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Episode #609: How To Be The Boss And A Nice Person At The Same Time, With Kirk Behrendt And Dr. Barrett Straub

Being a boss can be difficult, but it becomes even more so when you’re trying to balance it with being nice to everyone. This is one of the hardest concepts to master, but today Kirk Behrendt brings back the CEO of ACT Dental, Dr. Barrett Straub, to tackle the topic and explain how it’s possible to be the boss and a nice person at the same time. To learn how to find the balance, listen to Episode 609 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Read Traction by Gino Wickman

Read Good to Great by Jim Collins

Read Who Not How by Dan Sullivan

Main Takeaways:

The desire to be liked often outweighs the necessary behaviors required to be a boss.

Clear is nice.

Seek respect, not being liked.

Establish value-based rules and be consistent with them.

The right “who” is the solution to most leadership challenges.

Don’t give orders—ask questions.

Help your team find fulfillment.


“I’d like to think we’re all—most of us—are really nice people. I think that’s true. And we’re learning as we go. We graduate dental school, we get into a practice. We’ve become leaders, and we’re learning on the job how to lead. And our human desire is to be liked. That’s just an innate human desire that we all have. We want to be liked by other people, and so our first assumption is that if I am liked by my team, they will view me as a good leader. And the pain point is that that’s not true and actually the desire to be liked pulls you further away from elective leadership.” (02:51—03:27) Dr. Straub

“I wanted to be liked. And then I realized you have to have like and respect. And I’ve learned a little bit, and as I’m still learning, like is a byproduct. You can start with like, but the real like happens as a result of doing the right thing, being consistent.” (03:39—03:57) Kirk

“I was chronically inconsistent. I was going with where everyone’s emotions were, where I could go today. And what I found is that I made and more great people miserable over this process. And so leadership is hard, we have to learn this. And I would say leadership is not one of those things you just kind of figure out. There’s a combination of learning while you’re on the job, but then you also have to have a mentor, somebody who can teach you how to be a boss.” (04:23—04:53) Kirk

“We portray leaders as this autocratic, heavy-handed, rule by fear leadership. And that’s so far from the truth. However, we have to start thinking as dentists and leadership, the whole being liked as a boss is a different mindset than being liked as a friend or an acquaintance. And so once we get that different definition of what it is to be liked as a boss, we can start to be more intentional about the things that that will make us a good boss and make us an effective leader. And really, you know, the first concept that we like to say is ‘What is nice? Being clear.’” (05:19—05:58) Dr. Straub

“I’ve always thought, I don’t need to be liked. I’d like it. It’d be, you know, that would be beneficial. But we have to start with respect. So if my team respects me, I’m great with that. If they also like me, that’s a bonus. But I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to be respected. And I think in the workplace there’s an overlap between those two words. You know, but we talk about clear is nice, but there’s another word that comes across along with clear. And that’s consistency.” (07:29—08:04) Dr. Straub

“When I read the book Traction, it was an operating system that I could enforce these principles in. They are a set of rules. It’s a real regular set of rules that when you stick to them, you can start to employ a lot of these. Let me be really clear about what this means. Let me be really clear about what we’re looking to accomplish. Everyone else can see those rules too, and they follow them. So for me, I needed a framework, a system.” (08:24—08:51) Kirk

“You know, one of our first coaches that came in here was like, ‘Listen, this is a planning session. This is not a solution session.’ You’ve got to do a little bit of both, you’ve got to figure that stuff out, and you’ve got to be able to guide people ultimately in healthy communication. So I like the idea of having some type of rules. You know, when you have regular rules that everyone can agree on, it’s good. I violated the rules because I tolerated bad behavior.” (09:09—09:34) Kirk

“I’ve heard people talk about ‘give your team a hallway, not railroad tracks.’ So railroad tracks, you are only going to go in one direction. But a hallway, you’re still going to get to the goal. You’re still going to go in one direction. But there’s some latitude in how you get there. And your team wants that decision making, they want that autonomy, they want that fulfillment in that, ‘Hey, we’re going to go there, but you’re going to help me get there. And the path might deviate just a little bit, but we’re going to stay within these guidelines called the walls of the hallway.’” (10:18—10:48) Dr. Straub

“This concept really has been the foundation of how we coach our pro-coaching clients in that instead of saying, ‘Hey, here’s 82 systems, you’ve got to do these 82 systems, do them exactly our way and then go to work.’ That’s a railroad, you know, and so we’ve really taken this philosophy and put it into our own coaching in that we provide our clients a strategic system. ‘Hey, we’re going to help you decide who you are, core values, where you’re going, and we’re going to provide the framework, that hallway’ that now the dentist can take their teams and walk them through, ‘Here’s direction. I need your help getting there.’” (11:16—11:54) Dr. Straub

“When things get a little messy, you fall back on the system. You fall back on the method, you fall back on the concepts, and then that disallows us from getting way off of target because human nature is going to take us way off target unless we have that chance to pull back in, have the system, as you said, to fall back on.” (11:55—12:17) Dr. Straub

“We want your team to know what to expect. Meaning I don’t know exactly how the day is going to go—I know there’s going to be hurdles, I know there’s going to be obstacles, but I know what’s going to happen. We’re going to figure it out, we’re going to behave in this way, we’re going to use our strategic plan to answer questions and make decisions. And so I don’t have the exact picture, but I know how the day is going to go and how we’re going to treat one another and how we’re going to talk and how the doctor is going to expect me to come with solutions, not just problems. And when you can give that clarity to your team, they’re going to help you lead. They’re going to help you get to that outcome.” (13:13—13:51) Dr. Straub

“If you’re not talking—the weekly team meetings—things are going to go awry. It’s the date night analogy. You always use the family eating dinner together. As soon as you stop those habits, you’re just inviting problems.” (14:17—14:32) Dr. Straub

“Each teammate on your team has their own life. They’ve got their own baggage, they’ve got their own stuff going on. And for many people, coming to work is like a release. It’s a ‘Okay, I know how the day is going to go, I can turn off all the life stresses, and I can do what I love to do.’ And if we are providing a situation where they don’t feel safe and they don’t know what to expect, then we’re just adding stress to their life. And they’re not going to perform well, and they probably are going to leave eventually.” (15:45—16:14) Dr. Straub

“A lot of our challenges and our problems become easier to overcome with the right people in the right seats. So I as a dentist and as a detail guy, always am looking for ‘how’ and ‘what’ and ‘when.’ And you [Kirk] always coach me to say it’s about a ‘who.’ Find the right person.” (17:03—17:24) Dr. Straub

“Don’t try to figure out what, because when you get the right who, they figure out the what. And I found that to be absolutely true. Now, again, one more thing that you have to think about as a leader. You don’t want to do everything. What you dream of is a day where you can go to somebody and go, ‘You’re my person for this. How are you doing? How can I help you? How can I support you?’ And they go, ‘You go back to doing what you do. I got this.’ And then they come to you. And when they’re stuck and you can add what you add best, which is the vision, sometimes the execution, creative problem solving.” (19:08—19:40) Kirk

“You only hire people for two reasons. Number one, they fit your core values. Number two, they get results. You don’t hire them because they’ve been here for a long time. They’re a nice person. They came with the practice. They’re your neighbor. You think they might be good. At the end of the day, your favorite team members, they fit your core values and you’ve stated them—we have six of them here at ACT Dental—and I’ll go back to what you said. It’s core values. Core values is one of those phrases that, as time has gone on, people go, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that sounds great. What’s next?’ And I’ll tell you, there is nothing next. You get really good at core values because your favorite people you’ll ever meet in a chair, at work, in your own personal life; they care about the same things you care about. The least favorite people you ever meet, it’s not that they’re bad people, they just don’t care about the same things. And so you’ve got to get your core values right.” (20:30—21:18) Kirk

“When you wake up at 3:30 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep, you’re not thinking about the team members that share your core values. You’re thinking and stressing about the one that’s driving you crazy that doesn’t fit.” (21:51—22:04 Dr. Straub

“My favorite part about core values is they guide behavior. And so when you have core values and you’ve talked about them with your team and you have them up on the wall and you talk about them and then you have some behavior that doesn’t match, you have a foundation to fall back on. You can say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing. It doesn’t match our previously stated and discussed core values. We need to correct that behavior.’ Without those core values and without that framework, you just look like a bad guy.” (22:52—23:21) Dr. Straub

“But here’s what’s really cool when you do the Chief Repeating Officer thing—your values show up not only in just behavior, which is most important, but they also show up in tough decisions. You’re going to be presented with difficult decisions and you can go back to your values and say, ‘All roads lead home to our values.’ So I’m going to repeat over and over again who we are, why we do what we do. And it’s amazing how people pick that up.” (24:15—24:37 Kirk

“When it comes to core values, if you don’t have them, identify them, and we have tools. If you have identified them, talk about them with your team—put them up on the wall and then repeat them, meaning you’ve got to talk about them every single week. We talk about them in our meetings every week, we identify them, we celebrate one another, we highlight a core value, because if it’s on the wall, but you’re not talking about it or repeating yourself, they’re not living. They’re not breathing. They’re not part of your culture.” (25:01—25:27) Dr. Straub

“By asking questions, you are teaching your team members to become their own thinker, their own leader, and you can kind of co-diagnose with them the best solution to a problem versus just saying, ‘Do this. Do this. Do it this way.’ You can provide some guidance and like, ‘Hey, my goal is for us to get here, but help me design the path to get there.’ You know, now you’re teaching skills that this person and this team can leverage for a long time.” (27:43—28:13) Dr. Straub

“When you ask open-ended questions, we force ourselves into the frontal cortex. And the frontal cortex is the region of the brain that deals with logic and reasoning. And so when we’re in our practice and we’re trying to solve problems, we know we have to be thinking rationally. If we’re in our emotional rear brain, it’s going to be harder. Emotion and logic don’t go together. There are two different brain centers, and you can’t use both at the same time. And so questions are a great way to get someone to think rationally and logically.” (28:24—28:56) Dr. Straub

“Given two choices, people will always pick the easy path. And what you have to do is you’ve got to draw a line through that and go, ‘That’s the hard path,’ and here’s how you’re going to do it: . . . ‘Are you going to tell them, or am I?’ It’s a moment of truth and it pauses what’s going on here to say, ‘You have to take this to the other person.’” (32:33—32:56) Kirk

“And so when we talk about triangulation, when we have dentists in this room here in Milwaukee, everyone nods their head because every dentist knows exactly what this situation is. And the person is coming to you as a dentist only because they have been taught to know that you’re going to take care of it. You’re going to take their problem off of their shoulder and put it on yours and take care of it. So that’s easy. I’m going to go dump my problem on you. But if I, as your team member, know, ‘If I go to Kirk with a problem, I know he’s going to ask me to deal with it. He might coach me, but I’m going to have to solve it,’ now it becomes harder. And that’s okay, because then I know when I go to you, I might say, ‘Kirk, I need to deal with this problem on my own, but I need some coaching.’ That’s what you as a leader want instead of, ‘Hey, Kirk, solve this for me.’” (32:59—33:49) Dr. Straub

“You can be a boss and a nice person at the same time. You shouldn’t try to be nice, just be clear first. Now, I’m not telling you to be mean. No, but the more clear you can be, people will enjoy that. They’ll think well of you.” (34:25—34:40) Kirk

“We want to grow leaders. So if we grow leaders, if we give our teams skills to solve their own problems, to think outside the box, to have trust, then our job gets a lot easier. And we’ve made them better people. And they’re going to in turn, help us be better people. We also want to provide fulfillment. So everyone wants to go to a job where they have purpose, where they have autonomy, where they have trust, where they can be themselves, when they know they can screw up and it’s not going to be held against them. And that only comes from clarity, from knowing what to expect, from building core values. And our point is this is what people are looking for. They don’t want you to be nice. They want you to just tell them how you want it done, give them some autonomy to help you get there. And they’re going to love their job.” (34:54—35:44) Dr. Straub


0:00 Introduction.

02:41 We all want to be liked.

03:35 Mediocrity is chronically inconsistent.

04:57 What is “nice?”

06:05 It’s better to be clear than nice.

07:22 Respect is greater than like.

08:17 You need rules.

09:49 Give your team a hallway, not railroad tracks.

12:18 A system creates discipline.

13:51 You need to regularly talk.

15:36 Consistency keeps your team safe.

16:46 Find the right who to solve your challenges.

20:22 The right people fit your core values.

23:35 Be the Chief Repeating Officer.

25:27 Core values are verbs.

26:56 Don’t give orders—ask questions.

28:57 Don’t connect the dots of the triangle.

32:07 Make the easy path the hard path.

34:21 Final takeaways.

34:48 Being a boss means giving your team fulfillment in their jobs.

36:23 Last thoughts.


Dr. Barrett Straub Bio:

Dr. Barrett Straub practices general and sedation dentistry in Port Washington, Wisconsin. He has worked hard to develop his practice into a top-performing, fee-for-service practice that focuses on improving the lives of patients through dentistry. 

A graduate of Marquette Dental School, Dr. Straub’s advanced training and CE includes work at the Spear Institute, LVI, DOCS, and as a member of the Milwaukee Study Club. He is a past member of the Wisconsin Dental Association Board of Trustees and was awarded the Marquette Dental School 2017 Young Alumnus of the Year. As a former ACT coaching client that experienced first-hand the transformation that coaching can provide, he is passionate about helping other dentists create the practice they’ve always wanted. 

Dr. Straub loves to hunt, golf, and spend winter on the ice, curling. He is married to Katie, with two daughters, Abby and Elizabeth.

Kirk Behrendt

Kirk Behrendt is a renowned consultant and speaker in the dental industry, known for his expertise in helping dentists create better practices and better lives. With over 30 years of experience in the field, Kirk has dedicated his professional life to optimizing the best systems and practices in dentistry. Kirk has been a featured speaker at every major dental meeting in the United States. His company, ACT Dental, has consistently been ranked as one of the top dental consultants in Dentistry Today's annual rankings for the past 10 years. In addition, ACT Dental was named one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc Magazine, appearing on their Inc 5000 list. Kirk's motivational skills are widely recognized in the dental industry. Dr. Peter Dawson of The Dawson Academy has referred to Kirk as "THE best motivator I have ever heard." Kirk has also assembled a trusted team of advisor experts who work with dentists to customize individual solutions that meet their unique needs. When he's not motivating dentists and their teams, Kirk enjoys coaching his children's sports teams and spending time with his amazing wife, Sarah, and their four children, Kinzie, Lily, Zoe, and Bo.