How Going to the Dentist Can Save Your Business

In July of 2014 I went to the dentist for a regular cleaning. He took one look at the underside of my tongue and turned white. “That looks like cancer!” he said, and ordered me to have it biopsied right away. (Spoiler alert: I’m now fine and cancer-free.) What happened next was a crash course in treating the disease, and making sure it didn’t come back. Every part of this experience also carried an important leadership lesson.

Do regular check-ups

Many of us wait to visit the dentist until we get a toothache. By then, we could need a filling, a root canal, or worse, there could be a tumor. In my case, I went to my regular check-up, we got the tumor early and I had a great outcome.

Leadership check ups. Does your company get regular check-ups? How often to do you do get your strategy, structure, systems, and culture checked? There might be a problem forming that is treatable now, but could be fatal to your business in a year or two if it goes unchecked. Who is the dentist at your company?

Knowing a little is scarier than knowing the worst

The most frightening time was when I found out I had cancer, but nothing more. “Cancer” and “dirty margins” was all I knew. It could have spread a little, or it might be throughout my body.

Leading without enough knowledge. As a leader, you may know there is a problem but not much more. The problem can show up on stagnant sales, the loss of key employees, or a general mood of malaise. Before jumping into decision-making, problem solving, scenario planning, or other “treatments,” learn more. Get more “tests” done. In the meantime, don’t let the lack of certainty rattle you. People can tell when a leader is stressed. As I believe John Kennedy once said, if everyone had enough time and information, anyone could be a leader. The art of leadership is exuding confidence even when you don’t feel it.

Create a team of experts with a chief surgeon

I was lucky in one specific way: my husband Dave had just finished a book with the Chief of Surgery at Cedars-Sinai, Bruce Gewertz. Dr. Gewertz was able to recommend an amazing team of experts that only focus on head and neck cancers. I had one surgeon that opened and another that closed. The first was an expert at removing the cancer, and the second was a plastic surgeon, who could make sure that I healed in the most elegant way possible.

A leadership quarterback and a great team. Once you have identified the tumor in your organization—if there is one—and determined how far it’s spread, find the best person in the world to treat it. When looking at solving your organization’s challenges, have team members that remove the tumors and team members that put things back together. It’s vital that this group includes someone bringing everyone together as a team with a cohesive treatment plan. In our experience with our clients at CultureSync, we see many problems that are dealt with well but the wounds are never closed, and the scars never treated.

Count your blessings

Many people in my situation would ask “why me?” I never did. I was just grateful everyday that we got the cancer early, I had a great support system, and that I had the best team of healthcare professionals on my case. If you do a check-up on your company and find something wrong, you have a choice to make: you can wallow in the pain of things not going according to plan, or you can be grateful that you identified the problem before your organization went bankrupt. Reach out to your support system, and get the best possible team on the case.

Since my cancer I have become a bit of a bore. Whenever I get the chance, I tell people to go to their regular check-ups, be it the dentist or the dermatologist. I also tell leaders to find their organization’s dentist and see her every six months. It can make a world of difference when a red flag is raised.

Who’s your company’s dentist? I hope that you’ll share in the comments.


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