Point to learn more about leadership – one of his best points was to take your stories of failure and change them into stories of progress. Jim talks about serving a cause that inspires us (I think this should tie in with our white hot why) and acknowledging we’re going to have struggles and failures along the way. But instead of telling ourselves that our failure is due to our inadequacy or lack of skill or some other negative-sounding, slam the door on our dreams kind of way – change the way you tell the story to one of learning a lesson.

Dr. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly (her TED talk is one of the most widely watched, ever) says it best – that we are constantly telling ourselves stories about what’s happening. Since women are quick to tell themselves terrible stories about appearance and men are quick to tell themselves terrible stories about weakness, we first need to realize that we may be telling ourselves negative, terrible stories. To change that, we have to own the story – we have to realize we are the author of the story – and then we can change the story’s ending. We can make it all about our pursuit of a BHAG and just one more challenge in our life toward our accomplishing our white hot why.

To do: Think about your most recent “failure” and change the story.

#3 – Encourage 5 minute favors

Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton talked about his book focused on Givers, Takers and Matchers. Who do you want to work with? Someone who is constantly giving help, support – or someone who is constantly taking advantage? The matchers are more politically savvy, they try to keep track of who they have helped and turn around and take advantage when they feel its necessary so other people don’t get stepped on. Interesting in his research that givers are the least successful in the workplace (measured in dollars, grades or productivity) but they are also the most successful by the same measure because they see a higher purpose than just the What/How of the work.

This was interesting, and Adam was funny – but I liked especially the practical application of how to encourage more giving through the idea of encouraging 5 minute favors. I could see this working in a dental office that keeps a project list – you know, we need to reorganize the supply closet, we need to get a new trash can for the lab, etc., etc. – there are always dozens of little things that need accomplished. By asking for five minute favors we not only get things done, we encourage a culture of helping each other, which makes it a nicer place to work and the research finds that the more people you are helping – the more people you develop connections with who can help you in the future.

To do: Create a project list and in your staff meeting ask for volunteers who would be willing to tackle each 5 minute favor. Appreciate these people in the following staff meeting.

#4 – Niceness is the key to customer service

Perhaps our group’s favorite speaker, Horst Schulze, founder of the Ritz Carlton was sharp, to the point and funny in his directness. In any business, people want three things: The product to be defect-free, Timeliness and People to be nice to you. For dentistry, people want their crown/implant/cleaning to be done well and their appointment to be on time. But the key can be as simple as any interaction including a greeting, completing the product/service transaction and a farewell. Does everyone on the staff greet and properly say good bye to patients – and each other? So simple, yet so important.

To do:  Create an orientation experience for your new hires – as the dentist owner, you should meet and talk with every new hire on their first day (well, if you want to be like the Ritz!). Share your vision and why you care about your patients. Let them know how they can join you in your purpose – and let them know what’s in it for them too!

#5 – Train your team to receive feedback

Perhaps the most actionable ideas shared in the conference were shared by Sheila Hein – author of two books, Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback. She explained that so many people stink at giving feedback that instead, it’s far more valuable to train people to receive feedback. We reject feedback either because of the relationship or because we feel the feedback is wrong. On the relationship side, we may ignore the feedback because the person is a close friend or family member and we feel they are just being nice to us. Or, we may not have enough of a relationship with the person giving the feedback and so we don’t listen.

So, to improve our ability to receive feedback:

  • Don’t decide if the feedback is right or wrong immediately – just ask clarifying questions at first to understand what the feedback really is.
  • Remember, you have blind spots – understand that the feedback could be on things you’re completely unaware of
  • Enlist a friend – ask your friend if there is anything about this feedback that I should be listening to?

As leaders, we should be asking our team for feedback. And being a role model on how to receive feedback. This will automatically make us better at giving feedback.

To do:

  • Put a note in your calendar on some repeating basis reminding you to ask for feedback
  • Here’s how to ask – Focus on one thing. Ask, “What one thing am I doing that you appreciate?” and then “What one thing would you suggest I change?”

Everyone can be a leader in the dental office. This is not exclusively the domain of the dentist and office manager. The Global Leadership Summit helps us see that no matter our role, we can improve our own leadership skills in very practical ways in order to be excellent and serve others.


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