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How to Avoid Expensive Leadership Mistakes – Episode 68


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Reese welcomes Denise Leleux, a leading expert on end-to-end client experience whose 26-year resume includes a position as VP of Global Customer Experience at eBay where she mentored top business leaders and managed a team of 6,000 employees. In this episode of Dentist Money™, Denise draws on her client-communication expertise and the observations she’s made while in the chair at dental practices from Dallas to Denver and Louisiana to London. She offers priceless advice on dealing with difficult office managers, unifying your staff, and translating your business mission into unforgettable client experiences.

Podcast Transcription:

Reese Harper: Welcome to the Dentist Money Show, where we help dentists make smart financial decisions. I’m your host, Reese Harper, and I’ve put together a very special show today. I wasn’t anticipating to be able to get such a high profile guest on our show, but I’m going to explain a little bit of her background and you’re going to be able to realize really quickly how it’s going to be able to apply to your situation. I was listening to a lecture a few months ago and was really impressed by the real life, tangible experiences that I could tell were oozing from this presenter about her area of expertise. And today’s guest is a friend of mine; her name is Denise Leleux, and she most recently was in charge of global customer experience for Europe and North America for eBay where she had to deal with around 6,000 employees managing the interactions between all of those people and all of the complaints and the praise—the good and bad of what was going on with eBay with their customer network. It’s a huge project, and I’m just really impressed with all of the insight that she brought to the table. So I would like to introduce our guest today who is going to give us some insight into dentistry, her experience in customer service, her experiences as an executive, and a lot of insight into how to build leadership skills and develop your culture. I’m just really excited about this interview, so I would like to welcome Denise to the show.

Denise Leleux: Thank you, it’s great to be here. I’m super excited.

Reese Harper: Thanks for coming. Denise lives in Park City right now, so luckily we were able to get her in the studio. Denise, how about you just tell us a little bit about your background so that people can get an idea. I’ve kind of given them a little bit of sense of what you’ve done, but some of the strengths and perspectives that you bring to your career.

Denise Leleux: Sure, thanks. My background—twenty-six years dates me, but twenty-six years doing everything from sales, account management, product, innovation, P&L management operations as you said, and bringing all that experience into end-to-end customer experience has been one of the big highlights in my career as well as diversity and inclusion. Inclusive leadership is a real passion, especially when you lead 6,000 people around the world. You’ll never meet all of them, so you need to be able to have them follow you and give context, and be able to develop programs to help them further their careers as well. It’s not just about the corporation. I’ve worked six and a half years in London—moving to Park City was my ninth corporate move, so I’ve been to a lot of dentists around the world as well. Hopefully I can share some experiences that I’ve had.

Reese Harper: How was being serviced in the United States in dentistry different from how you felt like it was in London or in other places you have lived?

Denise Leleux: It’s similar when you have customer service. Everyone wants to feel valued; everyone wants to have a great experience; they want you to feel personable. I found that the treatments were roughly the same; I had some great experiences in London with my dentist. I had some crowns done and maybe even a root canal back then; I’ve had varying experiences in the U.S.—I’ve had more dentists in the U.S. and so it always comes down to me to the interactions I have.

Reese Harper: You probably pay attention a lot to what you see right when you walk in and what they say over the phone is my guess. What have you noticed that has been some good and bad things that have happened as you have interacted with different practices?

Denise Leleux: I think it absolutely starts with when you call to make an appointment. My son is ten now, but when he was very young he wasn’t sick so he never went to the doctor. We were in Virginia at the time and I called and said, “listen he is extremely anxious about doctors and anything in a white coat; he freaks out.”

Reese Harper: Is he more sensitive? I have a son that’s extremely sensitive when it comes to social settings. It’s hard to know what anxiety really means these days, but ultimately maybe a kid that was a little more sensitive?

Denise Leleux: Very. And I called them and I said, he’s very anxious and so if you can just make it super friendly and kid-oriented because all three of us needed a check up, my husband and I too. And so out came the technician to get him with gloves already on and a face mask on, and it was downhill from there.

Reese Harper: Interesting. In the waiting room? It’s like Hannibal Lecter showing up.

Denise Leleux: Yes in the waiting room. It went downhill from there, and so I said listen, just count his teeth. Just start there, and then we will make another appointment somewhere else.

Reese Harper: Has anyone ever known that you are an expert in this area and ever asked you for feedback or anything? Or do you just show up as a patient and just play nice?

Denise Leleux: They don’t except I do give feedback.

Reese Harper: Okay, so you’re a proactive feedback provider?

Denise Leleux: I am, in fact I’m going through some dental work right now, and I give them feedback after the appointment—whether or not I think they were super clear with me or that I really understood the process. I don’t think I understood I was in the process of having a bunch of old fillings taken out and then putting crowns in. But I didn’t understand how long the process was going to be—I thought it was: you go in, get your temporaries, come back in a few weeks when they have made the teeth, then you’re done. But this is now three or four months later, and we are still working through.

Reese Harper: So expectations weren’t real clear up front, and the process took longer than anticipated?

Denise Leleux: It’s taking longer, but once I expressed my anxiety then they were able to talk me through it. So it is about being clear with your dentist as well as the patient.

Reese Harper: It’s helpful as a customer to take ownership of that communication and any service business, but ultimately it starts with their staff. They can’t just assume that patients are going to be good communicators and be proactive and discuss things, right?

Denise Leleux: Right. It really comes down to: what experience do you want your practice to be known for? In your marketplace, against your competitors—my girlfriend called me a couple weeks ago and said, “you really need to talk about getting a B12 shot; they are so helpful.” I had never heard of a B12 shot but I happened to be at the dentist that day, so I asked the dentist, “do you happen to do B12 shots?” And he immediately stopped what he was doing and he walked across the room to face me, and he took his mask off and he really engaged in a conversation about nutrition and other things to decide if I should get a B12 shot or if I should start somewhere else. And I said, “oh I’m so sorry to have taken you away from my appointment.” He said, “no, I love nutrition; I love talking about this. And I believe in helping the whole of you not just: I’m here for your teeth.” So I think that’s part of his practice—it’s kind of a dental spa. When you go in, they ask if you want a paraffin wax treatment during your appointment, and at the end of the appointment they ask if you would like a head massage. And that’s how they want to differentiate, and I promise you I have sent more patients to him than any other dentist I’ve ever sent patients to. Because from the moment you walk in, they always raise their head and smile even if they are with someone just to acknowledge that you’re there. Every person if you’re walking down the hall is saying, “hello! Great smile.” So they are reinforcing that friendliness that clearly he wants the practice to stand for.

Reese Harper: Interesting. You have found a practice that marketed to you that found what you valued and you identified with, and now you’re a loyal customer and it seems like you’re a pretty strong advocate to the practice too. But if that practice didn’t have some of the attributes you were looking for as a patient, you probably wouldn’t have lasted that long there?

Denise Leleux: Honestly, if they didn’t do paraffin wax and a head massage I would still go, right? I love the care that they give you; I love the fact that he is so worried about my bite that he’s not willing to put permanent cement in until he is absolutely sure that I’m not going to have bite problems later. So the fact that he cares that much, and clinically he’s fantastic as well. And everyone in the practice is either wearing braces or has had braces, and I think also as his practice has changed, he’s brought in an orthodontist and other practitioners, so he’s seen the marketplace in Park City in changing and so how does he change his business to match the changing dynamics he’s picking up on in Park City?

Reese Harper: So if we had to summarize how a good dentist maybe differentiates himself in the community, what kind of general advice would you give for someone who is saying, “I’m trying to set myself apart.” How would you re summarize what we have kind of been talking about here?

Denise Leleux: I would say, “what do you want your practice to stand for?” As another example, I had braces twice. The second time as an adult, and so I could go to the dentist during the day—and this was in Dallas and Denver. This particular one was in Denver, and they would take a black car service to the local junior high and high schools. They would check out the student, bring them to the orthodontic appointment, and they would return them to school. Clearly, they wanted their practice to be known for convenience for working parents so that they were able to differentiate themselves from another orthodontist who doesn’t do that where the parents would have to take time off work, get their students and go to the orthodontist. I think it’s about knowing what you want to be known for and then how do you bring experiences and employees that will reinforce that experience? And of course asking for feedback, and when you’re not getting the results that you want—are you process mapping in a way? Are you doing that journey map? Are you understanding exactly what your customers are going through so that you can change the experience to deliver your goals?

Reese Harper: In my experience it seems like just clinically, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate if you’re just a really capable or competent dentist. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate as easily as you can through your customer experience.

Denise Leleux: And I think too, I’m sure with most things, it’s an art and it’s a science. Practicing dentistry, financial competency, leadership and customer experience—it’s all a mix between art and science. Part of that is I’m sure when you’re going through dental school maybe different universities teach slightly different practices, or each dentist finds a certain way. I’ve been to some dentists who will diagnose one thing and then I will go to the next dentist in another city, and they will diagnose it slightly differently. So to your point, clinically I’m sure that they are all great, but it does come down to: how effectively do you communicate with me? Are you asking me about pain? If you don’t go very often, and you suddenly have a cavity—think about that: this person has probably never had a shot in their mouth; your tongue can make any hole in your mouth seem like the Grand Canyon. So how do you help a customer through that? Maybe they have anxiety—and I don’t know if my son has anxiety or not, I doubt it, but he was nervous. So how are you helping to make that experience to one where people look at dentists—they are very trusted. They are very professional and they have lots of integrity, and so people are sometimes going to bring other baggage into the appointment. They may share some of that baggage with you, and are you prepared to hear that?

Reese Harper: One of the things coming to mind for me is that communication skills here are paramount. And some dentists are going to be like: I’m just not good at communication skills, or I don’t have communication skills. I wasn’t born with that—you just come that way. Some people have great communication skills, some people don’t. That’s the paradigm that a lot of people carry. Is that true or not? How do people improve their communication skills no matter what phase of development they would say they are in?

Denise Leleux: I think you’re right. A lot of people will say, “oh I’m just not a born communicator.” Well, if you can talk you can communicate right? And so, my mom always said you have two ears and one mouth and use them proportionately, and so listening to your patients—I’m sure any dentist who has seen any number of patients can determine quickly that someone is anxious or nervous or clenching, and so why not pausing and asking if everything is okay? You might have a furrowed brow, and you can read those body signals because you’re right there. And that allows the patient or customer to be able to say, “I’m so glad you noticed; I didn’t know how to tell you. I am scared of shots; I’m in my forties and I shouldn’t be scared of shots, but I am.” They might be embarrassed, but I think it’s about listening. Not just trying to think about what your answer is going to be, but really listening and trying to understand. And if you don’t understand, asking clarifying questions because sometimes it’s not exactly what people are asking. We learn that a lot in customer service—the customer may be calling for X, but it’s really Y that they are calling. So probing.

Reese Harper: So let’s talk a little bit about this from a management context, and sometimes I think dentists struggle to build relationships with their team. They are the boss, but they are not the partner. We get employee feedback and office manager feedback pretty regularly in our practice because sometimes the employees will have questions about their finances or their investments or their house mortgage or whatever—they will call in and ask financial questions and we provide that service to them. Generally the feedback is pretty positive about their employment relationship, but sometimes they are not very happy with their job situation. I am kind of curious what an average person can do to help build relationships better with the people around them. I think you’ve had a lot of experience in that, and that’s kind of an area that I know a lot of dentists struggle with. And I don’t know that it’s very intuitive to people to know how to build a relationship with their team. What are some thoughts you have in that area?

Denise Leleux: I think you could even start with just a five or ten-minute huddle before the practice opens. Maybe share some great feedback that you got from a customer satisfaction survey, or share that in the last three months we have gotten two or three pieces of feedback about friendliness or cleanliness. Ask everyone pull together and ask who wants to help spearhead something.

Reese Harper: That’s perfect because in these huddles sometimes they will break their team out. Some people don’t do it at all—they will have no team moment throughout the day. Some people do it quite well early in the morning or during the middle of the day or sometimes after the day depending on the practice. Most of them will do it in the morning. Would the focus of that be to first talk about positive things that have happened? Are you trying to build relationships with the people there through asking them personal questions about what they are going through? Are you trying to observe what’s going on with your team to make sure you uncover some problems that might be stewing under the surface with communication errors with the work or interactions between different employees? What’s the focus of a team meeting? What’s a victory when you leave it? I think there are a lot of people that just think: I’m having a meeting. I don’t know that they really have a goal of what they are trying to achieve from that interaction. What are some of your thoughts on that?

Denise Leleux: I am a firm believer in praise in public and reprimand in private or give construction feedback in private, especially if it’s individual. Over the last quarter, we have had three surveys come back that our check-in process is not friendly. Well that’s probably down to one or two people, and so therefore you wouldn’t want to have the whole practice worried about that, or you wouldn’t want to shame someone. To me, a team meeting was always a reinforcement of vision, mission, and purpose. It doesn’t have to be reading a statement—but jut reinforcing behaviors or brand or something that’s all moving us forward in the same way, and then certainly sharing some great moves or, “Hey I saw Reese that as I was running late as the dentist, you went out and saw Mrs. Smith and reassured her that we didn’t forget about her,” or whatever it was that you kind of went that extra mile. So I think you’re trying to reinforce the experience that you want sharing great feedback from the customers—maybe celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, so tenure would be important I think or giving again ten minutes to say, “Hey Reese you went to that trade show or that seminar; why don’t you give everybody the low down?”

Reese Harper: That’s really good insight: don’t make any critical statements or any constructive feedback that’s personal to an individual in any kind of a public setting. Do you see people doing that occasionally?

Denise Leleux: Of course.

Reese Harper: Yeah, it’s a hard thing to remember to not make that error. But praising in public and discussing opportunities in private—that’s great.

Denise Leleux: The other thing too—everyone makes a mistake now and again, and you kind of call someone out. I always just profusely apologize after—publically as well but also after. We are all human; we are all going to make mistakes. It’s kind of credits and debits, so talking about your financials: you just want to put a lot more credits in the accounts vs. the debits you take out.

Reese Harper: Yes, that’s a good way to think about it. Talk to me a little bit about getting a feedback loop from patients or any customer. I know it’s very common in large corporations, but in small practices it’s pretty rare to get an active feedback loop. If anything it’s quite informal if it is happening. And somebody’s listening to this and they’re going, “wait! We do it all the time and have a great system for it!” But as a general rule, it’s not happening that regularly. Why is feedback important; how do you use it at a place like eBay; and how would someone apply it in a dental practice like this? I’m curious on your perspective in that area, because it’s been a big focus of your work.

Denise Leleux: Absolutely. As they say, feedback is a gift. So you have to take it as just that—a gift. It’s just information. The practice I go to now does a feedback survey after every visit. Also you get what you measure. Again what is important to your practice? And therefore you want to reinforce that by asking customers and patients after every visit: did they experience what you want them to experience? On average at eBay we would get about 25% response rate on our surveys—which is a great response rate. And we would use that information in many ways. We wanted to reward our staff, but we would also data mine our contacts—so data mining either our emails or phone calls, and we would look for key words and then we would look for use cases, and then we would tie that to the feedback and work upstream to improve the process. Again, if your practice is going to be known for A,B,C—you’re measuring A,B,C and getting that feedback. Then you’re taking that feedback and I believe if you get any negative feedback—or feedback that might be concerning or giving you a low score, someone in the practice should be calling that customer and asking for more insight. So again if you’re seeing a trend or a pattern, make improvements—test and learn something different. And improve that experience that your customers are going through. Map it—they want in the door, then what happens? On average, how long are they waiting? On average, how long are they waiting in the treatment room? Until they leave. How is making that follow up appointment?

Reese Harper: One of the concepts that really was intriguing to me and really helped me was this idea of an unconscious bias that people have. Tell our listeners a little bit about this concept and how it might apply to a dentist managing their practice.

Denise Leleux: Unconscious bias: everybody has one; it’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just that once your eyes are open to it—so if you have a preference, once your eyes are open to it, you are able to make improvements. It could be things like: there’s a four-step process of going through unconscious bias, starting with unconscious incompetence. For example: I’ve never done a podcast, so I am now consciously incompetent of doing one. I will go through this; I will hopefully do more; then I will become unconsciously competent. A good example would be riding a bike or driving a car: my son is ten years old. He is unconsciously incompetent. He has no idea he doesn’t know how to drive a car, he has never even thought about it. But when he is fifteen or sixteen, he’s going to be conscious that he doesn’t know how to drive a car, and therefore he’s going to want to take lessons and learn how to drive a car. And then he starts to be very conscious: I need to turn my blinker on, look out the mirror, put my seatbelt on. Everything is a conscious movement, and then eventually he will be driving for twenty years and everything just happens. You probably didn’t think twice when you got into your car; you just know exactly what to do. And so unconscious bias is a lot of that, and that can play into reinforcing—if you’re not aware, you listen with a certain lens or bias. You hear things that I might hear differently, because I might be in a different stage of competence around that skill. It impacts everything: it impacts hiring, pay, opportunity, promotion. We as a people spend 80% of our time with people just like that, and I do a lot of work with startup CEOs where they are trying to hire talent around them, and when I say well what about women, or why doesn’t your management team have any women on it? And they will say, “oh well I just go to my Linked In; I just use my network and there are just no women in my network.” Well no because they are all like you, and so how do you help bring in diversity and be inclusive? So things to look out for: you have a male and a female who they have the same tenure, but one is paid very differently. Hiring: you’re very fit, so you hire only very fit people. This is kind of silly, but you might see a very overweight patient and just have a bias that they are lazy. Well maybe they’re not lazy, maybe there’s a medical issue. But are we stopping to think about that difference? Stopping to think about the bias that we might carry?

Reese Harper: This concept of unconscious bias is that we are sometimes not aware of the biases that we have in our lives about the way we see the world, right? Is that a fair way to summarize it?

Denise Leleux: Absolutely.

Reese Harper: And until we are made aware of those biases by someone or ourselves becoming more self-aware, sometimes those affect the way we manage and treat people and build a team. Is that kind of the summary of why you’re talking about this principle as much as you do? This inclusive leadership idea kind of ties into that unconscious bias, right?

Denise Leleux: Absolutely, for me it’s easy to see race or ethnicity, but there is so much under the iceberg; that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much difference: I grew up in New Orleans; I’ve lived all over the country and in Europe, so I just bring a different perspective with me. I want to be able to share that, and you want to be able to share your perspective, but if I’m kind of closed down to: wow you have never been outside of Utah, clearly you don’t know anything. How wrong is that? So it’s just something about being that “aha moment,” for saying, “wow I hadn’t thought about maybe changing my practice in this way. I hadn’t thought about maybe having an online check-in because the clientele that comes into my practice actually doesn’t like to talk to people. They actually prefer to sign in on an iPad.” You might not like that, but somebody else does. You’ll find in customer service, it’s part of why we offer so many channels. Because not everybody wants to talk on the phone—people want to text or email. They just want you to figure it out and fix it for them.

Reese Harper: Yes, the way they want to communicate. The idea that a diverse work place allows for more growth in a business I think is something that a lot of people take for granted. If you hire people like you that think like you and that agree with you in every way and that reflect your view of what’s normal, that will also translate to patients that only relate to that type of person and only relate to that type of style, which narrows the patient base that you can attract. Inherently, the level of diversity that you have in your employment base can be a huge tool in attracting a larger patient base. Wouldn’t you say that’s a fair way to look at it?

Denise Leleux: Absolutely, there’s research that says absolutely having a more diverse workforce will drive I think 25% more profitability over the long term than others. And don’t quote me, I don’t know the stat on that, but it is something that’s palpable and people should pay attention to. The other thing is more creativity brings better problem solving because there’s more ideas that are being generated.

Reese Harper: And ideas that challenge other ideas—it makes for a more robust outcome. You get a better outcome in your practice.

Denise Leleux: Absolutely, you want it to be reflective of the population you’re serving. Like you said, you’re either going to limit that or you’re going to expand that.

Reese Harper: Yes. And this second idea you’re talking about was someone struggling to accommodate—was it someone in a management position, middle level management or just an employee? Someone who was just struggling to say thank you to peers? What was his role?

Denise Leleux: Yes, he was probably in charge of a third of our contacts. So he was a big manager, and it wasn’t that he could never say it, it just didn’t come natural where as it comes natural to me.

Reese Harper: Did it not feel authentic? Was that part of it?

Denise Leleux: I think for him it didn’t. He’s a real sports guy, and when I went to him and said, “listen I heard this example, and I think it’s going to resonate with you. So you go to the World Cup, and you give your ticket and they say: welcome to the World Cup, get some refreshments and go to your seat, but listen we are not going to cheer until the end of the game. Because let’s face it: we won’t know for ninety minutes who wins so why bother; let’s just cheer at the end.” And of course your eyes just pop open and you think, how ridiculous is that? You cheer at every try, every kick, and every good play: you’re always going to be cheering for your team. And so that helped resonate with him because I said listen, you have kids. When you go to their basketball games you’re cheering for every try, every attempt, every steal—everything. That’s what your employees want. They want you to cheer them on every step of the process. And I think where people get confused is: if I’m cheering them on, does that mean that they think that they are going to get some great bonus at the end? And the difference is, you’re cheering them on but you’re also giving them feedback. You’re also making sure that you’re on the right path; it’s not blind. After the game, don’t you talk to your son about his performance and ask where he could have done better. Whatever it is, and employees want that same feeling. They want to know that they are on the right path, and they are doing a great job, that they are continuing to learn, and you’re going to leave them better than they found them. You’re going to help them along the way: the have to grow too. And I promise anybody out there who is not doing it today—once you start, and yes it can be awkward but acknowledge the awkwardness, be vulnerable with your team, and once you start you won’t be able to stop because you will feel so rewarded when you help someone grow.

Reese Harper: That’s so powerful. I was just talking to somebody yesterday who is really struggling to maintain staff, and it’s been their longest staff tenure is like two years. They have never really had anyone longer than that. Most people aren’t willing to last that long if they don’t like the situation, but that’s the best employee in the world’s willingness to last that long. It must be really bad if that’s the maximum tenure that someone can handle you for. And I think it’s important to look at that and say: what’s my track record here of retaining people, and what’s it look like? Because that’s indicative of culture.

Denise Leleux: Yeah, for that particular person I would recommend either getting someone to come in and interview each employee to find out what your opportunities as the leader is to improve—I’ve done that before. As well as, if you can’t afford that, there is survey monkey where you could do an anonymous survey and ask really pointed questions about your behaviors, the practices behaviors, and see where you need to change. And then one of those team meetings could be you being very vulnerable and saying, “I’ve got the results. Here’s what you all like about me, here’s what you don’t. And as a leader, here are the two or three things I’m going to strive to improve. And every couple weeks I’m going to send out a survey just to make sure I’m improving and hold me accountable.”

Reese Harper: Let’s do this real quick. I want to take a second—I know you’ve done a lot of coaching and helping people figure out things they might be doing as a manager or executive that might not be entirely healthy. I’m going to give you some examples of situations that I know happen regularly in practices, and I want you to say what you would coach that person to do. So one of the things that frustrates a lot of professionals and especially dentists and doctors—people that we will call “entreprofessionals.” It’s been funny because on this podcast in the last year—obviously 90% of our listeners are dentists, but we keep getting these non-dentists listening and going, “I have problem.” And it’s usually people that run a small practice of some kind. It could be a designer, construction-company manager, a dentist, a doctor, attorney, lawyer, CPA—but they are doing the job, and they are trying to run the company. And one of their biggest frustrations is they don’t like to be bothered. They just don’t want to be talked to. They just want to be able to do their job and want it all to work. They get frustrated when they get interrupted from the job they are doing, but they have this company of sometimes as many as 30-40 who entirely depend on them for leadership. But that’s a very common piece of feedback: I just wish the thing would just work and I wouldn’t have to always be in it. What would you tell someone who is going through that situation?

Denise Leleux: Well unfortunately there’s going to be a piece of it that’s going to be there forever because you’re the CEO of your entrepreneurship. But the other thing is, sit down and really figure out what’s a great day for you. And if a great day means you’re never bothered, then either delegate that opportunity to someone else who likes to be bothered or hire someone to do COO chief of staff, practice operations or something. But then you have to live by that—you have to set up clear authority with them to say, “this is the guardrails; you can spent X amount of money; we’ll meet everyday and I’ll give you a half hour and you can run down the list of the concerns that the staff has” or whatever it is. But I always try and start with people as I’m mentoring them and ask them what a great day looks like and what a really bad day looks like. Then we will try and maximize your great day and minimize your bad day.

Reese Harper: Interesting. And you’re doing that because it allows them to focus on their strengths, or is it just healthy for someone to always feel good about their day? Or is their an element of—this is a tough day, it’s just going to be that way? Is there a tough love balance here that you have to have as a coach to somebody or is it really kind of that people can get to a point where it’s consistently more good days then bad, right?

Denise Leleux: Well I think it should be over the long haul. People always ask me as a working mother: how do you balance as a working mom with a global job? And I always say: listen, every week I sit down with my husband and we say what we have on tap, and then how do we adjust our lives? Many weeks work wins, and then some weeks my family has to win. It’s over the long time and the long term that it should balance. But you’re never going to find balance in a day, and you’re never going to find balance in a week or a month or a quarter. But over the long haul, you should find balance—the balance that’s right for you by the way. Of course there’s some tough love, but if you really hate being interrupted and your job is to strategy and growth and talking to outside people and investing—whatever those kind of core job duties are. There are people who love the business and absolutely hate people leadership—so delegate some of it right?

Reese Harper: In dentistry it’s difficult because some people really want to be the practitioner, and some people want to have a few associates and a fairly large practice and have multiple locations and grow into more of an enterprise. Sometimes that journey from figuring out what’s the right way to get from A to B—a lot of people get lost in that. Through negative experiences, it sometimes slows them down from achieving more. They might just hit a brick wall so many times that they give up on growing, or they feel like they are trapped and just need to have three staff people because every time that they have tried to add that fourth person it’s hard for them to find the right hire. They can’t find an office manager or that COO or that manager, and I think it’s easy psychologically when you hit that tipping point where you almost just quit trying. I think what you said is really important—to not look at a day as a failure. It’s going to be hard to ever feel like a day is perfect; it’s easier to look at a week, a month, and a year. The bigger your time frames of analyzing if you made progress, it gives you an emotional sense of satisfaction than if you’re looking at days: mornings, Mondays, right?

Denise Leleux: I have to say, every morning I think: today is going to be a great day. I’m going to accomplish so much. And then every drive home is like well, I’ll try harder tomorrow. I think it’s probably typical of a Type A personality. Also, if you’re in your own practice—again the enterprise—some days you’re going to feel like someone beat you up with a stick, and then some days you’re on cloud nine. But I think it’s every day you’re making progress on those top three things that you’re trying to accomplish. If those three things don’t have anything to do with people leadership, then maybe delegate that. But again you have to give good guardrails and what brand you want and all those things.

Reese Harper: That’s great insight. The next question I would pose is: a lot of people struggle with feeling like they are able to stay calm and their energy level and their tension fluctuates a great deal. If you have three people in a row that come in and ask you something; if you have a frustrated customer that you had just deal with and then on top of that you have a bill that you just found out that got sent to collections that you didn’t know about; or your AR has been out for ninety days and no one caught it on this huge case. There’s just a lot of things that culminate to where you start getting really chippy. And they find themselves being more chippy than they do levelheaded. Why do you think that happens and what advice do you have for people that find themselves in that situation?

Denise Leleux: I call that snarky. That’s a tough one because again you hope that doesn’t happen every day. I had a boss who really knew himself—he knew his management style and his leadership style, and for every new employee he would kind of give us his working rules, which is I’m better in the morning than I’m in the evening. If I say no the first time, you can ask again but by the third no stop asking. So he really tried to help us help him. So one is if you know that about yourself then maybe schedule your people appointments in the morning. So if you’re getting that bad news that the AR system is down or you’ve got something in collections—that’s the energy level in which you can deal with it. But if you’re kind of getting hit with that right after lunch and you know you’re sluggish after lunch then maybe you need to walk away? I don’t know, if most people are like me I know how I behave, which is I would still think about it. So if I know I’m more of a morning energy person, then maybe try and organize your day a bit better. So maybe you see patients from 10 a.m. on, but from 7-10 you’re really dealing with the practice or growing or going around reading all the feedback from your customers or going to all your different locations. Maybe there is something about this whole body energy, and I think for people who have started on their own journeys and keep increasing the size of their business or their practice or they are thrust into these leadership positions, I would find your own personal board of directors—people you can trust. Hire a coach if you can afford it; there’s lots of life coaches in the world. You want somebody to give you that honest feedback, and again if you’re being snarky or chippy at work, it’s hard for people to give you that feedback in a safe environment because you may be a small company and they really like it and want to grow with you. They are less likely to give you the honest feedback, so you have to be vulnerable and say “listen guys, I know that I am being a real jerk on these types of situations.” Just take a moment and think about what the trends are; what are the patterns of your behavior so you can start to address them? It definitely takes that self-awareness that you mentioned earlier.

Reese Harper: That’s great insight. Last question—I talk to a lot of successful specialists that have really large practices. One of the things I hear a lot is that sometimes they will say negative things about their team. It’s rare that I meet someone who tells me that their office manager or business manager is amazing. Once in a while I will find that person, and my gut is telling me it has less to do with the actual business manager and more about the perception that the specialist or large GP has about their office manger—the way they view people. If I ask ten people: does your office manager do a great job? And eight out of ten are telling me that they are not really happy with everything, or they are frustrated because they don’t really feel like they have a great manager, then to me is that really indicative of the manager or is it indicative of the perception of the entrepreneur? In that context from that observation, I find that most of them tend to not communicate very well to their team. They will think things and they won’t say it; they will want to say something but maybe keep it to themselves. Or they will think they said it, but never articulated it to someone. Does any of that resonate with you?

Denise Leleux: Absolutely. I’m smiling because the context and the communication is important. And so much in life comes down to how you communicate something. But I think for that I would say, “is there a role profile on what the office manager is supposed to be doing?” And if there is, then it’s time to sit down and say, “here’s the five things I think are most important about your role. So if you think these other three things are super important, they are not. And that may be where they are focusing. If they are doing a great job, but they are not getting the five most important things done…

Reese Harper: You said role profile like it’s a thing. Most people here, they don’t know what a role profile is, but in a large organization it’s pretty standard for how you’re going to manage, correct?

Denise Leleux: Well it is, but also you would think, how did you hire that office manager if you didn’t have something to tell them what they were going to do? So are they responsible for all billing? Are they responsible for front office staff?

Reese Harper: Usually its, “I’m busy. I need someone. Will you start tomorrow?” Unfortunately.

Denise Leleux: Right, and then in that case, again if that’s not your forte, have them write it.

Reese Harper: There needs to be some profile that you can say, “hey here’s our objective standard by which we’re measuring our communications or our performance analysis.”

Denise Leleux: Right. I would think that you would say, “we want to be known as the practice, law firm, entrepreneur.” Whatever it is—to being the most proactive customer-friendly place. Have them even do it. Again if it’s not something you like then say, “ask me questions; I’ll give you half an hour every morning for the next three months. Ask all your questions, and then I want you to develop.” And then that way, they can start holding the front office staff accountable. They can start holding the behaviors and grasping the behaviors of your practice. So you could also say, “why don’t you play back what you heard? Could you play back what I just told you?” Because then you will know if you’re sugar coating it too much.

Reese Harper: I was listening to a speaking coach recently—there were about thirty people there. Everyone had to go tell a story at the beginning, and everyone had to write down what they understood from the story that was told—what their takeaway was. And it’s amazing how the takeaway that the audience has about the story that’s being told is so different from what the speaker thought they told. This was what my story was supposed to be about, but everyone interpreted it in wildly different ways. And I think that was just really illustrative to me about how basic daily communication works. Where I said something, and if I didn’t ask you to articulate it back to me and get that feedback about what you understood from what I just said—you might think that you just delegated something that is entirely different from what the employee is actually going to go and do.

Denise Leleux: That’s where you come back to unconscious bias, right? Because I filtered that through the lens I believe reality is, and your reality is different than my reality. If we don’t pause to say, “let’s compare realities” it’s very difficult.

Reese Harper: So true. That’s great insight. This has been a super good interview; we got a ton of things we have been able to cover. Tell me if there’s anything you would like to leave—kind of some parting thoughts that we would like to summarize our interview in.

Denise Leleux: You know, I think every single person is on their own journey when it comes to inclusive leadership and leading your practice. I think it’s about really trying to articulate what you want—what you want to be known for, what you want your practice to be known for, and then being relentless about finding the people to help you execute against it. And caring so much about your customers that you’re willing to change the experience to make it better for them, and never give up on your dream; tell the universe what you want and it’s going to pay you back trifold.

Reese Harper: Well Denise, thanks so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. It was a great interview, and we look forward to having you back at some point.

Denise Leleux: I hope so, thanks!

Practice Management

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