Bob Spiel is the author of the soon to be released book Flip Your Focus: Igniting People, Performance and Profits through Upsidedown Leadership. Bob is a team builder whose passion is developing genuine leaders and building high performance teams. His firm, Spiel & Associates transforms general and specialty practices by building leaders at all levels through a process of Transfacilitative Coaching ™ — acting as a catalyst for practice owners and their teams to discover, connect and commit to new levels of personal and team performance. In his over 10 years of consulting and speaking, Bob has seen time and time again that leadership can be taught and teams can be remade – what it takes is genuine desire, the willingness to be coached, and an unwavering commitment for growth. Throughout his 30-year career Bob he has been called “Mr Team”, and has had the opportunity to take on tough turn-around situations as a hospital CEO, Surgical Center CEO, and also as an Operations Director for two Fortune 500 companies where he led teams of up to 500 people while establishing world class systems and cultures. He now consults dental practices nationwide. He can be reached at

Your Fundamental Choice:  Making a Living or Making a Life?

You make a living working for someone else.  You make a life working for yourself.

“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice,” wrote C.S. Lewis, the author of

The Chronicles of Narnia. For new and recent dental grads, today’s precipices may seem more daunting than ever before, including six-figure student loan debt and the worry of paying it off over the next 7-10 years, the increase in the use of PPO plans and the impact that has on reduced reimbursements, as well as the rise of Dental Service Organizations with the possibility they have of being the future face of dentistry. Lewis, however, also said, “Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun … life has never been normal.”   

Indeed, when we are in the middle of it life doesn’t seem truly secure and never feels “normal.”   Every era has its own unique tests—and these tests never go away. Today’s challenges have a magnitude that may seem intimidating, but these worries are no different than those faced by new grads 20, 30 or 40 years ago: 

  • How do I get started?
  • How do I make enough to keep going? 
  • How do I take these skills and make something of them?   
  • How can I best serve and heal others?
  • How do I create a career that is rewarding and fulfilling, while also having a life at the same time? 

While the worries, when you boil them down, fundamentally are the same, so are the solutions. As my good friend Mark Hyman, DDS, says frequently, “Success leaves clues.” And when it comes to creating a career and a life that fulfills your dreams, the bottom-line is: You make a living by working for someone else. You make a life by working for yourself.     

The path to long term financial freedom, personal and professional fulfillment, clinical growth, personal progress, and a fulfilling career is owning your own practice. Whether the ownership is solo or multi-doctor is a matter of personal preference or opportunity. The key point is something changes inside when you are the owner (or co-owner) of your practice. This change demands more of you, stretches you more, literally shifts the way you think and places you in a position to have to be better each day. Ownership calls for consistent, positive efforts—knowing you are daily competing against who you were yesterday.

Getting started along the path of ownership also has clues that the committed will find. The first is discovering what may be holding you back from desiring ownership in the first place, and then challenging that. Often, this comes from limiting beliefs we hold about the fear of failure and taking financial risks. In the work I do with new and recent grads, until these elephants in the room are brought out, addressed and excused, no real progress takes place. But once these are put to the side, real progress begins. 

The second clue is to define (or refine) your personal vision. The more a person is in tune with their vision of the future and that vision is, first, both inspirational and aspirational, and second, has emotional meaning and context to them (and in writing), the clearer their behaviors will be toward fulfilling that vision. Make sure that vision helps you define the intersection of your knowledge, experience and passion, because that’s your “sweet spot” professionally. It is where work becomes a calling.   

The third clue is to find wise advisors. Employing the help of an experienced dental CPA, not to mention an experienced dental business coach, will be one of the most important investments you can ever make. These advisors will help you with asking the questions you don’t know to ask and find opportunities that may not be visible to an untrained eye.

The fourth is to create a plan for ownership, while being flexible. You may decide that starting from scratch is the path best suited for you, but then a practice purchase opportunity arises from out of the blue. Be open to what life presents to you and use your advisors to help refine and adjust your plan.   

The fifth clue is realizing leadership and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. Both of these “ships” have one destination: to build a life that is lived by design, instead of by default.  Two resources I can pinpoint to help dive into these ships in much more detail are my recently published book, Flip Your Focus – Igniting People, Profits and Performance through Upside-down Leadership (you can order it at, and Gino Wickman’s book, Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.  In the opening chapters, Flip Your Focus dives much deeper into challenging limiting beliefs and creating a personal vision. The later chapters go much deeper into leadership itself, because leadership isn’t a gift. It can be taught if the student is hungry and humble. 

There’s no question business ownership is challenging, but the personal and professional rewards far outweigh the risks and the work.  I was a paycheck guy my whole career until the words “you’re fired” woke me up and challenged this sense of security.  After successfully serving as a hospital and surgical center CEO, turning two entities around from bankruptcy and putting them on a firm footing, those were tough words to swallow. I will forever be thankful they happened, however. I’ve been the CEO and President of Spiel Consulting now for 12-plus years and will never go back to being employed by someone else. The opportunities and freedom that come from ownership are far too great. 

In this journey of ownership, remember you don’t go alone. An African proverb says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

One of the singular strengths in dentistry is the network of meetings, associations and resources dedicated to helping doctors continue to raise their game by being together and going together. The critical step in this is to do your homework up front, know your goals for participation and be very strategic with where you invest your time and money. Talk to those who have taken part in different associations, programs and CE. Find out what changes they made in how they practiced and/or ran their business.  Your goal for each should be to experience excellence in order to learn how to ask the right questions. School provided the foundational tools to get started. It is your job to build on those tools and to learn to see what you didn’t see in the past. 

In closing, this spring I had the unique opportunity to speak to a group of about 300 new and recent dental-school grads as a part of the Thomas. P. Hinman 103rd annual meeting. For the past three years, the Hinman organizing committee has hosted the GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) program—a day long, power-packed session of 7-8 different industry experts focusing on different aspects of practice ownership and career development. I highly recommend it for any graduate since 2007, because it is so beautifully run, information filled and free for doctors who are graduates of the last decade to attend.

As a part of my closing presentation, I had a chance to highlight Dr. Hinman himself. He was an incredible man who believed in himself and the nobility of his profession. One of his favorite sayings was:

“Remember that poor men stay at the bottom;

The mediocre men climb but half way up the ladder;

AND that there is ALWAYS room at the top.”     

– T.P. Hinman

Challenge your limiting beliefs about ownership, clarify your vision, enlist wise advisors, create a flexible plan, focus energies on learning about leadership and entrepreneurship, and don’t let go of the goal. I’ll see you at the top!