As business and practice owners, we can learn a lot from the military. It’s a highly systemised organisation that requires discipline, structure, and is engineered to get the best from its people.
Drawing on personal experience from my own 10 years in the Navy, there are a number of lessons that have proved extremely useful in building and running my own dental practices. I wanted to take today as an opportunity to share with you the seven most important lessons I learnt from my time in the military, and how they translate to practice ownership.
1. Where there’s honour and privilege, there’s expectations that come with that.
As doctors, leaders, and business owners, we have certain privileges and respect that also come with an expectation of how we ought to behave. There are people who trust and look up to you, and I’m sure that’s something you really value. Developing your own code of ethics and honour will help point you in the right direction every time.
On the other side of that concept, is the acknowledgment that not many people are in your shoes and will necessarily understand all the decisions you make. There are times where owning a practice can be stressful, and it would do us all well to cut each other a bit of slack and accept that we’re human. You might make a decision under pressure that you wouldn’t otherwise make, or that may not make sense to people on the outside.
At the end of the day, it comes down to that balance. Yes, it’s important to operate with integrity and hold yourself to a certain standard, but we could all do with a bit of forgiveness and breathing space when things don’t go as planned.
2. Be open to opportunities in any situation
Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes – and they’re often dressed as problems. One of my early mentors who was also my first boss in the Navy once said to me “Whatever is offered to you, just say yes with both hands and take it and run. Because I promise you, if you go and do this you’ll experience and see things you never would otherwise.”
I’ll tell you now, he was absolutely correct. It might be a bit intimidating and even scary at times, but you can only learn so much within your comfort zone. You stand to gain so much when you put yourself out there – and sure, things could always turn out less than you’d hoped for. But at the very least, you always get experience and you always learn something. And at best? You could get opportunities beyond what you ever thought.
3. Not everything goes according to plan
I know, that’s not what you want to hear. But if you make your peace with it now, it will save you a lot of frustration in life and in business. Don’t get me wrong – it’s important to have a plan, but be prepared for curveballs.
We were constantly in positions where we had to pack and prepare for every possible contingency, and not everything worked out the way we thought it would. But the planning process meant that we had enough resources to be able to cope or adapt with new situations that we didn’t anticipate.
A friend of mine says, “a plan is a delusion of order.” And I like to think that there’s some truth to that. I personally like order and structure a great deal, as many dentists do. But plans often go out the window, so you need to factor in contingencies.
4. Pick up different styles of learning
In your education and within your career, you will have absorbed a huge amount of knowledge and learnt extremely specific skills in all manner of ways. Textbooks, lectures, discussions, repetition, practicing, asking questions, making mistakes – and I’m sure you found some easier than others.
As a leader, you’re now in the position of needing to teach and guide your team in multiple different ways. Some team members will intake information in different ways than others, so you’ll need to learn how to adapt the way you teach others in order to get the best result for your practice. It’s going to be far more frustrating to find out a few months down the track that you’ve been teaching one way when that’s not the way they learn, and there’s been a miscommunication somewhere.
5. The importance of organisational structure
The Navy and indeed the military in general is a huge organisation that needs to make sure it has the right people in the right places, playing to their strengths for everyone’s sake. They have an organisational chart that lays out the rankings, the name of the position, a description, KPI’s, deliverables, core competencies required, and more.
As dentists, we also need to be thinking about how we can create an organisational structure that will best serve the practice. What positions do we need? What do we need the person in that position to be able to do? What assets need to be in place? What does the training chart look like? What processes are relevant to their role?
If you can create that for your practice, your team and their workflow will become much more streamlined and you’ll be setting everyone up for success (yourself included!).
6. Everyone has a role in making the ship move forward
In the Navy, everyone has a role that is mission-focused. Every person and every position is important and necessary to keep the ship functioning and moving forward. No matter how basic or simple a role may seem, it’s never unimportant. For example, a dishwasher might be considered the simplest role in a restaurant but if it weren’t for them, no food gets served.
It’s the same in dental practices. If we’re not getting sterilization done properly, if we’re not having rooms turned around, then we don’t achieve our mission. We need to make sure that we’re training and engaging our team in a way that they know how their role contributes to the success of the practice. Not only will it give them a sense of pride, but it highlights the fact that you’re all coming together and working as parts of a whole to achieve something bigger.
7. Personal grit and tenacity
Often in running a dental practice, there are times we’ve got to grit our teeth and get through things. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, as you know. But we’ve got to be able to get through that and grit our teeth and have some perseverance.
Angela Duckworth has a wonderful book by that name called Grit, that explains grit is a predictor for success, and that the ability to endure hardship is one of the most important qualities you can develop. And one of the things I believe is that every business, every practice, every business outside of dentistry has its days where it’s a bit tough. What gets us through to the happier, more prosperous times, is the grit to get to the other side.
P.S Want to scale your dental practice and take your profits to 7 figure success?
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