Offense or Defense?

I got a call from a chiropractor who wanted to ask me a couple of questions. I love questions and I especially enjoy fielding these sorts of calls.

This chiropractor had recently introduced some new systems in his practice and the results had been phenomenal. But now his numbers were in decline. “Do I need a new system?” he asked.

“What else has changed since the big numbers?” I queried.

After a pause, he explained that he and his wife had a newborn baby and were looking at buying a house.

“Sounds like you’ve switched from offense to defense,” I observed.

“I don’t understand.”

“I mean, when you were all hot for chiropractic, saw the future as full of hope and opportunity, patients picked up on that. After all, true leadership, whether with patients, your support staff or even your spouse is about communicating in such a way that they are inspired by the promise of a better tomorrow. If you think the best days of chiropractic practice are still ahead, patients notice that and respond appropriately. When you think about it, what patients really want is hope. Hope that you can solve their problem. Hope that they will experience relief. Hope that their future will be better than their present.”

Gulping for air, I continued. “Chances are you’ve changed your mindset from playing offense, ‘the-world-is-my-oyster’ to defense, ‘I-better-protect-what-I-have.’ Patients can sense when you change sides like that.”

“Patients can tell?”

“Sure. You probably think you’re fooling them, but you’re really not that good of an actor,” I said. “If you were, you’d probably be in Hollywood.”

“So, what should I do?”

“My first suggestion is to stop coasting. If it’s not possible to grow your practice from a quantitative point of view, at least grow it from a qualitative perspective. That may mean you become a specialist in pediatrics, nutrition or learn some new way of helping patients. The key is to keep growing intellectually, emotionally or spiritually. You need to get back to cutting a new path.”

After we exchanged a few pleasantries and he confirmed my instincts, he asked how I knew that something had changed other than his new internal procedures.  

“Personal experience,” I confessed. “Back about 1998 I had a new house, the money was coming in from almost a decade of pushing and frankly I took my foot off the accelerator and started coasting. Instead of cutting new paths, I wanted to make sure I kept what I had. That’s what ultimately prompted me to sell my half of the old company and start over. With nothing to defend, I had no choice but to swing into offense.”

Even now, from time to time I find myself getting a bit too comfortable. And that’s when I remember that the only way to coast is to go downhill.

Originally posted April 25, 2007