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The Most Underrated Skill in Management

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of one of my favorite magazines, The Idler, said, “To solve the right problems for your patients, customers, clients or donors, you just need to step outside and pay attention to what is so commonplace, so everyday, so mundane that everyone else misses it.”

He’s right, but how can orthodontists pay better attention to what their competition misses?

First, through clarity. Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Wise words from an incredibly wise man, but most orthodontists fail to rigorously and clearly define the problem they are trying to solve in their marketplace. As a profession, we like to think we’re saving the world one malocclusion at a time. Yet, patients and parents seek treatment in our offices for a host of reasons we’ve never considered. The emotions that drive consumer desire to solve the problem of crooked teeth, bad bites, TMJ pain, mouth breathing, facial asymmetry, etc. often fail to make their way onto our “RADAR screens” because we’ve never taken the time to sit down with our employees and clearly define the problems that matter most to our patients.

Second, with confidence. Joshua, the first official general of the Israelites, led his people into the promised land in three days. After wandering in the desert for 40 years, Joshua accomplished the feat in only three days after the death of Moses. How did he achieve such dramatic results so quickly for his people? Through confidence. The word “success” is only mentioned twice in the Bible, both times in the Book of Joshua.

When orthodontists hire me to fix their problems with new patient conversion, employee engagement, training, retention, production, collections, referrals and so on, I know immediately how quickly those problems will be resolved based on these two factors: their ability to clearly define the problem and their enthusiasm for and confidence in solving it. Unfortunately, it’s rare that I find both of these qualities in a new client. That’s why I’m so picky about who I work with in my coaching and consulting work.

For a wonderful review of the most underrated skill in management (i.e., the ability to clearly define the problem), take a look at this article in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

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