What I Learned on the Court Had Nothing to do With Tennis

We never know where or when a valuable lesson can be learned

This weekend I got to meet one of the newest pros at Omni Golf and Tennis Club here in Tucson where Russ and I have been members. Although we are both busy with our professional lives, we make sure to get on the court no matter what may be happening to hit tennis balls once or twice a week. We heard there was a new pro–a true pro–one that was rated 300th in the world during his active participation on the circuit. While this might not sound like a great accomplishment to those non-tennis enthusiasts, to people who have actively played and/or followed the sport, I can tell you that it is an amazing feat considering the sheer number of great tennis players on the planet.

Jonathan Igbinovia is a remarkable 38-year-old who spent a bit of time with Russ and I after we finished a round of cross-court drills this weekend. He was on the court next to us coaching an up-and-coming local 20-year-old on backhands and serves. Watching Jonathan’s form and mechanics was akin to watching a Bolshoi Ballet, mesmerizing for both Russ and me. We were awestruck and could hardly keep our eyes on our own court. We hit for about an hour with occasional stops to grab a quick sip of water. At the end of our drills, we walked off as Jonathan and his student did.

The resident pro. Tom, who has been a friend of ours for years introduced us all. In Russ’ usual teasing fashion, he asked Jonathan if he thought it was too late to get me prepared to play competitively at his level. Of course, Jonathan was a gentleman and with a bit of a smile said, “it’s never too late.” With this a conversation ensued between us and I had the opportunity to hear his story. And what a story it is!

Born in a small village in Nigeria, he had the opportunity to view professional tennis on TV at a young age. He was fascinated by the “beauty” of the game as he put it, felt certain he could learn strictly by watching and emulating every motion, every position and every step they made. Apparently, he is someone that has an uncanny ability to perfectly emulate what he observed.

Before he knew it, he was playing on the very rustic tennis courts in his small village, shoeless yet playing for hours. Without even one formal lesson of any kind, he was asked to “play up” as we call it. Which means playing stronger, older, more experienced opponents. He practiced, practiced, and practiced some more, always watching the players he so wanted to replicate.

Before too long, he was approached by people who recognized and appreciated the natural talent he possessed. These enthusiasts supplied him with the proper shoes, rackets and a pipeline to connect with those that could promote and enhance the gift that he was given and to support his journey. By age 13, and without one lesson or one minute of formal training, he advanced to the number one ranked junior in South Africa, where he had moved to be mentored by his sponsors.

He’s played against the Nadals and Federers of the world and traveled everywhere, places he had only dreamed of. I could have listened to Jonathan all day, as it wasn’t just his captivating accent, but his gracious, appreciative and humble style that was so appealing. He now coaches the young adults here in Tucson that have aspired to make it further than local tournaments.

Jonathan began to share his thoughts on how he teaches and what he teaches, and from what we heard, neither are taught in the traditional way. He said, “Don’t try to do too much at once, rather focus on no more than three things at a time.” I can relate to this, for even after playing for the past 40 + years I still talk myself through every stroke and yet when I play a match or when I don’t try to focus on everything, I tend to get better results.

Jonathan asked me what I did for a living, and as I started to share it with him, something hit me. The methods he applied and the mindset he shared gave me some food for thought. His success came from watching closely, and concentration on trying to make it less complicated. He took his time, although clearly investing hours and hours in learning and perfecting things, he didn’t “muddy the waters” by trying to assimilate too much at once. It suddenly hit me that this is very much the same way I have coached and encouraged my clients to improve their skills. Listen to those who have been successful and work hard to mirror and duplicate the things that have worked well for them.

“Copy genius”, but don’t try to take on too much too fast. His words were words of wisdom that would apply to anything we are desperate to master.

Change Even Scares Me

Rewriting my job description

As we come to what has historically been the end of summer–Labor Day–I realized that it marks an end for me too.

For the past 25 years or so I have put all my efforts and professional energy into both onsite and virtual dental team development, team integration, team maintenance and related subjects. I’ve written for many dental publications over the years, spoken across the country and have contributed to many online social networks.

Like everything in life, there are always some challenges, but I managed to make it through them all unscathed and consistently came back for more. I’ve met some amazing people along the way and although I’ve coached and advised hundreds, I’ve learned a ton from all of you and know for sure that I could never have gotten this far without the lessons you have taught me. Here I stand, someone who should be thinking about retirement like most of my peers, yet instead I am re-inventing myself one more time as I create a new role and developing a totally new job description for myself. Sound vaguely familiar, Linda Miles?

I must say that this change is bittersweet and I’m not afraid to admit that I too fear change to some degree. I know this is an ongoing issue for most of us in the dental profession, and all of us discuss the fear of change quite a bit. But how can I not practice what I preach? Change must happen, for if we all lock ourselves in and choose to never make adjustments or changes, how can growth occur?

I’ve been here before, but each time it’s been a little difficult. If we become obsessed with the risks connected with this, then we should also be concerned about leaving our homes since we could get hit by a truck, or not taking chances with other things that we routinely do on a daily basis.

As OurPerioTeam begins to take off and show traction and the interest is beginning to percolate, I know that I’m needed here at this point, supporting the growth, development, and ongoing enhancement of the product.  I plan on being involved, but it’s been a tough adjustment for me to come to the reality that working with dental teams in the capacity that I had been for years is now going to change.

What is helping me with this “change” is that I have decided to continue to stay active on social networks, continue to write and contribute articles to support my peers, and give back to all those that helped me get to this place. I will not charge for any advice I offer, but I will only have time to offer limited suggestions and guidance based on my new job description and work schedule.

Believe it or not, setting up this arrangement with myself really did ease the anxiety so now I can sleep better.

How Long is Too Long?


The Impact of Delaying the Inevitable

It is not at all uncommon for me to connect with a dentist who approaches me simply for advice, although often it is followed up by a full engagement.  The struggles and challenges vary, but one problem seems to be more and more prevalent; and that is the long-term employee who has actually stayed way too long. 

All too often when asked, “How long has this employee been with you and when did you realize that they were not right for you and your practice?”  I have heard things like, “Oh, about 25 years and I knew this wasn’t going to work about 24 years ago.”  The first time I ran into this I was shocked, but having heard a similar strain a number of times I am no longer shocked and have almost learned to understand the dynamics of why this happens.

Once again, we are back to the behavioral style of us dental folk.  We are not comfortable with change or confrontation, and in some cases to such a degree that we would rather deal with less than competent employees year after year than to either address their weaknesses or try to help them correct their inefficiencies.  After a while it gets to a point where the employer just accepts what “is” and learns to deal with it, at the expense of ideal practice culture, harmony, and effectiveness.  In some cases they are even willing to sacrifice good team members who leave the practice, unable to work alongside of the bad apple or non-productive, disinterested employee.

There’s no one “moment of truth” that puts the employer over the edge or gets them to a place where they know it is time to dismiss this person.  I haven’t been able to isolate one specific thing that seems to be the catalyst or “inspiration” that finally makes them wake up and realize that it’s time! I’m also amazed at how often I observe them saying goodbye to outstanding and valuable employees over and over again, knowing quite well that the contributing factor to their resignation is clearly based on the one employee that they also know is bringing the team and often the production down.

So are we slow learners?  Would a major catastrophe be something to get us going? What type of stimulus does it take to motivate an employer to do what they should have done many years ago?

I’ve written before about those dentist/employers that prefer to keep their heads in the sand. As for a recommendation going forward, there’s really no “secret”.  I think it’s just a matter of recognizing the problem team member and having the will to take action.

Less is More


Think Quality over Quantity

I’m not one to set New Year’s Resolutions for myself, but I do make it a habit to live by a phrase that those who know me hear from me quite often; and that is “Less is more”.  My goal for 2017 is to continue to live by this as best I can.  I apply this in numerous ways, and would like to share my mantra with you and how it aligns to much of our day-to-day living both personally and professionally.

Often during a casual conversation I will catch myself unconsciously monopolizing it, and when I do I adjust my participation in the banter.  This applies most often when I am communicating with clients who clearly want to vent or fill me in with the details that are obviously important to them and the operation of their practice as it relates to the team.  Team issues can be trying and challenging and I understand this all too well.

When it comes to creating ads, I coach to remove as much of the “fluff” and stick to the facts and verbiage as it applies to your business style, avoiding reference to what people will receive in the way of compensation, perks and extras. Instead I speak more to the unique dynamics of what you and your approach to dentistry is all about.

How about the perception that if one consultant is great, then why not enroll 5 or 10 of them? This should be 5 or 10 times better, correct? I contend that is a common (and potentially devastating) mistake. Do your homework!  Research the consultants and advisors that you are considering and then narrow the field to those that appear to be right for your practice and offer the guidance and teachings that best relate to your specific needs.

I like to use baking a cake as an example.  If you don’t follow the recipe utilizing just the ingredients recommended in the right proportions and throwing in additional ingredients assuming it will make it even better, it very often results in disaster.

What about once the responses from your advertising efforts begin to roll in?  Are you elated when you see lots of resumes and interest from all types of job seekers, or do you see the value in narrowing your field to just a few that closely fit the demographic you are seeking?

Obviously “Less is more” is not apropos for all situations, but in relation to the examples I’ve shared I think you’ll agree that it does make sense.  Wishing you all a wonderful 2017 with Less negatives and many More positives.


I Was Possessed By Serena Williams


Sometimes we can surprise ourselves

For those of you familiar with DiSC–or even better–have been exposed to my own S E L F Profile Assessments that relate directly to the dental industry, I made a very interesting observation on the tennis court with my husband, Russ the other day. Russ is an unusual combination of “S” “L” which is equivalent to the “C” “D” in DiSC. I am a Structured Caregiver while he is an Organized Driver.

His behavior, as does everyone’s, shows up all the time in day-to-day activities and interaction. For example, when we are escorted to our seats in a restaurant I have him pick the table and where we sit.  For me it’s easier to make him happy, and I truly don’t care.

Today on the tennis court he got impatient waiting for me to get back after retrieving some balls.  He was so anxious and VERY ready to start playing that he served without looking across the court to notice that I wasn’t ready. With my head down I was moving into position as the ball bounced into the serving box and then hit me in the head with some force.  Understand that I love to play and make sure he is never easy on me, so the ball was served to me without easing–up hitting it with some force as a strong tennis player would. I enjoy trying to get them back and many times I do, but he is clearly a much stronger player than I.

What upset me so much was that he couldn’t stop long enough to see that I wasn’t ready to accept the serve. He apologized of course, but from that moment I began to play like I have never played before.  I started to smack the balls as hard as I could and they were all going in. I actually had him running and missing many of my shots.  It was as though I was possessed, channeling my Serena Williams.  This brought out a side of me that I never saw before and Russ was amazed too!

What’s interesting about this is that it was such a change from my normal demeanor that I found I could only hold out for 2 games and then resorted back to my comfort zone.  It wasn’t due to fatigue. It was due to a behavioral style that was not at all familiar to me.

This is what I coach all the time regarding how our behavioral makeup can be adjusted only to a certain degree, and we will inevitably return to the style that with which we identify.  We can make small changes in how we accomplish things, yet changing our behaviorial style completely is something that really can’t be done.

What I did learn is that I do have it in me if/when I want to get a little aggressive–at least on the tennis court.

Prioritizing – Maybe the Most Valuable Skill of All


It’s really NOT about multitasking

Many of my clients, when asked about skill sets and behavioral style, tell me what they hope to find in job candidates. One thing they will say often is that they really need individuals who are able to multitask. This seems to be the attribute that is most valued for the hiring dentist and has always been a recurring request.
Truthfully, studies have proven that multitasking is not possible from a literal standpoint. Our minds can only process one thought at a time, although we are able to switch from one to another very rapidly. Rather than hoping to find someone who can “multitask”, I look for those who are able to prioritize, whether it be in everyday conversations with fellow team members, patients, or simply having the ability to quickly identify the most logical order of things based on importance. These people tend to be visionaries who can see beyond the “clutter” of daily activity, and are able to quickly assess what should be accomplished in what order.
When we look at running a successful business we need to prioritize the order of things to assure the most effective use of time and resources.
As an example; when might be the best time to develop and launch a marketing campaign? Some would believe that anytime we feel the business is in need of additional patients and growth would be appropriate. I understand the need for marketing, although I believe in an “inside/out” philosophy. In other words, it’s internal marketing that needs to be polished up first before we even begin to think about increasing the patient base from external sources.
• What if the team you have in place is not prepared to welcome the newly acquired patients?
• What if you are short-handed, lacking team members to sufficiently handle the possible active influx of new patients?
• What if you haven’t developed systems or proper protocols to track those that you are marketing?
• What good is it to bring in new patients and find that you can’t maintain them?
• What if you do get some good response and begin to gather a lot of new patients on the phone and hopefully through the doors, but you’re not prepared to serve them and the bottom falls out?
Can you see how valuable proper prioritizing is here? You’ve spent money and time and possibly taken some of your team away from their daily responsibilities just to put their energy into the marketing process only to find that you were not totally prepared to bring in and welcome new patients properly.
Let’s talk about your business team and their need for prioritizing acumen. Imagine that you are having a particularly busy day and the phones are ringing, patients are coming up to the business office to be dismissed, the door to the reception area is opening and closing every few minutes with patients coming and going.
How might the administrative team prioritize all of this activity? Do they quickly recognize what they need to do first? Sometimes thinking fast on one’s feet is very challenging when lots of things occur at once.
Then there’s the clinical team and the quick decisions they need to make almost daily. There’s the patient that came in 5 minutes late, the patient who has been waiting to have the doctor check the dry socket they developed after yesterday’s extraction, and Mrs. Snodgrass who vowed that if she had to wait longer than 15 minutes for her appointment she was going to take her records and her family elsewhere.
In hygiene, the patient that was scheduled for a standard 1110 adult prophy was actually a quad scale requiring 1 ½ hours of chair time when she has only an hour reserved. This particular patient has been hard to get in the system since her schedule is a busy one with little time available. Then there is the special needs patient who is clearly sharing her anxiety with the other patients in the reception area and along with everything else, the doctor is behind schedule to check the hygiene patient waiting in the chair.
Handling these scenarios (which do occur all the time) is far more important than the ability to multitask. I believe that many tend to confuse the two. Multitasking is not a “talent”, but the really valuable ability is to think fast on our feet and come up with solutions that are acceptable and productive.

Solving the Mystery of Dental Team Turnover


A true story

We always talk about the tremendous turnover in our business and wonder why it is so challenging for us to maintain a talented dental team with significant tenure.  There are numerous reasons that contribute to the consistent change in personnel in our industry. Granted, there are some things that can’t be avoided but many things that can.  I hope over time to touch on each of them, but for now I’d like to share a true story that occurred just today.  There are many instances just like it that I have experienced over my career as a placement specialist and dental team development expert and I’m sure many of you have too.

A Business Office professional transferred with her family from a part of the country with a high cost of living. She presented with a stellar background and history and successfully worked in the same high end practice for 10 years.  There was no question that she came with some substantial experience although we ALL know that there is always a learning curve when moving from one practice to another, whether they are in the same state, same town, or same building. No two offices function and operate exactly the same; there are always new things to learn.

This particular candidate responded to my ad, knowing it was in the area she was relocating to with her family; and based on the comprehensive job description I offered, she felt as though she was a solid applicant for the position.  After going through the vetting process we agreed that in fact she could be perfect to fill the position.  Everything seemed to move along well until we came to the usual roadblock which is challenging for everyone—that of compensation.

The area she was moving from was quite a bit different from the new locale that she and her family were moving to. Keep in mind also that with the tenure she had accrued with her 10 year position back home, she also received nice increases along the way (and rightfully so).  The trouble is that she wanted to make a lateral move with no changes to her compensation whatsoever. No matter how we tried to explain the rationale, she insisted that she was determined to shift from one job to another without missing a beat or dropping her salary even one penny.  I conveyed my feelings to my doctor, and of course he agreed.  There was no effective way for him to bring her on based on the wage she was fixed on, which was a good $10.00 an hour higher than this particular market (I check and go over these details closely when I work with my clients across the country).

Well, according to what she told my client doctor, she landed a position in this very town and was offered “just what she asked for”.  Now from years of similar experiences, I can tell you how this story will likely end. The new employer may accept this arrangement for a few days, weeks, or maybe months  until it is either brought to his attention that he is compensating way beyond market, or he realizes his compensation is much more than it should be and the thought of paying out so much begins to disturb him.  Here are some of the things that begin to give him “buyer’s remorse”:

  • She should be a Superstar and prove herself immediately. Why must I wait for her to become totally proficient when I’m paying her so much? Why am I not seeing my numbers rise so that I can justify paying her so much?
  • The high dollars she commanded would mean she is the one who should carry extra weight. She should be the one to take on most of the responsibilities. After all, look at what I’m paying her!
  • Sometimes the price the employer is paying them gnaws at them to a point where they have trouble even encountering the employee under their roof. They can’t help but envision dollar signs every time she passes.

The final outcome with the employer is most often  “Sorry I can’t afford you any longer” or “Sorry, I don’t see that you are worth what I am paying you.”  The outcome is of course that they part ways.  The fallout from this can be:

  • Doctor and team are right back where they started, placing ads and interviewing once again.
  • The team member may have a blemish on what used to be a stellar resume (hence the turnover).
  • The team member just wasted days weeks or months learning the ropes only to find out they are on the market again.
  • The team members will often say “I knew it was too good to be true, but I was hoping………”.

This is one example as to why we have turnover in our business and once again I strongly believe that employers really need to change the way they hire and help everyone to eliminate some of the unnecessary hires as well as dismissals in our industry.

Now here is one disclaimer:  In some very few isolated cases the dentist hangs on long enough to realize their return of investment.  They are also employers who support the new hire with extra coaching and training to integrate them rapidly, as well as to allow them to understand the responsibilities and prove themselves rapidly. The problem is that paying out a large salary will often result in “I’m not investing another dime here. She is being paid so well I expect her to handle everything without any additional layout of funds for me.”  Hence, the lack of salary increase over a long period will naturally de-motivate the employee.