The value of common sense

In last month’s Outlook I presented the first five of Lee Cockerill’s strategies from his book, Disney, Creating Magic.

The final five of these 10 strategies for common sense leadership are:
1. Learn the truth
2. Burn the free fuel
3. Stay ahead of the pack
4. Be careful what you say
and do
5. Develop character.

Learn the truth

In most organisations results derive from decisions, and good decisions come from the information upon which they are based.

The first strategy for us dentists is to know everything that is going on in our practices. It’s not enough to be a great dentist technically. We need both people skills and managerial skills to allow our practices to flourish and thrive.

Tom Peters used to speak of ‘management by wandering around’ and this is essential to see the practice from a patient’s view, as well that of the staff. Too often we’re cocooned in our surgeries focusing on dental detail. We need to be checking where we can change and improve, as well as constantly driving costs down.

Burn the free fuel

ARE (appreciation, recognition, encouragement) is another of Disney’s acronyms. This is essentially the ‘free fuel’. While it will be some time in our economy before wages can rise, there is another way to foster good team building – by following this principle and using ARE regularly in our daily working lives. Simple things, like praising in public, involving staff in decision-making, and coaching and training them in better ways to perform their jobs, improve the skills of every team member.

Marvin Berlin, a great dentist and team leader from Texas, says none of his team can bring him a problem unless they also bring a solution. It may not be the solution finally used but it creates a sense of ownership.

Stay ahead of the pack

Staying ahead of the pack is essential in these tough times. However, to do this we must know what the pack is doing. For example, Lee Cockerill used to stay in competitors’ hotels to learn new things.

We need to see what’s being provided by leaders in our profession and copy what’s working. Refurbishing drab premises to compete and adding new skills to our armamentarium are essential. We need to learn from businesses outside dentistry and give our patients what they want, rather than the old-fashioned ‘we know best’ attitude. After all, the patients own their teeth and their disposable income!

We should already be providing their ‘need’ dentistry anyway, if we focus on health as Sheila Scott recommended at the Croke Park meeting in January. Adding a skill like six-month braces is one such area.

Be careful what you say and do

Sheila Scott’s words echoed again in my mind as I looked at the ninth strategy. What we are seen to do is obviously important as professionals, however we may need to look more closely at what we say.

For years now I’ve greeted patients with: ‘No problems since you were here last?’ Sheila explained that we need to focus on health and to be seen as a healthcare provider, not a solver of problems. In her view, we are seen by patients as welcoming problems, whereas we should be encouraging health and prevention of problems. Words such as ‘only’ and ‘watch’ should be eliminated from our clinical talk. We should treat and prevent and avoid monitoring.

Develop character

Finally, Lee believes we must develop character. This is an area I feel we need to work on with our teams. We should lead by example; we need to make sure everyone we lead knows what our practice values and beliefs are, and teach them to follow these as well as communicate them to our patients.

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