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a blog by Chris Barrow


The old saying was that “you wait for ages and then three buses come along, all at the same time.”

Anyone else old enough to remember that?

The same thing happens in business coaching.

I travel for weeks and weeks talking about branding, marketing, lead conversion, finances, teamwork, strategy and tactics – then, suddenly, a particular subject appears in conversation and is repeated in different geographical locations and business models.

So the latest “thread” in my travels is…..

Managers who are struggling to cope with the sheer volume and variety of issues they face on a daily basis.

Before I get emails saying “how dare you” let me make two points:

  1. these observations are not restricted to those I have physically visited in the last few weeks – I also have my eyes open and my ear to the ground in dentistry

  2. this observation isn’t about incompetence – I’m not describing managers who cannot do the job, I’m commenting on managers who have too much to do – so much, in fact, that they are overwhelmed, drowning and gradually becoming less effective

That in itself is a dangerous trend.

It can be exacerbated if the frustration is internalised, the problem isn’t accepted and the manager is in denial, the mistakes are covered up and a gradual dilution of self-confidence creeps into the manager’s psyche.

My favourite cliche here is:

“all problems exist in the absence of a good conversation”

If you know me, you have heard me say that many times.

I’ve been thinking recently about the source of this problem and have recognised that it is a product of evolution:

  1. when a practice opens and as it grows to £500,000 in sales, there is a particular skill set that is required to be an effective manager;

  2. the journey from £500k to £1 million requires a different skill set

  3. as does the journey from £1 million to £2.5 million

  4. and from £2.5 million to £10 million

and so on.

So the person who managed your practice at level one might not be the person(s) who take the last part of the journey.

Imagine mountain guides who take you on the 2-week trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and then those who accompany you to the summit – two very different types of person but all Nepalese.

The decision that faces a career manager in a rapidly expanding business is whether they are going to stay the course and re-skill themselves at every step of the way, accept that they will reach a ceiling of complexity and become a team player in a small group of managers or realise that the business has outgrown them and look for alternative employment in another practice to repeat their pervious experience at that level.

Sadly, too often, the problem is ignored or covered up, long term frustration sets in and it ends in tears for someone or other.

The good news is that I have worked with dental practice managers who have re-skilled themselves and taken MBA degree courses so as to “keep up” (Suzy Gorman at Ollie & Darsh springs to mind) and others who have happily accepted new colleagues and a division of labour.

The responsibility to identify and solve this problem rests with the Principal, not the manager – and so part of leadership is about making sure that your managers are happy, competent and evolving (or not) and do something to support that on a regular basis.

My best clients are those who have the best managers – period.

Make sure you have those good conversations and check that the most important passengers on your bus don’t become unhappy.

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