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12.21.07 Issue #302 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Dental Leadership Lessons from Santa

I just finished reading a cute book, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus. From motivation and communication issues to reindeer recruitment and red wagon production problems, Santa’s got a REALLY tough job with never ending challenges.

In the words of Santa…

"Believe you me, having to smile and be jolly everyday when you're wearing the same thick, hot, red-wool suit (that itches like crazy) is no picnic. This is a job that will definitely strain your sanity and drain your ego if you let it. Seems like everyone wants a piece of me. Yet many of the people I serve question my existence…or just plain don’t believe in me at all. And those who do believe often expect me to do the impossible – rarely caring about what I have to do, or go through (including chimneys), to meet their expectations. And they ALL have expectations.”

Except for chimneys, I bet there are days when you feel this way about your job. It’s not easy being a dental leader!

What is your vision of Santa’s workshop? Do you see candy canes and chestnuts or elves happily scurrying about smiling and making toys?

How about your practice vision? Is your office a happy place? Do you see it as a productive place despite the intense pressures and challenges you face? How do you create this atmosphere?

This first step is to focus on your mission. Santa has four tips:

  • Make sure employees know what your mission is and why it’s important.
  • Meet with staff individually and help them to understand how their job is crucial to meet the practice mission.
  • Post mission statements on walls and talk about it in staff meetings.
  • Make sure your mission statement is a core component of any decision-making or work-planning processes.

Focus on people who make your mission happen.  To keep the elves and reindeer happy, Santa makes himself available, physically and mentally. He provides them with tools, training, and resources to do their jobs successfully. The elves and reindeer are kept in the information loop. Santa always respects his employees and he appreciates them. He solicits and listens to staff members’ ideas and concerns. He works hard to help elves develop and grow to meet the future needs of his workshop.

Choose your reindeer wisely.  Santa knows that staffing is a leader’s single most important responsibility. The time you spend hiring the right people is nothing compared to the time it takes to deal with a bad hire. Carefully identify the tasks, duties and responsibilities for the position. It is equally important that the people you hire have the right personality characteristics, values and attitudes necessary to perform the job successfully.

Pay attention to how your elves see you. Santa does employee surveys to be sure that he’s aligned with his team. He tries to understand what it’s like to work in his shop. If Santa can occasionally put on a pair of green felt pointed shoes, you can take the time to find out what it is like to work in your practice. Encourage your employees to give you feedback so that you will become a better leader.

Get beyond the red wagons. The red wagon used to be the most popular toy that Santa and the elves produced. But the day came when Santa had to tell them that red wagons were out and video games were in. Santa did not enjoy taking this message to the elves because he knew it would take the elves out of their comfort zone.

To get the elves to embrace the change, Santa laid out the facts and helped them to understand the change. He validated the stress and uncertainty this created in the workshop. He patiently encouraged the elves to be sure they were adapting to the change. Most importantly, he helped them to understand how switching to new technology was ultimately going to make the children happier…and that meant more happiness for everyone.

Find out who’s been naughty and nice. The job that was the most difficult for Santa was confronting employee performance problems. As a jolly ole soul, he didn’t want anyone to be upset. However, through leadership coaching, he learned that problems left unaddressed do not go away…they get worse. Although occasional employee challenges are natural, Santa now confronts problems early. In turn his team respects him more and the workshop stays productive.  

Share the milk and cookies. One of the biggest benefits of being Santa is that he is in the spotlight and gets the glory. The elves and the reindeers don’t get to experience the same thing so their feelings of accomplishment must come in different ways. Santa posts thank you letters on a board at the North Pole that says, “See What You Made Happen”. Santa knows that one of the most important behaviors of a good leader is to recognize and reward those who work for him.

Goals for next year. Santa doesn’t wait until December to prepare for his work. Santa makes a list and he checks it twice. He’s busy all year long! Learn how Santa and his team accomplish big things in their workshop in my next article: Setting Goals for 2008.

May your days be merry and bright, and may all of your dental practices be right.

Dr. Haller is available for team building and dental leadership coaching. She can be reached at
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click Here

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