Captain Your Ship and Business

In the forty-five years that I have been in dentistry, we have been directly hit by some unique storms such as Hepatitis B in the 70’s, inflation rates of 18% in the 80’s, AIDS/HIV 80’s-90’s, Gulf War 1990, 9/11 of 2001, SARS ’02, the Great Recession ’08-09, H1N1 ’09, MERS ’12, and now COVID-19 in 2020. This is not our first American storm; this is more like a tsunami/hurricane/and flood all rolled into a tiny 0.12-micron virus. It is a public health and an economic crisis combination. I purchased my dental practice in 1995. Over my career, I have experienced some of these “storms” as an employee, clinician, and as a business owner. This blog will share how I captained the ship during challenging times.

During these turbulent times, I am always reminded of my childhood life experiences. Our family owned a small 16ft. sailboat when I was young. We enjoyed many family outings to Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, California. One adventure I recall when I was 12 years old, in late August, we had invited a family friend, Javier, to join my dad and I for an afternoon sailing. Javier had never been on a boat before, so he wasn’t a sailor. We had gone just outside the jetty when the winds began to change. Southern Californians call these winds the Santa Ana winds. They are unpredictable and very gusty. Dad turned us back right away but the weather rapidly worsened. The sky became dark, winds were switching directions offshore and sideways, so the boom and main sail were whipping from side to side, the boat was listing back and forth, and high wave water was coming in. Another scary obstacle was avoiding all the other sailboats maneuvering their tacks back through the narrow jetty. This was a perfect storm for capsizing.

Scared and uncertain, we managed the things we could control. The captain’s first order was to stay calm and stay low. My dad knew by keeping low you were less likely to be knocked from the boat by the boom and it would balance the boat. The second order was to bail the boat.

During this COVID-19 storm, you are the Captain of Your Ship and Business. Our circumstances are temporary. We will get through it and we will get back to a new normal. This will change us just as every prior storm in our life has. We will get back to port and then we will get back out to our journey again.

Relying on what you know and can manage will get you through this. When I purchased my practice, I found out “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.” I quickly developed a curriculum for myself so I could manage my business. I spent time learning about employees, system creation, business plans, government regulations, legal liabilities, etc. Like most dentists, I was an overachiever and I wanted to be successful. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I compartmentalized the roles and tasks I anticipated.

Business owners have three main roles to fulfill. As the leader, the manager and the clinician, the roles must work together. You may be the best clinician in the world, but without being a leader and manager the storm will be rough. There is need to concentrate on what you can control.

Here are three key components of success.

First, Your Mindset – What’s your attitude about the role? Do you have a vision of what ideal would look like? Sometimes you’re a cheerleader to your team and you use a collaborative and inspirational tone. Like when my dad said, “Stay calm and stay low.”

Second, Your Skill Set – Do a quick “SWOT” analysis — “S” – what are your strengths? What do you have, know, or possess? “W”- weaknesses or what do you not have and where do you find it, get it or learn it? “O”- opportunities or once you possess ‘x, y, z’ what will you do with it? And “T”- what is a threat, challenge or roadblock to achieving what you want?

Third, Communication or Relationship Skills – How do you communicate and actively listen to those you interact with? Sometimes you may be the leader, needing to be direct and firm—like when my dad said, “Bail the boat!” And occasionally, you have to have crucial conversations with employees to resolve conflict. But listening is critical to effective communication.

Keep it Simple, Skipper! Take time to refocus, assess the situation, and then make the decisions. You have the time to work on your practice while you are not in it. Rally your team to use the time wisely. Communicate confidence, caring and compassion. We will be back sailing again!

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Jeanette Kern DDS
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