The Master at Work…

Like many people, I would avoid trips to the dentist completely if I weren’t afraid of bad things happening inside my mouth. I watched Marathon Man as a child, and I have this slightly irrational fear that I may end up the unwilling star of Marathon Man II.

So yesterday when I had to have a dental filling replaced, my old fears kicked in. To calm me down and distract me, I spoke to the dental assistant named Britney. Britney graduated from college just over three years ago. She applied at a place called DentalWorks in Durham, North Carolina, and she got the job, the first job in her field of study. Britney started the same day the office opened, and she’s been with DentalWorks–and Dr. Legler–ever since.

I’m sure that Dr. Legler is highly trained in the art and science of dentistry. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure he went to dental school and has a diploma somewhere on his wall certifying that he’s licensed to drill. I have no education on dental matters, so I have to entrust my dental health to him.

While I have no scientific way of evaluating the dental care I received, I left very happy. As a management consultant, I made some mental notes about why I left happy. It had less to do with the care I received (which was great, by the way) and more to do with some leadership observations I made from my side of the chair.

The doc and his awesome staff!

Tip #1: If you wish to lead others, focus on the positives. Dr. Legler and Britney talked to each other while he replaced my filling. What kind of talk? I heard no medical jargon or commands like “Forceps, stat!” And fortunately, I never once heard the doctor say, OOoops! Instead, I heard the doctor say words like “Thank you” and “Perfect” and “We did it.”

Dr. Legler talked to Britney as an equal. He used kindness, encouragement and praise. And when he finished something that seemed challenging, he offered the comment “We did it” instead of “I did it.”

If you wish to be followed, be known for praising your employees. Share successes with them by using a plural word like we instead of a singular word like I.

Tip #2: If you wish to lead others, model attitudes and actions. As the dentist in the office, Dr. Legler is the talent, but he also carries the responsibility to set the tone and shape the culture. From the time I arrived at the front desk until I left the office, every member of the staff seemed competent, cheerful and eager to help.

Many companies burst with talented employees, but some of those same companies don’t know how to engage those people, to bring out the best in them. But when you see a team pulling in one direction towards one goal, it reflects the attitudes and actions of the leader. Engaged employees usually reflect an engaged boss. 

If you wish to be followed, you must lead by example. Model the attitudes and actions you wish your employees to offer to their coworkers and your customers.

Tip #3: If you wish to lead others, take good care of your masters. At one point during my dental procedure, I became aware that Britney and Dr. Legler were exchanging tools every few seconds. But they did so without talking about it. As soon as the doctor’s hands moved back an inch from my face, Britney took the tool from his hand and replaced it with another one. How could they do that? Mastery. The two of them have worked together for over three years. Britney knows her job, knows the tools, and knows the procedures so well that she no longer has to actively think about it. Instead, she can focus on a higher-level skills like anticipating what the doctor needs when he needs it, and being an extension of his hands and mind.

If you wish to be followed, create a followership of masters…because they, in turn, create more followers. Cherish your masters, reminding yourself of these two salient points:

(1) Your masters didn’t get excellent overnight, nor could you replace them overnight. Think about how much harder your job would be if your employee masters were gone.

(2) Your masters might know how much you value them, but the only way to be certain that they know is for you to both tell them and show them how much you appreciate them. If your best employees left to work for ya competitor, you’d hurt twice: once from the loss of their expertise, second from the mastery they’d now share with your competition.

Leaders, how are you leveraging your employee masters to foster the best culture, develop the most loyal customers, and grow a more profitable business?


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