Is Humility the Key to Winning?

The reverse side of the Kentucky State Quarter...



In my last post I left you with one word: humility.  That was unfair because in the comments I realized that I didn’t tell you how to become humble.  And believe me I am not so arrogant that I think I can tell you, but I have learned a few lessons in my time.

And some of those lessons were learned at, of all places, the racetrack.

With Orb winning the Kentucky Derby last Saturday,  I was transported back to a time when I spent many of my leisure hours at the track.  I admit it…I was part of the subculture,  I already had the name…Doc, so I fit right in.  I used to spend a lot of prep time handicapping the races, and I did quite well.  I was known around the rail as someone who knew how to pick winners.

But picking winners is not easy.  I remember one guy, let’s call him Lenny because that’s a great track name too, who would always ask me who I liked, and then he would go and bet another horse…usually the favorite, because in the end, his decision making process led him to consult with what psychologist Robert Cialdini (Influence), calls the social mirror.

Lenny would cash a few tickets, and sometimes he would hit a long-shot…but there was no consistency.  No rhyme or reason to his betting.  But he was convinced that his process was responsible for his occasional success.  His losers?  Well, he always cursed his losers…they weren’t his fault.

I did much better, but I eventually lost interest and stopped going.  Years later I ran into Lenny at a local ice cream shop.  Same old Lenny, still chasing his dreams...he never stopped to figure out what he didn’t know…still telling everyone how good he was doing.  Lenny proved the old adage:

“You can beat a race, but you can’t beat the races.”

What did he need?

Humility…it probably could have saved him a lot of money.

So what is the connection to dentistry?  Most dentists don’t know what they don’t know.  They give themselves credit for the winners and blame their staff and patients for the losers.  There’s a lot more to interpersonal communication than meets the eye.  The late Walter Hailey once told me, “You have to kiss a lot frogs to succeed.”

I’d rather “know my frogs.”

You can learn humility in other places as well…on the golf course, at the poker table or at home with your spouse.

Life is the teacher.  But some people never get it…and what I learned a long time is that winning is a habit…and so is losing.






Enhanced by Zemanta

The One Skill That Leads to Success





I continually get into arguments with dentists and lab technicians about our role with patients and with other dentists.  There just seems to be so much complaining clients who just don’t do what we want or expect them to do.

Last week, on two separate occasions I was discussing this issue with a dentist and a technician.  I asked them what they did when they faced this very frustrating situation.

Both replied in exactly the same way (which, by the way, I have heard over and over again, whenever the subject arises).  They both said, “I educate them.”

As if this education process somehow leads to more compliance.  Well, it usually doesn’t.  But it does absolve the dentists and technician because at least they feel they did the proper thing…the right thing…the moral and correct thing.

It just doesn’t work.  And that is more frustrating.

I suggested to both, like I always do, that instead of trying to educate their clients it might be good idea to motivate them.  The technician said it was just semantics.

Well, it’s not…there is a big distinction between education and motivation, and a good motivator can save a lot of time and be much more effective.

The late Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University, was very emphatic about making distinctions of words.  You might say it was the basis of his coaching style.

Making the distinction between educating your patients and motivating them will change the way you approach all of your patients.  When you take on the role of motivator, it will not make your job easier…just different.  You will notice that there is an art to motivating people…moving them from what is to what could be.

The business of dentistry is all about changing people, not unlike gyms and diet centers.

Sure, some education is necessary, but to truly be effective we need to motivate.  Do I have to mention flossing?

Motivating patients is an “art.”  That is why I named my books The Art of Examination and The Art of Case Presentation.  If we don’t get our clients to act when they must…we have failed them.  Tough job, yes, and probably the one role we have that we haven’t been trained to do, and the one role when mastered can lead to more success than any other.



What’s a Dentist For ?

Glossodynia-Burning Tongue

Glossodynia-Burning Tongue




Jvonny has no stomach.  Whatever he eats goes straight to his small intestine.  Jvonny has been a patient in my practice for over twelve years.  I never knew him when digestion was a simple process.  Cancer took his stomach many years ago.  He is an ideal patient who does whatever it takes to keep his teeth.  He hasn’t lost a tooth under my watch.  He’s a good guy and he’s a Giant fan too.

Four months ago he came in complaining of burning tongue.  I referred him back to his physician for a workup.  This week he came in for his cleaning appointment, and he reported that his mouth was on fire.  He also reported that he was losing his sense of taste.  But at times there was relief.  I asked what his physicians had found.  He said that they were treating him for pernicious anemia.  That made sense to me because absorption of Vitamin B12 takes place in the stomach.  He was self-administering the B12.  But his problem was getting worse.

I went to the Internet.  I discussed the need for a nutritionist, someone who could find the right dosage of B12 and folic acid.

Jvonny was grateful.  He said that no other doctor had spent this amount of time with him…how my staff and I showed true concern.  We all felt good…but that’s what we do.  That’s what dentists are for.

Dentistry through the years has gone through many changes.  Remember Doc Holliday? or Painless Parker?  The profession worked hard through the years to clean itself up…to get honor and respect from the public.
With the help of the ADA, dental education and the various specialty boards dentistry became a highly revered and noble profession.

But something is changing.  In many circles dentists are looked upon as tooth mechanics or cosmeticians rather than doctors.  many of our services have been reduced to commodities.  Procedures with codes that are disconnected from the human beings like Jvonny that come to us for advice.

At it’s heart dentistry is an arm of the medical profession and should be treated that way.  Health care is about treating people right.  It’s about sitting down with our patients and helping them solve their issues besides just filling or whitening their teeth.

Every dentist MUST find the dignity in the work.  Please leave your comments below — if you have any insight into Jvonny’s burning mouth syndrome…I would appreciate the input.

If you have ever felt that you have lost the dignity that you thought came with the profession…please let us know.






5 Ways to Find Your Dental Coach

Telly Savalas as Lt. Theo Kojak with ubiquitou...


In my last post I wrote about the presentation lessons we could learn from the movie The Guilt Trip.  When my wife read the post she said I left out the most important lesson...always listen to your mother.

She was right…that is the most important lesson, because as Kojak used to say, “Who loves ya, baby?”

Really, is there anyone else who cares more about you than you care about yourself?  It’s a cruel world sometimes, and we are in the market for a mentor or coach, having someone on your side who truly loves you may be the most important trait you could find.

Great coaches are hard to find.  Here are five traits to look for in a great coach:

1. Don’t seek out a player’s coach.  Look for someone who makes sure you learn every lesson.  Someone who understands education and how people learn…not someone who will hold your hand.  (moms may not have that trait…but pops do).
2. Seek out the coach who will put you through the paces.  Someone who is action-oriented.  Gives you assignments and expects results.  Holds you accountable.  Is brutally honest with you.  Sounds like my dad.  For years dental assistants said I reminded them of their father--I took that as a compliment.
3. Seek out someone who is short on lectures.  They tell you what they want you to do in very brief, clear and simple ways (like you should be presenting your own cases).  They don’t bore you with trivia.
4. Seek out someone who is in love with the fundamentals.  You can never improve until the foundations are set.  Someone who understands the guiding principles of success.
5. Seek out wisdom.  This usually comes from experience, which comes from being around a long time.  Pick the older, wiser coach.


And yes—pick out someone who will never abandon you like your mother and father.  In the last post I wrote why moms always give advice and some sons just don’t listen.  Maybe it was because they confront us with the truth…and the truth can hurt.

That’s what great coaches do…make you feel a little guilty.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Make Your Work Special…Stop Commoditizing

What's his signature worth?Peter got lucky.  He just didn’t know it.  He was scheduled for three posterior composite resin fillings.  There was some extra time in my schedule, thanks to the current economic situation, and to take advantage I thought I would attempt to create “the best damn fillings ever.

With no time pressure and Pete’s total cooperation, I entered into a “flow state.”  I stayed focused on the task at hand, but since I am not a Zen master, [Read more…]


Here’s a Method to Help You Do More Meaningful Dentistry

Nothing feels better than doing meaningful dentistry.


Most dental practices run like businesses. Sometimes the dentist must step back and treat people with some common sense.
In my book The Art of the Examination, I told the story about Audrey. She was a patient with whom I connected right away because of a shared love of reading. I restored Audrey more than twenty years ago. Since that time, her health has failed. She is on dialysis, lives in an assisted living facility and has just about used up all of her funds.

But she continued to come in for her cleaning appointments every six months. The one thing in life that she really loved, reading, has now turned to listening to audio books, as her eyesight limited her first love to large print and then to no print.

Her dentistry, after all these years, I am sad to say, began to fail. A long span fixed bridge on the upper left developed caries. I condemned it. Remaking the bridge would be cost prohibitive for her.

What do you do?

Audrey spent her life trying to save her teeth and dreaded wearing anything removable.

So I invoked The Barkley Rule.

Dr. Robert Barkley practiced in the small town of Macomb, Illinois during the sixties. Dr. Bob Frazier, wrote in Lynn Carlisle’s blog (In A Spirit of Caring), in a wonderful 2003 biographical article that had Barkley lived (he died prematurely in a plane crash in 1977), he would have been as popular as any of today’s dental luminaries.

I had the opportunity to hear Barkley speak at my alma mater, The University of Penn Dental School in 1973. I became an immediate fan…and always remembered one story he told about a young high school girl who came to him for help during his early years of practice.

Barkley quoted the girl and her father a fee to save the girl’s teeth that was not affordable. [Read more…]


Dental Marketing 101 – How to Get Everyone on Board

For all the good dental marketing you do…one bad move can hurt your reputation.

Sometimes the sky isn't friendly.

We read about personal and business breakdowns everyday. In our web based world of instant communication…nothing goes unnoticed or unreported.
Take the story about the Southwest Airlines pilot who mistakenly left his mic open to reveal some pretty awful things about the way he thinks.

Not only did he let slip his homophobic feelings but he left his employers with a marketing mess that will take a lot of time and money to clean up. An Internet poll showed that 50% of people thought that the pilot was “just awful.” Southwest only disciplined the pilot, and that led to an outcry for his release.

Anthony Weiner anyone?

At a more local level the same thing can happen in our practices, because everyone in our practice is a marketer.
And I mean everyone…Look, we generally do not interact with the pilots on the planes we fly. We just deal with the ground and flight crews. Yet this employee who rarely deals with the public caused a lot of problems.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we usually focus on our immediate staff and ourselves when we think of marketing, yet anyone who interacts with us or our patients can make us look equally good or bad.

Think laboratory technicians and specialists…hey, even the Fed-ex guy.

I used to take it personally when patients would do something that I didn’t like. Somewhere along the line I realized that people don’t see us as individuals in the business but look at us as a collective. When something goes wrong they usually refer to our practice as “those people at.”

When the case comes back from the lab late…what does the patient say?
When the Fed-ex guy doesn’t deliver on time?
When the endodontist hurts your patient?
Or the staff member at the periodontist’s office that says something inappropriate?

Yes…Everyone on Your Team Markets.

So how do you train your team?

1. Lead by example. You are the CEO…become the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi told us.

2. Make sure everyone on your staff understands your mission and purpose. The Pankey Institute teaches a principle of giving your specialists a “position paper,” describing your philosophy. The same could hold true of your laboratory. Every staff member should be acutely aware of your mission and purpose.

3. Everyone’s marketing role should be thoroughly explained. People shouldn’t be led to believe that their responsibilities end with completing their job. They need to be cognizant that their job has meaning to every customer…internal and external.

4. They are working with real people. I am lucky to have my own in-office dental lab. Patients are so appreciative that the lab has such a hands-on role in the practice. A good idea is to bring your tech into the practice to meet some of the big cases you are working on.

This lesson really hits home when you are the victim of apathy or poor service…then you, too, might say the same as the 50% of people polled about the Southwest pilot:




The Secret of VISION No One Will Tell You

Do you remember how the media made fun of George H. W. Bush’s reference to not getting that “vision thing?”





Looking toward the future with vision.






Well call me crazy, but after practicing dentistry for over thirty-six years, I think I’ll join the ex-Prez, and say that I, too, don’t get that vision thing.

Oh, I understand it at an intellectual level. It certainly makes sense. Who am I to argue against Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret, or Brian Tracy the author of the classic book, Goals?

It’s just that when I was in dental school I had this vision of retiring by the time I was thirty-five. I saw myself living on the beach and yadda, yadda, yadda.

What do they say? “Man plans, and God laughs.”



Well that’s been my experience. Oh, I certainly have gotten close on a few things like writing my book, The Art of the Examination…not even close to the deadline I set. But I did do it, and the clarity wasn’t quite as focused as as I would have liked.

And really that is my point. We can only get a general idea of what we want, and if we continue to make decisions in that direction, we may just get there. But there are no guarantees.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend who asked me when I was going to retire from dentistry.
I told him I missed that date…January 1st, 1983. So here I am 28 years later trying to accomplish my long-term goal.
Or was it?
Maybe retiring wasn’t really my goal…my vision.
Maybe what I was really trying to create was what my mentor, Yaro Starak  calls a “lifestyle of freedom.”

Looking back now, it seems that I did accomplish THAT goal. I have not worked nights in over twenty years, I haven’t worked weekends in over twenty-five years, and these days I only work three days per week. I can live with that.

My friend pressed me for more information about my retirement.

I told him it would come in stages with the last stage being only working on certain patients, doing certain procedures and only in prime time.

He said that prime time is between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. or nights.

I told him not the patients’ prime time…my prime time.

You see the secret of vision isn’t clarity of dates, numbers and time like the gurus suggest with creating SMART goals. The secret is to be clear on your direction and what lies behind the dates and numbers. Delving into the discovery of a powerful “why” will get you there easier than creating a stringent detailed plan.

Now that’s a vision...and after all these years I just may get there,
God willing.