“What kind of leader do I want to be?” You have a choice.
Looking back, Dr. Howard Bittner always had a vision of what his business would look like. Yet creating that business was mercurial. How do you clarify and share the vision? What steps do you take on that path? Specifically, how do you get from here to there?
A dentist and endodontist, Howard owns Langley Endodontics, located in Langley, British Columbia. Langley Endodontics specializes in root canal treatment.
There were 2 critical roadblocks on the path: Howard’s leadership style and communication style.
Like many business owners, Howard patterned his leadership style after his father’s example. “I was authoritarian, and I talked down to my employees,” he says. “My attitude was: I’m the boss – do what I say. I simply was not good at leading my team.”
Complicating matters was Howard’s communication style. “I was abysmal at communicating what I wanted,” he admits. “My staff was often confused. I felt they wanted to go in different directions, instead of following my lead. This led to immense frustration on my part. I simply could not communicate in a way that was productive.”
Howard recognized that his employees were also frustrated. While he’s confident the patients’ clinical experience was positive, he believes they could sense the pervasive atmosphere of stress. “People are intuitive; they know when something is off,” he notes. “They may not say anything, but you can see it in their eyes. Their expression says, ‘What’s going on here?’”
Being in the office was stressful and exhausting. It was time to make a change.
“Managing my office felt burdensome,” Howard remembers. “I felt stressed when dealing with my staff. Going to the office was not pleasant.”
Specifically, what motivated him to make a change? “It all came down to how I felt. I wanted to be happy, relaxed, and comfortable in my office. I wanted to love being in my office.”
Taking the first steps on a new path:
Attending Kyle Mercer’s Mountain Experience and holding an Office Renewal.
“My journey with Kyle started in 2003,” Howard remembers. “I attended a business presentation where a colleague opened my eyes to the fact that I could create a calm, relaxed, highly productive office. For the first time, I started thinking about what type of business I wanted to lead. With this goal in mind, I attended the Mountain Experience with Kyle. I got so excited about the Mountain, I paid for my staff to go – they were excited about it too!”
In the following months, Howard participated in other activities with Kyle, including a One Day with one-on-one coaching. “I realized my office was still not cohesive,” he says. “Kyle and I talked about this, and he suggested we hold an Office Renewal.” (Since then, Langley Endodontics has held an Office Renewal every other year, a total of 6 so far.)
“The Office Renewal blew my mind! It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. We all connected at a really basic level – not a simple level but a deep, germinal level,” he says. “In the Office Renewal, we openly talked about issues. I was astounded to hear how much was NOT working right.”
When Howard looks back on the first Office Renewals, this stirs deep emotions, even years later. Why? “I discovered my office was not working well, because I was not leading and communicating well. My staff was intimidated by me. I had not created a safe environment where they could talk with me, honestly and openly.”
Office Renewal was an “eye-opening experience.”
“It was terrifying in a way, because I had not been clear about what I wanted – and I had to decide what I really wanted. My leadership style was weak, and my communication style was poor. Plus, I had to admit that I was the one getting in the way. I was the problem, not the solution.”
How did Howard come to accept this difficult realization? “In the initial Office Renewal, we’d hit an impasse, especially when talking about relationships. SILENCE. People would stop talking,” he recalls. “Kyle would take me aside and point out that I had to move off some entrenched position. That was hard to hear. He would privately ask me reconsider my position and rethink my leadership style. Kyle would say, ‘You want THAT, but you’re doing THIS.’ He encouraged me to match my behavior to what I wanted, or nothing would change.”
It takes courage to change your leadership style.
It’s not easy to change your leadership style – it requires commitment, clarity, and courage. “I asked myself, ‘What kind of leader do I want to be? What kind of business do I want to lead?’ In order to go forward, I had to change.”
Howard notes that it does take courage, yet he has continually received support from Kyle on this path. “I had to proclaim what I wanted to my staff and the world – I had to be clear about my vision,” he says. “And I had to declare what kind of leader I wanted to be. Kyle helped me gain the clarity and confidence to do this.”
From authoritarian to collaborative…
Previously, in his top-down leadership style, Howard was quick to blame. “I was killing the messenger!” Employees who wanted to discuss an issue were afraid he’d be harsh with them – even afraid they’d lose their jobs. This made the work environment feel unsafe. As a result, staff members didn’t feel comfortable presenting new ideas or raising concerns.
Today, Howard takes great care to create a safe environment for his team. “I have adopted a collaborative approach. Now, when someone comes to me and says, ‘This doesn’t work’ my response is: ‘Oh, why?’ I may organize a meeting and make sure it feels safe. We collaborate, talk about the issue, and focus on jointly finding a solution.”
Safety generates trust, and trust spurs creativity.
Why create a safe work environment? When the office environment feels safe, Howard’s team members bring problems to him without fear of reprisal. “They know I’m here for them. Safety generates trust. Once you have gained their trust, you can tackle important issues. And this stimulates creativity,” he says.
“Today, my staff members speak up and offer new ideas without being afraid they’ll sound foolish or get put down. I love hearing ‘Let’s try this idea.’ I believe safety is a critical component of business,” Howard adds. “It’s the foundation for everything we do. We can’t make an important change in the office without everyone being comfortable – and safety allows that to happen.”
A surprising insight: Creating a safe environment requires the leader to be vulnerable with his team.
“I had to be the leader of safety; there’s no question about that,” Howard remembers. “I had to make it happen. It was a learning experience, which I was able to do with Kyle’s guidance.” He discovered that, in order to create a safe environment, he had to be vulnerable with his team. He had to be open to feedback and willing to change his behavior.
Howard wisely says: “There’s a perception that if you’re safe and vulnerable you’re weak. Being vulnerable is actually a sign of great strength.”
The safe, trusting, creative work environment directly leads to a cohesive team, with significantly less turnover. “The feeling in our office is much lighter – for me and my staff,” he says. “I want my employees to be happy and love being in the office, and they know this.”
Does a safe work environment impact patients? Today, instead of feeling a pervasive atmosphere of stress in the office, patients feel SAFE. “We truly care for our patients,” Howard notes. “We want to make this the best experience they’ve ever had in a dental office. They can feel this at a deep, intuitive level. Safety pervades.”
A direct result of regular Office Renewals: Revenue has more than tripled.
Over the years, Howard’s business has become more efficient, productive, and financially successful. His direct revenue stream has tripled. Plus, after careful selection, Howard brought another endodontist into the office, who contributes substantial revenue as well.
A new leader in the business could toss a wrench in the works…
The office was running like a finely tuned machine, and Howard knew that adding another endodontist could be extremely challenging. That’s why he immediately scheduled the new endodontist, Dr. Jason Conn, to experience a One Day with Kyle Mercer for one-on-one coaching, plus an Office Renewal with the entire team.
“This change did create angst with the staff,” he says. “With Kyle facilitating the Office Renewal, we were able to talk about everyone’s concerns. Jason was coming in as the person who would eventually lead the practice. We managed to grow through this change – purely because of all the groundwork we had done in the past. To his credit, Jason was open to feedback and making changes. And it was rewarding to watch the staff nurture him, helping him to understand how to participate in creating a safe, trusting environment.”
Howard encourages other business owners to take stock…
“It takes a lot of courage to change the way you do things, but it’s so rewarding,” he says. “Ask yourself: What business do you want to lead and run? The work I’ve done with Kyle, especially with our focus on Office Renewals, has been life-altering. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Kyle leading me through this process. It was challenging to determine what I really want AND take the tough steps to get there. Kyle demands that we keep growing. It’s a dramatic process. I can’t say enough about it.”
Howard adds this postscript: “My business now has a big vision that is clear and powerful. While I’m still at the core of my business, having a clear vision allows other people to join in, move the business forward, and be more productive. This ‘bigger business’ is personally rewarding – and financially rewarding.”