The grace of a coach

Feb. 1, 2000
The annual Academy Awards ceremony honors entertainment professionals for their work in the film industry. When nominees win an award, they often thank a drama coach or teacher who made an impression on their lives. Olympic athletes also often credit their coaches with teaching them how to become winners.

Winners who credit the `coach` for success have a reason for doing so.

Dianne Arguelles, RDH, CPCC

The annual Academy Awards ceremony honors entertainment professionals for their work in the film industry. When nominees win an award, they often thank a drama coach or teacher who made an impression on their lives. Olympic athletes also often credit their coaches with teaching them how to become winners.

Who helps dental professionals who are busy, yet want to improve their careers? For many years, dentists turned to consultants for help with their practices. In today`s environment, however, personal coaches take the consultant`s role one step further. Personal coaches assist professionals with both their business and personal lives to create balance and fulfillment.

The elements needed to take a dental practice to the next level include five steps:

- Establishing a vision.

- Analyzing management systems.

- Uplifting customer service.

- Improving communication skills.

- Developing the role of treatment coordinator.

Do most dentists have the time to implement these steps? Maybe. However, most professionals lack the time and the knowledge to initiate changes in their work processes. The result is that many goal-oriented agendas are never completed.

A personal coach, though, works with dentists to improve their personal and business processes. The coaching process initially calls for the client to complete a variety of forms that asks introspective questions.

The coach reviews the client`s answers and schedules an initial two-hour "intake" session (either in person or on the telephone) in which the coach formulates provocative questions based upon the client`s responses to the questionnaire. During this session, the coach develops insights into the obstacles preventing the client from having a balanced, fulfilled life. A coach then helps the client develop methods to overcome personal obstacles to success and meet the goals he or she has created.

What is the difference between a personal coach and a consultant? A consultant has the answers, is the expert, "fixes problems," and presents data. A coach knows the client has all of the answers inside and motivates the client to dig deep for the answers.

One coaching success story is a New York dentist named Allen. He disliked several aspects about his practice, namely practicing dentistry while managing a busy dental office with another dentist. Allen worked constantly, was too tired to enjoy his personal life, did not communicate well with the dentist who shared his practice, had trouble retaining office staff, and felt like he was aging too quickly and life was passing him by.

I shared with him the eight areas of life that affect a person`s sense of well-being: family and friends; spouses; personal growth; career; money; health; fun and recreation; and physical environment.

We evaluated these eight areas as they pertained to Allen`s life. He was able to determine which areas were out of balance and needed improvement. My questions about his personal life allowed him to focus on certain aspects that carried over to his dental practice.

Allen told me that he had a wonderful wife and two great children, ages 10 and 13, but he rarely saw them. He worked more than nine hours a day, five days a week. Allen spent Saturday mornings catching up with paperwork. He devoted Saturday afternoons to his children`s extracurricular activities. On Saturday evenings, the couple fulfilled social obligations, which were often business-related. On Sundays, all Allen wanted to do was relax, watch sports on television, and read the New York Times. But his family had other ideas. By Monday morning when he saw his first patient, he felt like he hadn`t had any time for himself. His life was out of balance, and he felt frustrated.

Allen was in his 40s, working at high-stress levels, and not getting any exercise. He loved his family and friends but didn`t see enough of them to enjoy their company. To gain more time with the important people in his life, I asked him to think of some options for creating special "Allen time."

- Work fewer days.What if he and his partner agreed to rotate four- and five-day work weeks, so that every other week one of them took a day off to do something he considered special?

- Disbursing/dividing duties. Instead of Allen doing bookkeeping/personal paperwork on Saturdays, could he hire a college student majoring in business or accounting to do the bookwork? That would free up Saturday mornings and give Allen more weekend time.

- Assess priorities. Rather than making every Saturday evening a time to fulfill social obligations, why not take that time to spend an evening alone with his wife and/or his family?

Since Allen always felt sluggish and tired, I also suggested he address his health. After asking him what he really wanted to do about it, he decided he needed more exercise. He was active while in college and dental school but, after he established his practice and began raising a family, athletic activity fell by the wayside.

He decided to take a 30-minute walk on his lunch break and play a game of tennis with a friend on his day off. As a health professional, Allen knew the importance of exercise in reducing stress and improving one`s outlook on life. So he wrote himself a prescription to engage in more physical activity. Because he knew he was accountable to me, his coach, he followed his prescription and implemented his exercise routine.

By helping Allen analyze the obstacles that prevented him from enjoying his professional life, I helped him realize that it was not practicing dentistry that he disliked. Allen began to tweak areas where his life felt out of balance. A coach empowers professionals to gain control and feel more fulfilled in their personal lives.

Once the changes to his personal life were made, Allen tackled stumbling blocks to his career. He approached his partner, Frank, about rotating four- and five-day work weeks. Frank agreed to try the arrangement. He, too, felt like he never had any time to himself, and he procrastinated. Although both dentists agreed that their partnership produced a good income, they knew that once they met their income goals, they needed some time to enjoy what they`d earned.

Allen and Frank also assessed other areas of their practice that needed improvement. They agreed that retaining good employees was a major problem. As their coach, I facilitated methods for selecting personnel whose values, skills, and goals matched the employers. Through brainstorming, the doctors recognized the role of employee participation in creating and meeting business goals. They also knew that they needed to provide employee incentives to retain good employees.

With the full participation of the staff, Allen and Frank derived benchmarks to measure office performance. When these benchmarks were reached, rewards followed for both the dentists and their employees. By building the right team and making everyone feel part of that team, Allen and Frank increased office productivity and professional satisfaction.

I worked with Allen for a year. The average amount of time a personal coach and a professional spend together averages between six and 18 months.

In addition to the the initial two-hour session, a coach conducts weekly follow-up sessions either in person or over the telephone, depending upon the geographic location of the client. Coaches assign clients "homework" - an exercise related to reaching established goals each week. The weekly exercises lead towards the completion of larger objectives. Often, the most growth occurs between weekly sessions.

The average cost of a personal coach runs between $250 and $500 per month.

In selecting a personal coach, a dentist should:

- Ask if he or she is a certified personal coach.

- Ask where he or she received formal training.

- Ask if a complimentary coaching session is offered.

- Determine the rapport you have with this person.

- Determine if you feel safe and supported.

Above all, find a coach who motivates you to new heights. When you receive your next award, you can hold it high and claim, "I owe it to my coach!"

For more information about this article, contact the author at (805) 692-9656. A biography of the author appears on page 8.

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