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Bring a Super Bowl victory to your practice

June 1, 2008
OK, I admit it; I am a die-hard, hard-core, blue-bleeding Giants fan. I have been trying to write about the greatest Super Bowl ever played ever since I returned home ...

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: Super Bowl, intangibles, dentistry and life, football.

OK, I admit it; I am a die-hard, hard-core, blue-bleeding Giants fan. I have been trying to write about the greatest Super Bowl ever played ever since I returned home from Phoenix, but I didn't want to sound like just another raving fan because my team won. So let me tell you a little story that may hold a few lessons from that wonderful night in February 2008 that will be forever burned into the memories of football fans everywhere.

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Just after the last second ticked off the clock, I rushed to my car to get to the airport for the red-eye back to Philly. We made it to Sky Harbor Airport in enough time to relax and grab a bite to eat. I finally got to kick back and watch the “Escape and Catch” for the first time on ESPN. I was celebrating with my son when in walked celebrity sports commentator Cris Collinsworth. I approached him, remembering the prediction he made earlier in the week: “42 to 14.” I shook his hand and proudly smirked. He put his hands up and said, “Who woulda thunk it?”

I would have, “Because,” I told Collinsworth, “Coughlin and company mastered the intangibles.”

Collinsworth, an ex-football player himself, seemed to have a look of wonder. Most people see football as a game of x's and o's. Collinsworth described his analysis on the last installment of the HBO show, “Inside the NFL,” earlier that week. He concluded that the New England Patriots would complete their perfect season and be crowned the greatest team of all time. I have a much more metaphysical view of football that reaches well into dentistry and life. I never viewed the Super Bowl as just one game, not even the three-game winning streak in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay, but more of a continuation of a story that began when Tom Coughlin first took over this team in 2004. Actually, it may have started long before that in the philosophy of the Giants patriarch, Wellington Mara, and continued after his death in 2005.

Mara hired Coughlin for his traditional values. He wanted to bring discipline to a team that was sorely lacking it. The talent was always there, but the intangibles were missing. Coughlin brought a new work ethic to New York and the players rebelled. Rules were placed that included new dress codes and fines for being late to meetings where late meant “not according to Tom's time.” Football players in the modern era do not like these types of systems, with rules that use interrelated elements to bring together the accomplishment of a unified goal. They don't see the relevance of the dress codes or the “rules.” Many rebel and don't buy in. But Tom toughed it out, even when his own job was on the line in 2006. Luckily he was given one more year to right the ship.

Call me “old school.” I'm a big fan of traditional values; hence I am a big fan of Coughlin. I wanted to see him succeed. His success would confirm that the way I manage my life, both personally and professionally, works. I search for examples of validation and vindication. I would use Coughlin's success as a theme for many staff meetings.

In my book, The Art of the Examination, I write about teaching dental assistants to take impeccable records. The word impeccable is very important because it tells the world about your commitment to a certain standard. Great businesses understand high standards because they represent and communicate a tradition, a story about the integrity of the organization. A dental practice needs to pay attention to words like impeccable and standards. These concepts have to come from the top, in a practice that means the dentist-leader. A football team has a coach and his staff. And it can be a lonely job at times because many players don't like dress codes and nitpicking rules.

Tiki Barber, the regretfully retired running back, was one who resented the coach's time demands, excessive practices, and petty dress codes. It was Barber who benefited more than anyone because of Coughlin's demands. During his tenure with the Giants, he became the team's all-time leading rusher, while shedding a horrendous habit of fumbling the football. Because Tiki had another agenda, he was absent on the night that Tom Coughlin accepted the Lombardi Trophy from football commissioner Roger Goodell.

I look at coaches and dentist-leaders in the same light. I believe that they bring a certain amount of paternalism to the job. Many times throughout my own career, I felt that staff members would come to me looking for some good old fatherly advice. I owe a lot to my own father for not letting me make up my own rules as I went through life, so I appreciate that kind of attitude. Sometimes it's hard to tell what the coach's agenda is & just like the child doesn't understand the father's agenda, or for that matter the staff doesn't understand the dentist's agenda. Clarity of mission and vision is indispensable. Everyone must buy into the mission, the values, and the standards of the organization.

A few weeks had passed and I picked up a copy of Michael Gerber's (The E-Myth) new book, Awakening the Entrepreneur Within. Considering that 82% of dentists own their own practices, the subject of entrepreneurism is quite appropriate. The book revealed a list of operating standards for a CEO to fulfill in order to be accountable. As I read the list, I began to see how Tom Coughlin had fulfilled just about every item on the list. Let's take a look at a few and then see how they can be applied in a dental practice:

1) Learn how to produce results with little or no capital. I know that Eli Manning is well paid, but if you look at the rest of the payroll, the Giants accomplished this feat without spending big money on overpriced free agents. There were seven rookie contributors. That was amazing. So many dentists build their practices around expensive toys and fancy accoutrements that may have no bearing on the success of the practice. Service expert Leonard Berry claims that people judge your service on things like dependability, reliability, assuredness of credentials, and empathy. Last time I looked they were free.

2) Learn how to produce results with little or no experience. Not only were there seven rookies, but how many times did we hear how Eli Manning had never won a playoff game? Well, I guess that changed. What can you imagine Eli and Tom did to get over the experience factor? Practice, focus, and paying attention to detail are things we all know. They have less to do with skill level than with character traits and mindsets. How many times does a dentist take a course and learn new skills but fail to bring them to practice?

3) Learn how to do the impossible. Let me add the improbable as well. I won't go over that marvelous play when David Tyree caught the ball on his helmet. It certainly was magical, wasn't it? It made Franco Harris' “Immaculate Reception” look ordinary. How do you think you get those magical moments? Preparation. Taking the right courses, studying with the very best, and applying the lessons in the practice create opportunities to engage in those spiritual, magical moments.

4) Learn how to manage people without making them wrong. For four years, fans and the media were all over the Giants. They were criticized for everything. I felt so bad for Eli Manning because the media had painted a picture of him as a scared, immature kid. Don't judge according to appearances, as the Bible tells us. Eli Manning's self-esteem flourished at the right moment because the coach believed in him. Coughlin was another one that the media didn't understand, as I will discuss in another point to come. In our practices we must play our own game. We must be aware of what we are trying to accomplish regardless of what people say about us.

5) Learn how to replicate your successes and rise above your failures. In 2006, Coughlin was vilified for his behavior after a play in the final moments of a game against the Tennessee Titans. He just lost it on the sidelines when one of his players let up at the end of a critical play, and released the opposing quarterback, which cost the Giants the game, and sent them into a downward spiral for the rest of the season. I remember watching the game with my son and commenting that I wouldn't want Coughlin's job for all the money in the world. I don't know how he put that behind him, nor do I know how he handled the one player who didn't buy into his vision: Tiki Barber. I do know that as leaders of our practices we are faced with situations and people issues that we have only to look up to the sky for answers.

6) Learn how to become a world-class leader you can be proud of. I guess Coughlin must have read a lot of Thoreau. I can't remember any instant where he bad-mouthed any player, media member, or staff member. He just marched confidently in the direction of his dream and met success at certainly the most uncommon moment, as we all witnessed.

I could go on and on about this game and what can be learned from it. All Super Bowl winning coaches get to write their story, and I can't wait to read Coughlin's. There is one more thing that must be said. Many people criticized Coughlin for the way he treated his players. They said he was too much of a disciplinarian, and that he needed to lighten up. Well, he did. That just may have been the missing ingredient. During the off-season his wife told him to “let your players see you the same way your grandchildren do; let the players see that you do care about them.” He claimed that he had always cared about the players, but had never really thought about how he was going to demonstrate that. Well, he did.

Maybe that is what I meant about paternalism. Love your patients, love your staff, never trust appearances  these are some of the intangibles that can bring a Super Bowl to your practice. Football players like Collinsworth, and dentists, see the world in a very linear way. Mechanistic, logical, and Newtonian. Everything is physical and tangible. Super Bowls and successful practices come forth from the nonphysical, intangible, spiritual domain.

Barry F. Polansky, DMD, practices in Cherry Hill, N.J. Author of the book, The Art of the Examination, and publisher of “Dental Life,” he is on the visiting faculty of the Pankey Institute. E-mail him at [email protected].

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