What I Learned About Leadership from a Root Canal

Okay, I know. It’s a stretch. But one of the benefits of being a blogger is that you can redeem almost any situation by writing about it. Every experience becomes fodder for a post.

The View from the Dental Chair - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/fstop123, Image #15690690

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/fstop123

Last week, during a routine visit to my dentist, she discovered that I had some decay under an existing filling. Because it was close to the root, she insisted that I come in right away, which I did yesterday.

After removing the old filling and doing a little drilling, she suddenly stopped. She took off her protective mask and said, “I‘m afraid you need a root canal.”

The color drained from my face. I had never had a root canal, but I had heard the horror stories. In my mind, I envisioned being strapped into a chair while a sadistic dentist with a drill—a weapon!—inflicted unspeakable pain.

Worse, she said I needed an emergency root canal and would see if she could get me into a nearby endodontist. (I had never even heard that word before she uttered it. It means “inside the tooth.”) Fortunately, he could see me immediately.

Reluctantly, I drove the ten minutes to the office of Dr. Daniel Price. I dreaded the trauma I was about to experience.

Amazingly, I was in his office less than an hour. He performed the procedure, and I walked out shocked at what a non-event the entire experience was.

In addition to Dr. Price’s obvious dental acumen, I believe it was also due to his leadership ability. In particular, he exhibited six leadership skills, which are transferable to any leadership situation.

  1. He demonstrated empathy. From the moment I met him, Dr. Price communicated that it was okay to be anxious about this procedure. He was a great listener and touched my arm several times as he responded to me. I felt understood and safe.
  2. He clarified expectations. He explained that the old school procedure took three visits and six hours. It was very intrusive. He provided an overview of the latest technology and told me exactly what he was going to do and what I could expect. This built trust and helped me relax further.
  3. He under-promised. He told me that his goal was a “pain free experience.” As he administered the Novocain, he said, “You’re going to feel a little pressure” or “You might feel a little pinch.” I really liked these euphemisms for pain. They worked. As I have often said, the words we use often impact how we experience reality. I didn’t feel anything.
  4. He provided updates. All through the procedure, Dr. Price explained exactly what he was doing. I don’t like being out of the loop. It makes me even more nervous. However, his running commentary kept me relaxed. I was also fascinated by the whole procedure.
  5. He over delivered. He had initially told me the procedure would take about an hour or so. It took less than an hour. He said his goal was for the procedure was to make it as pain-free as possible, but he didn’t promise that. Regardless, it was pain-free. I experienced zero pain.
  6. He made himself available. Finally, after the procedure, he prescribed some pain medications, told me what I could expect next, and invited me to call if I encountered any complications. I felt like he genuinely cared about my whole experience.

As I was about to leave, he asked, “So how was it? Did we do okay?” I said, “Doc, I have experienced more pain from a haircut.” We both chuckled. “Seriously,” I continued, “this was a complete non-event. I couldn’t be happier.”

Question: How can these leadership principles enable you to walk someone else through a potentially scary experience? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/leaderEx Sachin Kundu

    Excellent observation Michael, Its true as bloggers(leaders, managers) we can take lessons from all around us. Life teaches us same lessons again and again, and unfortunately we miss it every time.

    This is a textbook case of a Good Doctor. I read the book First break all the rules. The author explained that great nurses differed from their mediocre counterparts, not because of their great skills in administering the injection any better but because they clarified expectation and they had empathy. The did not say “oh don’t worry, this will not hurt a bit” instead they said “I understand you are concerned and this is going to hurt a little, so please bear with me”

    One Question, the qualities that you listed are they good qualities of a manager or a leader in your opinion? (I am not saying any role is better than the other)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, I think these qualities would help anyone who has to deal with people.

      • garlicia

        Empathy is a huge principle. No one wants to feel stupid or intimidated for an honest human emotion, like being scared!

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

    I had my first canal last December. Like you, it was so small of a deal, a non-event.

    For me, the best thing the dentists (one referred me to another) did was talk me through it. I was fascinated as well.

  • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

    You are a great storyteller, Michael! I like the way you covered the entire ‘endodontist experience’ and captured six leadership lessons from that!

    Yes, these are excellent leadership skills we must possess to help people handle potential crises. I believe empathy has a major role to play in such situations. Just the knowledge that somebody cares and understands is itself a stressbuster!

    I think these skills shouldn’t be limited to crisis times alone. For instance, these could be used to help someone to function in a new job position or coach someone to move into greater productivity. I believe these skills are highly usable in multiple contexts.

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I like your point about using skills in multiple contexts. I had just been thinking about walking through a scary experience but there are many areas that leadership characteristics come into play. Thanks!

      • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

        Michael pointed out Empathy as a major leadership skill. And I read in your post (Offer the Hurting Something Special: Silence) about how you gracefully applied that skill in a different context. Beautiful, Brandon!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Joe. You make a very valid point!

      • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

        Thank you.

  • GLyndon

    I had exactly that same experience.
    This makes me wonder where the whole folkloric expectations of terror came from.
    The source may be the naysayers that lurk within every organization who subconsciously seek to undermine leadership and success.
    The light of transparent and honest management really does displace the darkness of fear.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I actually asked the endodontist that. He said that technology has changed everything in the last few years. Previously, a root canal was a six-hour, three session procedure. Thank God for technology!

  • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

    Yet another great post!  Thanks for the learning.

    I think the overriding lesson for me in this is to COMMUNICATE.  You ask about walking someone through a scary experience.  The very emotions you had leading up to the whole root canal experience…these are the same emotions our employees have when change is introduced!

    Others have “told” them about previous experiences with change.  They are scared.  They are unsure of the outcome.  They fear pain.

    If we, as the leaders, will simply communicate with them throughout the experience (as you described above), then we can avoid much of the fallout that otherwise might exist.

    I appreciate you sharing this!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      This is very helpful to me! I am brainstorming some change for the Student Ministry I lead. I am very excited about it and I must communicate to my volunteers exactly what will be happening so they can be less anxious and more excited along with me. Thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. If you boiled the whole thing down, that is the message!

  • http://chrisvonada.com chris vonada

    completely not a stretch for a brilliant writer like you Michael, this post is a gem! I’m sure that Dr. Price’s schedule is going to fill right up too. As someone who has w0rked in environmental consulting for 20 years now and delivered plenty of bad news to people, the skills you’ve outlined are perfect for applying in my world as well. Good reminders to be empathetic and communicate effectively. Thanks!

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    We’ll Michael, I can see you sitting in that chair, iPhone in hand, capturing every moment in Evernote. With gauze in your mouth, I can see you asking the doctor… “How do you spell end-od-o-tist?” :-)

    I haven’t had a root canal yet, but I’m close. The old wives tales are very prevalent. Thanks for dispelling the myths and giving us a life lesson at the same time! Personal experiences are very powerful.

    Good communication is key in situations like this. I work with people all the time that have sick computers. A frequent fear is… “Have I lost everything? Is my data gone?” I have to reassure them that we have a good chance of recovery. I try to put myself in their shoes. While fixing a computer is routine for me, it can be really scary for them. Using the right tone of voice and being reassuring, goes a long ways to create a positive experience. While a data restore may not be as traumatic as a root canal, the thought of losing years of pictures, documents, and financial data can bring on a cold sweat in just minutes!

    Hmmm… note to self… buy a backup drive…sleep better at night…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Excellent application, John!

      • Cherrysiplon

        Executive summary  the article leadership lesson of Steve Jobs

  • http://darensirboughblog.wordpress.com Daren Sirbough

    I love the fact that the specialist provided insight as to what he would be doing and what would be happening during the procedure. As a church leader, demonstrating empathy and clarifying expectations are the two things that I am focusing on developing.

  • Anonymous

    This reminded me of an activity I once read about as a youth director.  Students were invited to bring in random items to a meeting, and the youth leaders had to make up an object lesson for each item on the spot.

    I particularly liked the “under-promise” item.  I was just talking to a friend who owns a towing business.  He said that when he tells a customer a time for pickup, he always pads it by 20 minutes so that he is hardly ever late and mostly early.

  • Priscilla Richter

    I’m in the midst of preparing a training for pastoral care associates in my church.  I could easily see how this can translate into an effective pastoral care visit.

    Then I realized that, in our New England area where many like to keep things to themselves, a pastoral care visit can be dreaded like a root canal. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good for you to have this insight about pastoral visits. When I was a CEO, I realized that I created anxiety every time I entered a room. These principles apply in any situation where there is fear.

  • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

    A good dentist can be hard to find. I had a Navy dentist traumatize me so bad I wouldn’t see another dentist for more than 5 years, after I was in extreme agony for a few weeks. I smoked while I was in the Navy, I went in for my exit physical, and this dentist had me in a chair with my mouth stretched wide open, scraping my teeth and gums roughly and yelling at me about my smoking. I mean, he had a sharp instrument IN MY MOUTH and was genuinely ANGRY with me at the time. He started demanding I hand my pack over and commit to quitting on the spot. Heck no, I needed about 5 cigarettes after I got out of there. I have since quit, no thanks to people like that dentist.

    Even after I started going back to dentists again, I never understood why they wait until you’re in the most uncomfortable part of the procedure before they start chewing you out for “not taking better care of your teeth”. I don’t understand how dentists can get away with such horrible customer service. From what I understand, none of their education is dedicated to teaching them how to run a business, so I guess that could explain it.

    I currently have a good dentist. He’s an elder at my church, has a “no pain” policy, and does a good job. He’s the only dentist I’ll see.

    By the way, Michael, one of your ad servers, static.nrelate.com is taking forever to load your site. I often have to open a tab to your site, then switch to another tab and come back later after it’s loaded.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have a great dentist, too. I am so thankful. It doesn’t seem like this should be rocket science!
      Thanks for the heads up on NRelate. I am looking into it now.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

    Just looking at the photo makes my teeth hurt! I also went to the dentist yesterday and while I had no cavaties, I experienced pain (as usual) with my extremely sensitive teeth. Which makes me want to write a blog post entitled, “What I learned about leadership in the dentist’s chair.” 

    1. Leaders do what they need to do, even when it hurts.
    2. Sometimes we have to go through some pain to achieve our ultimate goal. (in this case clean teeth!)
    3. Leaders need to speak up for themselves (and tell the hygienists what areas hurt).
    4. Leaders show patience (and don’t kill the hygienist when she pokes a sensitive spot by accident).
    5. Leaders have clean teeth…  :-)

    Great post as always!

    • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

      Leaders have clean teeth…. I love it! Speakers definitely need clean teeth… I have heard a myriad of stories about spinach in the teeth after lunch… nuff said…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Ha. I like your post idea!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dick-Powell/1602757566 Dick Powell

    I love it when other leaders show us the way we can teach and share leadership concepts. Thanks!

  • John Young

    The expression “about as much fun as a root canal” gets a laugh until we need one and the relief
    afterward makes one appreciate getting it over with. My biggest problems came when I simply put off dealing with the problem right in front of me. Like a root canal, a challenge doesn’t go away, it often gets bigger until faced and resolved.  And I gone through things I thought would kill me to learn it was mostly in my head…it was doable…it wasn’t as bad as imagined…and it sure felt good to be done with it.  Specifically for my root canal, I wasn’t listening to promises of hope,  I just begged for relief . My doctor had a tv on the ceiling and with headphones and the drugs, it was enough distraction that I just didn’t think about it. TV’s on the ceiling are a must.       

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I had the TV on the ceiling yesterday. It was a great distraction!

    • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

      I’m jealous. My dentist does not have a TV on ceiling! Thankfully I’ve never needed a root canal, but could sure use the distraction of the TV anyway.

  • Marcus Bigelow

    My wife says I can make a sermon illustration out of anything–kind of like blogging.  Another leadership principle.  Leaders can’t always accept others view of reality as true or current. (Root canals cause a lot of pain).

    • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

      If you can make a sermon illustration out of anything, I think that points to the fact that you see God in everything, and that is an admirable trait.   Kudos.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    “He provided updates.” When I served a small town church in northern Wisconsin, I spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms during people’s surgeries. University Hospital in Minneapolis did something that seems simple enough but, at the time, few other hospitals did. They provided updates about every half hour on a surgery’s progress. Those updates eased the tension for me as a pastor and for the families I sat with. Even if things took longer than expected, the worry factor rarely rose above, “Oh, that’s a little surprising but okay. We can handle it.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great example. When you don’t create the narrative (by providing regular updates), someone else does. It usually bears little resemblance to reality.

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        “…create the narrative…” That’s so true to life. You’re either listening to a narrative (regular updates) or creating it. That’s a great way to put it. And, in a hospital waiting room, most of the stories we tell ourselves race toward catastrophic ends (or at least worse than reality).

  • http://twitter.com/jamespinnick7 James Pinnick

    Make yourself available…..

    Thats so huge….I think instead of hiding, making sure the other person knows your available to talk is a huge priority.

    Thanks for lettimg me think this morning.

    Author-The Last Seven Pages

  • Rob Sorbo

    My wife has spent many hours in dental chairs during her life because of various dental and orthodontic problems that she had. She had a great dentist and orthodontist, so her trips to the dentist weren’t bothersome. However, we recently moved and had a very bad dental hygienist who made my wife feel very uncomfortable.  

    My wife now has a dentist’s office anxiety because of one bad experience with one bad hygienist. In other words, 30 minutes of discomfort undid hours of good care.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This shows you how much power leaders and other authority figures have!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QANFN7FYUZER6HTOE5LG3QZHH4 Bonnie Holley

    I had a similar experience only my tooth broke at the gum line in the dentist chair.  As I drove across town with my broken tooth and numbed mouth I could conjure up fears and terrors but when I arrived I experienced great leadership from my periodontist. As it was an emergency situation his staff was kind and caring and calmed my fears. On each return visit my Dr. explained my progress and what to expect. Leadership in this type of situation is extremely important. The uncertainty and fears of the patient are calmed by empathy and expertise.  Great observations! Glad you had a great experience as well.

  • Clint Byars

    Will you be addressing HarperCollins acquisition of Thomas Nelson?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      No, I can’t, because of the regulatory environment. I can’t say anything beyond the press release.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      That would be an interesting post to read. I took a quick look at HarperCollins and it appears that they also own Zondervan. Two power houses under one label.

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    I had a tooth pulled once. The dentist did make the promise of no pain but I most definitely felt some. Had he been more honest I would not have been as thrown off by the pain and would have trusted him during the rest of the procedure. 

    I like to feel understood and safe. Sometimes though when I already feel safe, I forget to make sure those following me are feeling that way as well. I just assume everyone is feeling exactly as I am. I need to remember to be reassuring and even to acknowledge other people’s feelings.

  • http://blog.rumorsofglory.com/ Lucille Zimmerman

    I love this post. I’m so glad you had a pain free experience. I wanted to tell you it wouldn’t be bad when I saw your Twitter comment.

    I am a counselor. Whenever I have a new client, I try to remember how scary it was to go to a total stranger and talk about private things. The first thing I do, before we even go over the paperwork, is ask if the person has ever seen a counselor, how her past experience was, and then I ask how she is feeling in the moment.

    I empathize that it’s pretty weird to go talk to a total stranger about intimate things. I let the client know they can ask me anything they want. I try to guide them about the differences between a friendship and a counseling relationship. For instance, a friend might not point out a blind spot, but I will let them know what I see. Gently of course.

    I also give them permission to tell me if I’m doing something they don’t like, I educate them about the therapeutic window (or pacing).  If we go too deep too quickly it can make them start acting out at home. At the same time, I don’t want to avoid going near the pain.

    In a way Leadership is a paradox, because we don’t want to go too far ahead. We want to walk alongside like the quote, “One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great application, Lucille. Thanks for taking the time to explain your philosophy and procedure.

  • Panzica Susan

    I’ve had two root canals. One the old way – not fun whatsoever. The other a few months ago – still not fun, but much quicker – although I’m still paying the bill! Somehow the price for a one hour procedure is twice the price for the six hour one. 

    Finding writing fodder in all life experiences is similar to Jesus sharing parables found in everyday experiences. He talked of seeds with farmers and fish with fisherman. God can use all our experiences and reveal Himself through them. That’s why my passion is “bringing an eternal perspective to earthly matters.” 

    Thanks for making my root canal experience more worthwhile! 

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      Good perspective, Panzica! I like your statement: “bringing an eternal perspective to earthly matters.” When we see ordinary life through eternal lens, everything in life does make sense!

  • Brdgbldr1

    Michael, thanks for the simple, straight forward outline.  I have a client that needs this specific counsel.  I’ll be sharing it with them later today.  Thanks again.
    Larry Galley

  • http://gatehouse13.com Jacqui Gatehouse

    An excellent description of the skills required not only for great leadership, but also for anyone in a collaborative business relationship.  There’s so much talk about collaboration these days and unfortunately it’s often just talk.  I think there are a huge number of people working both intra-company, within their own companies but perhaps across departments, and extra-company with vendors or other third parties, that could really increase their chances of success simply by taking these points onboard and working according to these simple practices.  Thanks Michael!

  • Damilola Okuneye

    Good thing your dentist discovered it when she did. It probably would have worsened if kept till later.

    One thing i have learnt in life is that no matter how much of a professional one is in one’s field of specialization, one can most times be a complete novice in another area. It is at such times that one has to learn to trust the experts for directions and answers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eyveneena Amy Byrd Thompson

    Love this.  Real world example!  Thank you.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Sounds like you found a great dentist and specialist. Glad to hear the procedure went smoothly and you came out fine.

    This post encourages me to ensure that I treat people with empathy. It is so easy to detach the emotion from an event so you are not the one that has to deal with the pain. Letting people know you understand and that it might not be easy for you either can be a great benefit to others.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      True, Joe!

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman


  • Anonymous

    That was encouraging! I’ve never had a root canal and the thought is terrifying. Or, it was, until I read this. Thank you for turning this experience into a blog post. Love the easy to understand list.

  • Ken Shaddox

    Good observations and insights. Thank you for sharing. Hope your recovery time is quick.

  • Donna Williams

    Michael, you lost me here-
     “I don’t like not being out of the loop.” 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good catch. Fixed.

  • Donna Williams

    Michael, Oops you lost me here-      “I don’t like not being out of the loop.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/MarkBordeaux Mark Bordeaux

    Good reminders that God’s life lessons are all around if we are looking for them. These are good lessons to be learned for our ministries! Often our secular society does a better job of “serving” than our churches.

    As far as the “folklore” of a root canal being a nightmare, my first was on an incisor and it was worry-free. My second was on a molar which had nerves descending in three places. It took so long that I needed a pain relief booster! ;-) And this endodontist was much like yours along with the latest technology for a computerized X-Ray and the ability to actually “look” into the hole by a small camera! So, folklore or not, I still equate some stressful meetings at church with a root canal – only no Novocain! ;-)

    I enjoy your posts!

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      Mark, I agree with you when you say: “Often our secular society does a better job of “serving” than our churches.” However the good news is that today there are many in the Body of Christ rising up to function as servant-leaders! 

  • Stephanie

    This post reminds me that great leadership is not rocket science. Dr. Price did seemingly “little” things that took your overall experience over the top. Showing empathy, clearly stating expectations, and all the other points mentioned are not difficult, but we must be intentional in order to remember their importance. 

    Another great lesson from your ordinary life experiences! Thanks for sharing!

  • Elaine W. Miller

    A doctor told me the most painful part of having a baby is listening to other women tell you how painful it is. I found the same true with a root canal. Decided those complaining about a root canal have never had a baby! I’ve had 5 root canals and 3 babies–all made me a better person!

  • Elaine W. Miller

    An OB/GYN told me the worst part about having a baby is listening to other mothers tell how painful it is to have a baby. I think the same is true with root canals. After having 3 babies and 5 root canals I would say those who say root canals are painful have never had a baby. Leaders communicate! That’s what I got from your post. Thanks, Mr. Hyatt.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I think it’s true in lots of areas of life. After hearing how painful something is, you mentally prepare yourself for the pain. Then you tense up and it does hurt.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    I had a similar experience a few years ago, except that some infection had formed not under a filling but under an existing root canal, all the way up where the tooth meets the bone. So the dentist told me I needed to see an “oral surgeon,” which sounded like a lot of fun. 

    So I went to the oral surgeon, and the main difference between my experience there and a regular dentist’s visit was that the surgical procedure I underwent took all of ten minutes to complete and was less painful than a basic tooth cleaning. 

    Overall, having lived on both sides of the Atlantic, I find that American dentists are far more concerned about patient comfort than European ones. In Europe, no dentist ever gave me a pain killer for a plain old filling. In fact, the last European dentist I went to started a root canal (!) on me without giving me an injection first. (And I’m not talking about some backwoods dental office in the Macedonian mountains somewhere. This was a high-tech first-world facility in Austria with a team of assistants and all manner of digital gadgetry.) 

    For some reason, it seems that European dentists are slightly less concerned about traumatizing patients into refusing to return. 

    In the States, it’s all about pain elimination. They even apply some gel to numb your gums prior to injecting the Novocaine. I’m surprised they don’t offer different flavors for the gel to accommodate every patient’s taste preference. 

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  • http://lauramcclellan.com Laura McClellan

    I know this wasn’t really the point of the post, but as a 23-year-old who is often still experiencing life-events for the first time, it’s nice to know that even “grown ups” (is it bad that I still refer to people my parents’ age as “grown-ups?”) still internally freak out about things like root canals just like I do, even when they usually look like they’ve got it all together and are just doing what has to be done. Just because you’re told something is a “standard procedure” or it is something a lot of people go through, doesn’t make it any less scary! Thanks for being honest about your fear in this experience!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdchico Justin Doxford

    I could not agree more with the items mentioned. I see it in my work place everyday where our employees struggle to meet those items with the client and it really messes things up. But when they apply them to the job the customer is forever grateful. Thank you for the insightful post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdchico Justin Doxford

    I could not agree more with the items mentioned. I see it in my work place everyday where our employees struggle to meet those items with the client and it really messes things up. But when they apply them to the job the customer is forever grateful. Thank you for the insightful post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jane-Babich/100002993676826 Jane Babich

    Michael, I enjoyed your comparison of the doctor’s bedside manner to our role as leaders. The fact that you feared the process before knowing much; because of what you had heard, can also happen to us as leaders.  Someone’s experience with us, may be reported incorrectly, so we need to remember that when someone new comes into our responsibility as a leader.  Thanks for the reminder

  • http://www.meeklabs.com meeklabs

    Yikes. I’ve had three root canals so far. Each was worse than the previous and the last was the worst. Not the procedure itself but the week after. Anyway, I believe most people view church the same way. Many probably would prefer the root canal.

    Most of us are afraid of both pain and the unknown. For many of us church can be both. There are clearly churches that are successful at leading people into the church, but it’s something everyone in the church needs to believe and understand, not just the leader. This translates into any organization. But this vision must come from our leaders.

  • http://www.momentsofgracelotr.com Anne Marie Gazzolo

    I’m glad you had such a wonderful experience here and that you told us about it. Certainly should make me less nervous if I ever need one. Thank you!

    God bless, Anne Marie :)

  • http://www.enmast.com Devan Perine

    I find it interesting you included under-promise and over-deliver in your bullets. Though applicable to this scenario, when you apply it to leadership I think it changes a bit.

    I think many would argue that a strong leader sets goals high to drive change/things forward? So more like – OVER-promise AND deliver?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      There is a difference between what you promise publicly (or organizationally) and what you promise to yourself and your team.

  • http://www.failuresneverfinal.com Colleen (FNF)

    One of the things I enjoy about journaling and blogging is that it opens you up to really observe the situations that life hands you with the intent of finding the lesson in it.  I chuckled when I first read the title of this post, but can see exactly where you received your inspiration.  Good for you – and good for Dr. Price for being such a good example.

    As a wife and mother, it struck me that my fellow wives and moms demonstrate those same leadership qualities day in and day out in our lives, and yet we usually don’t connect that we are leaders and how influential we are – until we read something that gets us thinking in that way.  Thanks.  :-)

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Impressive analogy from the world of dentistry or endodentistry! I appreciated the tips, such great advice. Actually your description called to mind events of a similar nature in which I was surprised and relieved by the leadership of someone in an intimidating situation. For people new to church or to faith I think meeting them with these skills is especially relevant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198735320 Michele Buc

    Mike – just loved this!  Especially since root canals are a great fear with many people.  Therefore, you may have also examined leadership under a “crisis” situation.  It seems that your six points would also work well when anyone has to lead through a tough problem or setback.  Customer service professionals could particularly benefit from your six points.

  • Dr. Lee

    Question: How can these leadership principles enable you to walk someone else through a potentially scary experience?
    Answer: I think, we need to sit at the same eye level with the one that goes through scary experience to avoid feeling being intimidated then let him talk out his fear while we listen carefully what he has to offer regarding his fear.
    2. Touching his hand as a sign of support, understanding and feeling his fear while we guide him through the whole process is  crucial. It is important to listen carefully as he talks without interupting him and ask him open ended question in regards of his fear
    3. Give him a space to breath in between and let him go through his feelings while waiting patiently without pushing him to make any decision here and now. Let him know that he is in control to stop the conversation  any time he wants to if he feels overwhelm…
    4. Make sure he knows that we are here to help and not to harm him
    5. Before leaving him, make sure he knows how to contact you if he needs any further assistance.
    6. Please know, it is about him with his fear and it is not about you – empathy is needed
    7. Say good bye upon leaving the room

  • Michelle S

    Michael I had a similar experience when I first met my endodontist, I still tell people about it 7 years later.  The office staff told me what to expect.  They provided a firm pillow for the back of my neck and stress balls for each hand.  They explained that most pain experienced was from a person tensing up rather than from the procedure.  My doctor was so similar to Dr. Price.

    This was the best run medical experience I had ever experienced.  I just couldn’t understand why there was no extra money spent to make me feel this way.  It was the people and how they wanted my experience with them to be as magical as a visit to Disney World. 

    Leadership is a person and can be an office working together to set the bar for their practice or industry. 

  • Ned

    For my first root canal, the dentist had a mirror on his lamp so I could watch the whole procedure. That really helped to eliminate the “not sure what’s coming next” fear and the “what is he really doing” question. For my next 6 root canals, I didn’t had any of the other dentists do that so I guess it isn’t very common.

  • http://www.charlesspecht.com Charles Specht

    Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes.  And some of those sizes carry dental drills!

    It’s a good reminder that Leadership comes into play in many areas of life…particularly ones we don’t even think about often.  

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I know this reminder is helping me to be looking for Leadership everywhere!

  • http://www.nginaotiende.blogspot.com Ngina Otiende

    Wow, amazing insights here Michael. 

    I have had the “(non) pleasure” going through a  root canal…not just once but twice in the last one year. And using the old technology of 4 to 5 visits.

    Reading through your list, the one that strikes me the most (all resonate) is the one where the doctor provided updates. If my doctor had done that, i would not have lain on that seat for two hours, doing jigs of fear in my head, feeling extreme pain (well, the kind that shows up immediately the drill or long needles show up on the periphery..its more psychological than real:)

    When applied to my leadership style, its really something that i can definitely improve upon. I am the kind that can ‘conveniently’ forget to keep others in the loop. So long as I have the route and destination mapped out, I find that I expect others to just trust me. That has gotten me in trouble before  and its something that i have become aware of and am working on it.

    Keeping other team members updated and in the loop fosters confidence, productivity, trust. 

    Thank you for sharing Michael

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

    I used to be an Emergency Room RN and have found that having these qualities helps not only the patients deal with the stress of a visit to the ER but also their loved ones.  It is always sad to see nurses/doctors/medical staff too busy to   provide these common curtsies that go a long way in building  a trusting relationship.  Many think it takes too much time, but I have found that it pays off in the long run. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Clevenger/714457904 Michael Clevenger

    Enjoy reading your blog. Your post title caught my eye as I had a similar experience recently. Here’s what I wrote about it. http://www.masonicleader.com/no-thanks-i%e2%80%99d-rather-have-a-root-canal/

    Mike Clevenger

  • http://www.15minutewriter.com Sharon Gibson

    First of all, thanks for being honest about your fears. We all have them. 
    Second, I wish he would write something to teach other health professionals these principles. Third,  as a writer, I can identify with your drawing on life experiences for blogging. It keeps them fresh and relevant and fun to write. 
    Fourth, this makes me think how I can be even more reassuring to my students when I teach them how to write. I remember how intimidating it used to be for me in the beginning. 
    I love your creative application to  good leadership qualities. I’m going to keep this where I can review it and continue to be inspired by it.
    Keep up the good writing!

  • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

    Clarity is huge. Being clear of expectations all the way around helps ease nerves, fears, and invites conversation.

  • http://twitter.com/Avito_BZE  Avito Zaldivar 

    I would never have thought of using a root canal experience to write about leadership, but you did and you did so very well.  I particularly liked the points about clarifying expectations and providing updates.  I’ve learned that I am very satisfied when someone tells me what to expect and then keeps me up to date with what’s going on.  As a result, these are principles that I work hard at applying in my own life and leadership.  While I believe that the other four skills you discussed are important, I would like to think that his clarifying expectations and providing updates, the doc was able to put your mind at ease when it came to a root canal – an experience that is often described as being dreadful indeed.  Thanks for sharing.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      I agree with you, Avito! Clarifying expectations and providing updates are essential for creating productive outcomes.

  • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

    That’s a good question.

    In my business, I have the opportunity to hand out project assignments to my team.  Because of my experience in the business, I generally have some ideas about what to expect with many of these projects.  Your tips are certainly a good model to follow as I lead my team members to proceed through the projects that can definitely be challenging.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Richard Burkey wrote a similar lesson on leadership learned from a more desirable experience in “Everything I Need To Know about Leadership I Learned on a Disney Cruise” (http://richardburkey.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/everything-i-need-to-know-about-leadership-i-learned-on-a-disney-cruise/). Your post and Richard’s teach us that we can learn anywhere any time. It just takes “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/MelissaMashburnMelsWorld Melissa Scarbrough Mashburn

    So glad to hear your experience was nothing like you had expected, especially when the expectation was that it was going to be a scary experience.

    I love this post because immediately as I was reading through the leadership principles I thought this is absolutely something I could apply in my world. I’m in ministry at my church and I can see that this is something I can apply two fold…1) for my volunteers, particularly new volunteers, they are a little nervous and have no idea what to expect, remembering that they are putting themselves out there to serve at the church and walking through these steps will help them as they seek out a new thing, and 2) for people that walk into the doors of our church. It is a potentially scary experience, especially if they have never been to church before. Being aware of ways to connect and encourage while making them feel welcomed, listened to, and available.

    Good stuff! Thanks Michael!
    ~ Melissa

  • http://deanaohara.com/ Deana O’Hara

    Isn’t it interesting Mr Hyatt how we can blow things up in our minds? Fear of the unknown does that. Even worse are the fears perpetuated by those who’ve been there with stories to tell. I’m learning in this walk of life that not all stories are worth listening to. Or rather it would be better to say that not all stories (especially horror stories) are meant to be personally ingested. Someone else’s experience doesn’t have to be mine. Even if the only difference in the experience is how I choose to perceive it, I still have choices. 

    I’ve had two root canals in my life and had a doctor very similar to yours. I’m glad you had a good experience. I also like how you turned this around and found a great leadership story out of your experience. 

    Excellent points to remember not only as a leader, but just as individuals.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Oh, how I hate dental work…

  • http://careerology.co.nz Jonathan Moy

    I agree the best Dentists are those who can manage patient’s anxieties about the procedure the best.  Expectations strongly influence our perception of hardship… and pain! 

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  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Really, dental work intimidates me. I fear it.

  • James Randorff

    Holy cow! This works for leadership, interaction with leaders, and sales. This was a great way to relate a typically unpleasant experience. Thanks for posting this, Michael!

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    What a great, unexpectedly enjoyable post about a traumatic topic.  I’ve had 3 root canals with two different docs…two as a result of trauma, one after discovery of a cracked tooth.  

    The first doc asked mid-procedure, “Want to take a look?” I said “sure” (which probably came out “augh-uhgh”)…and suddenly saw in a mirror that my teeth had been sawed almost completely off.  He then showed me the remnants of the nerve on a little barbed wire.

    I will never forget thinking “Dear God, what has he done?!”  I was mortified, as he didn’t tell me that in addition to the root canals, he’d be sawing the teeth down and replacing them with a bridge (or if he did, I didn’t know what that meant).  He found my reaction comical.It wasn’t terribly painful, but I distinctly remember thinking “This guy is a jerk”.  Similar (albeit antithetical) leadership lesson there!

  • http://www.leadershipconnexion.com Stephan De Villiers

    I think the six leadership skills your doctor exhibited are all the fruit of understanding one of the most important Leadership principles, that Leaders deal with people.  As a leader you have to manege the emotional expectation of the people you lead.  Your doctor made you feel safe by demonstrating empathy, letting you know what to expect and managed that expectation to such an extent that you never felt let down.
    Six very valuable skills to acquire as a leader indeed!

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  • Angelambryant

    My retired endodontist husband says “Amen. Job well done!”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Ha! I was amazed at mine.

  • http://twitter.com/nocnocintn Viky Fisher

    Great lessons!  I’ve been to Dr. Price myself (without pain) and really appreciated how you broke down the “essence” of great caregiving.


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  • Diana

    Excellent post, and a great example for anyone who would interact with people!
    I’m glad for you that your root canal went so well.  I had one of those horror stories…yet I still trust and respect my dentist without question.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that as the pain subsided on day 3 after the procedure, I was telling folks that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t the train I had been praying for!

  • Gbenga

    I don’t think I really understand the question but what I could understand from the blog is that COMMUNICATION and SINCERITY/HONESTY is very key in leadership. Because Dr. Price communicated the procedure to you and also throughout the process and also his sincerity gave you some confidence to trust in his competence.

    Gbenga, Lagos

  • Dale L

    I loved this information. We have started Nevada’s only non profit dental clinic. I am a “greeter’ and “prayer partner”. My job is to help people not be so afraid. We have only been open 3 Saturday’s so I will continue to try to put our patients at ease. Dale L.

  • Tarun Agarwal

    as a dentist i can say that modern root canals are totally different from past root canals. changes in techniques combined with modern numbing solutions make all the difference.

    these are great lessons that can be applied to service industries and life in general.

  • Howard Farran

    you Michael for this outstanding blog. As a dentist who has done root canals
    for over 25 years I found your blog to be spot on and amazing. I am sharing this
    blog with every dentist I know. Howard Farran DDS, MBA

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Howard. I appreciate that!