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5.23.08 Issue #324 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Are You the Captain of Your Ship, or Chicken of the Sea?

I was directed to a book about leadership recently. Truth be told, it had been sitting on my shelf for a few years, but when the title came up in conversation I decided it was finally time to read it.

Having served as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy, I was intrigued by the military context. The book? It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.

When Captain D. Michael Abrashoff took over the USS Benfold, the high-tech fighting ship was anything but ready. Morale was low and performance was poor. Abrashoff had to make changes quickly. In his book, he tells how he transformed the USS Benfold into an award-winning model of efficiency and success. Here are some of Abrashoff’s core principles.

  • "It's your ship, so take responsibility for it. Don't ask permission; do it."

If you’re going to be the LEADER of your SHIP, you’ve got to see yourself as the one who’s accountable for the state of your practice. Be honest with yourself. What’s working, and what’s driving you crazy? Be careful to avoid the islands of ‘woulda,’ ‘coulda,’ and ‘shoulda,’ because you’ll get marooned there. Although you may not see solutions at this very moment, the first step to making improvements is recognizing where you are.

As Abrashoff wrote, “Whenever I didn't get the results I was looking for on the Benfold, I tried to look inward before flying off the handle. Eighty percent of the time, I found that I was part of the problem and that, through my actions alone, I could have altered the outcome significantly.”

  • “Never forget your effect on people.”

You have a tremendous influence on those around you, even when you don’t see an explicit reaction or hear comments. One of the keys to becoming a more effective leader is realizing that your patients and your staff notice everything you do—or don’t do. Perhaps you overlook the significance of your words and gestures but I assure you that it is your energy level that determines the enthusiasm in your office. This doesn’t mean you need to be effusive or disingenuous. It does mean that you need to think of how you act and decide to be a positive role model. We all have bad days. When it’s a “dark day,” minimize the damage you impose.

  • "See the ship through the crew’s eyes.”

It is a challenge to attract, retain and motivate employees. One Gallup study found that 65 percent of employees who leave their companies are actually leaving their boss. Research confirms that the top five reasons for this are:

  1. Not being treated with respect or dignity
  2. Being prevented from making an impact on the organization
  3. Not being listened to
  4. Not being rewarded with more responsibility
  5. Receiving low pay or salary

To be successful, a leader needs to know how to lead and how to follow. Be open to suggestions from your staff and be ready to listen to new ideas. Furthermore, make the effort to get to know the people around you. This creates a positive atmosphere that motivates, encourages and gives confidence.

  • Did I clearly articulate the goals I was trying to achieve?
  • Did I give people the time and resources they needed to succeed?
  • Did I give them enough training to get the job done properly?
Taking command of your ship doesn’t mean shouting out orders. Effective leaders encourage employees to find better ways to do their jobs and also to enjoy their work. This is the only way to get salutes and results!

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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