dental practice leadership Tag Archive

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Are you an Intentional Leader? Linear or Non-Linear Thinker?

Linear or Non-Linear Thinking

Are you a Linear or Non-Linear Thinker?
Last article we discussed the value of specific and diffuse conversations. This article we examine a related topic of linear and non-linear thinking. Have you ever heard somebody comment that so-and-so is a “linear thinker?” Or, somebody might proudly say, “I am a non-linear thinker.” What do they mean?

The word “linear” comes from the root ‘’line.” The thoughts of a linear thinker tend to form a line, i.e., one thought leads to the next, and that to the next, and so on. The implicit assumption in referring to somebody as a linear thinker is that the thought process is easy to understand, the conclusions seem logically sound with an undertone judgment that the conclusions are not that profound. In contrast, a non-linear thinker tends to have a myriad of unrelated thoughts that somehow interrelate, these thoughts lead to conclusions that might otherwise not have been evident, with an undertone judgment that the conclusions are more profound and insightful. Hence the pride in claiming yourself to be a non-linear thinker.

Stereotypical characterizations often label scientists, accountants and analytical types as linear thinkers, while artists, designers and creative types are labelled non-linear thinkers. Is that generally true? Is introducing a sampling of non-linear thinkers into a staff of linear thinkers helpful in engendering creativity? Can linear and non-linear thinkers coexist and work together; more importantly, can they communicate effectively with each other?

Before we answer those questions, let us look at linear and non-linear thinkers from a different perspective. (Wow! Non-linear thinking?) We ponder an open unsolved question from the field of computer science (P versus NP), one of the Millennium Prize Problems: Is it harder for computers to find the solution to a problem than to verify that a found solution actually works? It is generally believed that finding the solution is significantly more difficult than verifying a solution. For example, can you pull together a select group of employees in your company whose balances in their company 401(K) account averages to precisely $100,000? Finding the right set of employees to choose might be difficult. But once found, demonstrating that their account balances averages to $100,000 is relatively easy. It is generally believed that you need creativity of thought for the search, but once found you need clarity of thought for its communication.

Let’s go back to linear and non-linear thinkers. Do we sometimes confuse the thinking process with the communication process? Do we sometimes call people, who cannot cogently articulate their thoughts clearly, non-linear thinkers? Just because they are all over the place in their communication doesn’t mean that they have derived benefit from being all over the place in their thinking. They might just be haphazard thinkers. Likewise, do we confuse organized thinkers with linear thinkers? Even if the search for the thought requires non-linear thinking, one needs to be able to articulate it clearly. We posit that lack of clarity in communication of a thought is often a reflection of the lack of clarity of understanding of the thought.

What you would like is a non-linear, organized thinker. These people can find connections between seemingly unrelated thoughts and then present it to you in a simple clear way. If you can get such people into your team they will engender creativity. How can you instill non-linear, organized thinking? Here is one possible technique:

We are all familiar with the concept of brainstorming, whereby a group of people throw out ideas, all of which are recorded, none of which are judged or evaluated, and when the ideas run out we look at the whole list. Now use the technique of affinity mapping to group the ideas into categories that make sense. Write each idea on a sticky note, paste all the sticky notes on a wall and let the people move the sticky notes around to group related thoughts together. Again, like in the brainstorming phase, nobody has to justify why they moved one sticky note next to another. In fact, a sticky note might bounce back and forth, like a yo-yo, between two groupings of notes. When there is some level of settlement in the movement of sticky notes, have the group (or have one person) create a total story of what all the groups say. You have promoted non-linear thinking with organized communication.

Affinity mapping is one of the tools in our tool chest. The concept of leadership tools, and the amassing of a large tool chest, is critical to becoming an intentional leader. And, as most of you know, that’s what we are all about: developing intentional leaders.

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Trust but verify

This phrase was a favorite saying of Ronald Reagan, made popular during his dealings with the Soviet Union. He was quoting Felix Dzerzhinsky, one of the architects of the Soviet Secret Police. Ronald Reagan was someone I found very trustworthy.

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Dental Mentoring Equals Dental Outreach


It seems to me that part of the continuing attempt to refresh and recharge our enjoyment of practice is the chance to be a mentor. In these times, there is an obvious decrease in the ability to sit back and enjoy the practice of dentistry and medicine. Interference from many sources, stress of compliance, making the numbers work are so problematic that the doctor can lose focus on one of the things that brought him into private practice in the first place. These are indeed difficult times. The solo practitioner is almost extinct and the mega practices have their own set of problems.

One of the areas that I found to be energizing and helpful was mentoring. It started with teaching of residents in the early years of practice. This was a great way to relate and to also keep current. As all teachers know, you learn more from teaching than as a student. Not only is it challenging, but it is a great reward to bring the missing link to the “new doc” – experience. To be in a group and acknowledge an “ah ha” moment is so rewarding. For those who are fortunate enough to be in a university city with medical and dental students, there is ample opportunity to give (and to relate). You will find that the student is greatly appreciative that you took the time to help and point the way. You will also find that you return to the office or to your home with an exhilarating feeling yourself – remember, “it is better to give than receive.” From another view, these contacts become friends, referral sources, and associates that may lead to other projects and outreach possibilities. This is just another example of a means to refresh and recharge.

Knowing how good the feeling is to give a gift to someone, I also had a grand time in mentoring patients of mine. Actually, my staff also enjoyed it and related to the mission. There were numerous opportunities where a young patient, entering college, had no idea of his major or area of interest. This was an opportunity to chat and just become a friend and counselor. We would actually make an appointment in a off time (lunch etc.) to meet and advise. Did it happen every day? No, but often enough that we were invited to many graduations (and even some weddings). I am convinced that we know more than just how to be a good doctor and this ability can be a wonderful way to have that “feel good” day or moment. So you want to talk about marketing. This, if done from the heart, is number one in my mind.

So, it seems to me that you can make some fun out of your practice and have it actually become a source of an outreach program.

I would love to hear from you and share your ideas and experiences.

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Clinical Excellence = Business Success? My story.

I worry about dental students, new graduates, and those in their early years of practice. Are they as naïve nowadays as was I a few decades ago?  I hope not, but chances are that many will have difficulty finding their way in the first few years (perhaps much longer) for lack of business knowhow.  I wonder how other dentists with extensive practice experience, looking back, would rate their preparedness for the real world of dentistry upon graduation.

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Living and Leading with Intention


When we choose our intentions and are mindful, we achieve clarity of purpose. We are clear on what matters most to us, on what we value.

Do you have a written vision statement or intention for:

  • Your practice?
  • Your role in your practice?
  • Your relationship with your staff?
  • Your relationships with your clients, suppliers, investors, colleagues?
  • Your life? Your career? Yourself?
  • Your relationship with your family? Your role in your family?
  • Your marriage, education, livelihood, well-being, success?
  • Your vacation, the home or car you hope to buy, a conversation, an activity, a sales call, an acquisition, or a meeting?

We can set vision statements and choose our intentions and purpose for any aspect of our being. You can intend:

  • Fulfilling my dreams.
  • Helping my staff fulfill their dreams.
  • How I market, how I sell.
  • How I train, how I evaluate performance.
  • How I lead
  • The example I wish to set
  • The culture I wish to create
  • Being of highest and best service to my clients, staff, investors, suppliers, children, parents, and humanity.
  • Being richly rewarded
  •  Making a difference
  • Being a loving partner to my spouse.
  • Being a guide and mentor to my children or my direct reports.
  • Being open, receptive, and kind in a conversation
  • Using interactions as a source of learning about myself and others.

And then, before you say or do anything, ask yourself, “What can I say or do in this moment to BE my highest vision of myself?” Before you make a phone call or respond to a comment, before you join a meeting or have a conversation, or before you open the door when you come home from work, exhale and inhale deeply. Remind yourself of your intention, your vision and wonder “What can I say or do that moves me another step toward creating my highest vision of me?”

With practice, taking the breath becomes natural for you. With practice, reminding yourself of your intention and asking yourself how you can think and behave in a manner consistent with your intention also becomes natural for you. With practice, you are able to think these powerful thoughts just as quickly and naturally as your old thoughts.

When we choose our intentions and are mindful, we achieve clarity of purpose. We are clear on what matters most to us, on what we value. We stop “re-acting” to colleagues, clients, family members, staff, and situations and start creating what we wish to create. Our thoughts, strategies, goals, plans, actions, and reactions are focused on what is truly significant. We become inspired. We achieve significant results. We transform our relationships, our families, and our organizations.

How could you live with intention? How could you lead with intention?

For more on information on conscious, meaningful living and leading with purpose:


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