9.7.12 Issue #548 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Prepare Yourself for Learning
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

It’s back-to-school time. I remember the excitement of going to the store for “school supplies” and the anticipation of seeing friends after the summer break. My backpack was filled with empty notebooks waiting to be filled with new knowledge. Since you are reading this column, I would predict that somewhere along the way you saw the importance of education too. You graduated and thought you were done.

For many, that is when learning takes a back seat to getting a job, earning a living and getting on with life. But successful leaders never slack off learning. They make it conscious and take every opportunity to apply their experiences towards improving themselves. High performing leaders know that they must first be effective with themselves.

The willingness to learn and grow is key to taking your practice to its fullest potential. Yet I am amazed how bright, talented people avoid stretching themselves and going outside their comfort zone. As we age, the ability to adapt and move outside our comfort zone becomes more difficult. Many dentists who are in their own comfort zone will not challenge themselves even though they know that they could achieve a lot more. They tell themselves that it’s too time consuming or counterproductive to upset the "apple cart." They’re too busy. And so they hobble along in status quo. The end result is average performance and average results at best.

Dentists are notoriously perfectionists. On the positive side, this bodes well for precision, accuracy, and follow-through. However, perfectionists are fearful of uncertainty or ambiguity, of giving up control and letting go. They demand immediate results from themselves (and others), and are unwilling to go out on a limb and take the chance of being embarrassed. Unfortunately, this prevents true learning.

If you don't step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, the number of situations that make you uncomfortable will keep growing. Over time, you run the risk of feeling surrounded by previously avoided situations. Here are some ways to challenge yourself to learn.

  1. Accept that learning or doing something new is uncomfortable. It’s natural to want to avoid that feeling, but commit to do one thing differently each day.
  2. Manage your emotions and your mood state. Anger, worries, doubts, depression, and other negative emotions interfere with learning and performance. Practice deep breathing when you feel overwhelmed and pressured. 
  3. Be sure you maintain healthy habits. Exercise, eat nutritionally, get sufficient sleep. The stronger you are physically, the faster you will incorporate the new learning.
  4. Imagine the completion of your goal and the satisfaction of "I did it." Envision the benefits of a smoother running office, more income, more time off to spend on recreational activities. 
  5. Nurture self-confidence. Your thoughts shape your future. Almost all anxious thoughts are irrational. Instead of worrying about possible failures and slip-ups, recognize your strengths. Remember times when you have succeeded. Reflect on experiences when you overcame adversity.
  6. Give yourself “time out” from learning. Build in time to escape into music, games, reading. 
  7. Get support from family and friends. Get a mentor or hire a coach. Learning is hard work and you need encouragement. Feeling connected with others also reduces inner tension. 
  8. Avoid regret or self-blame. It will only prevent new learning.
  9. Use humor. Norman Cousins said that laughing is "inner jogging." He called it a workout. Studies show that laughing lessens the need for pain medication and shortens recuperation time. 
  10. Celebrate progress. Reward yourself when positive change happens. By recognizing even small accomplishments, you build motivation to sustain learning. 


People with learning mindsets embrace challenges because these are opportunities to grow. In turn they are better equipped to handle inevitable setbacks, and know that hard work enables them to achieve more. Show excitement about learning. Your enthusiasm will invigorate your staff and they will be more energized and positive in response to the responsibilities placed on them. And believe me - patients will notice. Dental leaders who can accomplish this will see the positive effects on their practice. It's time to go back to school. Take charge of your learning!

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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