The 9 Principles to Be a Leader and Change People

Leadership. I struggle with this quite often with my kiddos. Being the “leader” dad this day and age is downright tough. It seems that the world tells them one thing, and I try to tell them something else.

World: You NEED to be on Snaphat

Dad: I don’t think so….

Dale Carnegie

I know this for a fact. MOST successful leaders have one thing in common: They ALL have read Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” I was reminded of the book after watching the HBO Documentary on Warren Buffet where he mentions taking one of Mr. Carnegie’s courses to help alleviate his fear of public speaking. The book has sold millions of copies which spurred me to reread it last week.


When you think of leaders, who pops into your mind? How about in football?

  • Tom Brady?
  • Aaron Rodgers?

Typically in football, it’s the quarterbacks that are the best team leaders.

What about in your practice? Are you the leader?

As I coach more and more specialists, I’ve noticed a common trend: Lack of leadership. To put it bluntly…lack of testicles. It’s amazing how many docs are scared of their staff!


Let’s take the MOST important area of your practice, the PHONE. Every new patient typically arrives through the phone. It’s the FIRST place I start with whenever I begin the coaching experience. Why? Because most offices are horrible at handling new patients over the phone. It boils down to lack of training or lack of leadership.

It’s our fault guys.

Leadership – 9 Principles

We’re all busy these days, I get it. Who has time to read all 214 pages of Mr. Carnegie’s book? Don’t worry. I’ve provided a brief summary of the 9 Principles on being a leader without giving offense or arousing resentment.

Principle #1 Begin with praise and honest appreciation

I loved this quote in the book, “Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain kills the pain.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we’ve been praised for our good points. That’s why the first step to changing people without offending them is to begin with appreciation for their strengths.  Why do you think a barber lathers a man BEFORE he shaves him!

For example, if one of your team members is lacking in phone skills, we might start by complimenting her on how warm and caring she treats patients as they arrive at the office.

We could point out a few reasons of why it’s NOT only important that patients are treated in that manner face to face but also whenever they call the practice.  Chances are that even from our first mention, she’ll come to realize the point that we’re trying to make. Because we told her how nice and friendly she is already, she’s not offended that we felt that she should also have the same attitude/demeanor on the phone too.

The key is an age-old technique called a ‘criticism sandwich.’ When you’re going to offer negative feedback, start with a compliment. Then segue into the meat and potatoes: the criticism. Finally, and more importantly, part ways with another positive compliment.

Principle #2 Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly

I was recently fishing with my friend, Tommy C. I mentioned to him during the trip that I was reading this book and discussed principle #2 with him. He told me about a story of his family visiting the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, AL one summer (awesome hotel by the way). His boys, who also love to fish, were bass fishing on one of the golf course’s many lakes (which was prohibited). One of the workers pulled up in a golf cart and asked them how they were doing & if they’d like a ride back to the hotel.

What did he do? He applied this principle and called attention to their mistake (fishing on a prohibited lake) indirectly. That’s straight from a chapter of great customer service companies’ book (Disney, Ritz Carlton/Marriott, Nordstrom’s).

Most of us respond bitterly to direct criticism. When we’re looking to change people without offending them or arousing resentment, simply changing one three-letter word can be our key to success.

Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word “but” and ending with a critical statement.

For example, a parent trying to convince her son to care more about his school work might say, “We’re really proud of you, Joey, for getting better grades this semester. But if you had worked harder in your reading class, you would’ve done even better.”

In this case, Joey might feel encouraged right up until he hears the word “but.” He might then question the sincerity of the original praise.  To Joey, the word “but” makes it seem like the praise was only a contrived lead-in to his mother’s criticism.

However, this situation could be easily overcome by changing the word “but” to “and.” See how different it sounds: “We’re really proud of you, Joey, for raising your grades this semester, and if you continue your efforts next semester, your reading grade can be as good as all the others.”

Now it’s much easier for Joey to accept the praise, because there was no follow-up with direct criticism.

Whenever you are trying to guide a staff member to change their behavior, start swapping “but” for “and” when you deliver critical feedback, to help you frame it in a positive way, instead of inferring failure and disapproval.

Principle #3 Talk about your own mistakes first before criticizing the other person

The next step to changing people’s ways without inflicting negative feelings is to admit that we are also susceptible to mistakes.

It is much easier to listen to a description of our own faults when the person criticizing begins by humbly saying that he is also far from perfect.

Before you begin barking at the new dental assistant because she didn’t pass you the correct instrument, take a step back and think about how much dental education/experience you’ve had compared to her. Your 20+ years and 10,000x her experience vs her 3 months should tell you something. Hopefully.

Just before you lose your cool, consider this. How could you possibly expect her to have the same viewpoint and judgment? You may come to realize that the new gal is performing pretty darn well considering the short amount of time she’s been on the job.

Now when you approach the new hire, begin by letting her know that you’ve also made hundreds of mistakes when you first began practicing and the more experience she obtains, the better her performance will become.

The bottom line:

When you’re about to criticize and light into one of your team members,  take a step back and ask yourself:

  • What was I like when I was that age?” (Probably a knucklehead)
  • What was I thinking when I was at their level of experience?”

Admitting one’s own mistakes – even when one hasn’t corrected them – can help convince somebody to change his behavior.” Dale Carnegie

Principle #4 No one likes to take orders

Carnegie gives an example in the book about a business owner that NEVER gave direct orders to anyone. Ever. He never told his employees, “Do this or do that” or “Don’t do this or that.” Instead, he would say, “You might consider this,” or “Do you think that would work?”

We usually remember our parents, teachers and coaches screaming orders at us growing up. So it’s only natural to do the same as we’re attempting to get our staff to do what we want them to do.

Asking questions instead of giving direct orders allows people to learn from their mistakes and easily correct their errors. It saves that person’s pride and gives them a feeling of importance instead of downgrading them. It encourages cooperation which is the basis of leadership.

“People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.” Dale Carnegie


Principle #5 Let the other person save face

For many of us, getting our way, finding fault in others and criticizing our employees is something that we do day in and day out without the consideration of what it’s doing to others self-confidence. When you have to deliver a decision or information that will cause negative feelings, think about how you can make the person feel good about himself first.

Raise people up, don’t tear them down.

Simply using a considerate word and understanding the other person’t attitude will go a long way before you speak.


Principle #6 How to spur people on to success

We ALL crave appreciation and recognition. In the book, Creating MagicLee Cockerell (Former Executive VP of Operations at Walt Disney World, stated that appreciation, recognition and encouragement, (ARE), together are more powerful that rocket fuel.

They build:

  • self-confidence
  • self-esteem
  • boost individual team performance
  • keep organizations running cleanly and smoothly

I can attest that this is NOT always the case in my practice. But I can also attest that when I do give ARE, there’s a totally different atmosphere that it creates throughout the entire practice.

One of the most powerful abilities we have is helping others realize their potential. We can do this by praising their strengths. Yet, this is something we (I) do so infrequently. It’s much easier to point out someone’s faults.

Even when it’s tough to find things to praise, try hard to find something.

Principle #7 Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to

If you want to improve a person in a certain aspect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.” Dale Carnegie

There’s nothing an employee hates more than being called “into the office” whenever they know that their work has become unsatisfactory. Instead of berating your employees whenever their performance starts slacking, consider this approach:

“Donna, you’re a fantastic dental assistant. You’ve been with our practice for over four years and we’ve had a number of compliments from patients of the great work you have done. But lately, your work has not been up to your own old standards, and I thought you’d want to know since you’ve been such an outstanding assistant in the past.”

What do you think the result of that conversation would lead to? I can guarantee you that Donna would begin to start doing her best again and live up to her reputation that she’s build up over the past four years. How could she not?

So remember, if you want to excel in that difficult leadership role of changing the attitude or behavior of your team, use principle #7 instead.

Principle #8 Make the fault seem easy to correct

If you tell your child, spouse or employee that he or she is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, has no gift for it, and is doing it ALL wrong, then you have destroyed almost every INCENTIVE to try to improve. But instead, use the opposite technique – ENCOURAGEMENT, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in their ability to do it, and they will practice like never before to excel.

It’s amazing what a little bit of encouragement can do to a person.

Rather than simply telling someone they’re goal is out of reach, find ways to encourage small victories when possible. These smaller compliments can help make room for sharing guidance while keeping them inspired.


Principle #9 Make people glad to do what you want

The final key to being a leader and changing people without arousing resentment is to make the person happy about doing what we want them to do. Remember the Seven Dwarfs phrase, “Whistle while you work?”

If you have an employee who struggles with a certain task, appoint her to be the supervisor for that task, and watch as she improves immediately.

Offering incentives, praise, and authority are all great ways to make a person happily accept our decisions and do what we want them to do.

To be an effective leader, keep these guidelines in mind when it is necessary to change attitudes or behavior:

1. Be sincere. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.
2. Know exactly what you want the other person to do.
3. Be empathetic. Ask yourself what it is the other person really wants.
4. Consider the benefits that person will receive from doing what you suggest.
5. Match those benefits to the person’s wants.
6. When you make your request, put it in a form that will convey to the other person the idea that he personally will benefit.
As with anything we want to improve on, being a GREAT LEADER takes practice. The more you work on it, the better you will become.
Consider taking a leadership course either from The Ritz Carlton or Walt Disney World companies. Both have programs geared specifically for the health care provider.
Comments? What are your BEST leadership skills you use? Comment below:

























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