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Elegant Solutions to Wicked Problems - Leadership with Brett Miller.

This week’s show is all about our guest, Brett Miller. The discussion with Brett is packed with inspiration, strategies and tips to help leader’s create exceptional workplace cultures and to promote high performance – to the extent that we shortened our other segments to bring you the interview in full.

Flaunting conventional wisdom, we will start with the punchline. At the end of the interview, after hearing Brett’s journey, challenges and insights, we asked him what today’s version of himself would say to the 2000 version. The answer: it’s worth it. Keep that in mind as you listen to his story.

Let’s start with some background information on Brett to highlight how well founded his insights are. Then we will dive into his eight-point framework for Leadership – including the stories, examples and quotes he shared with our listeners.

If you want something done, ask a busy person!

You can check out Brett’s LinkedIn profile to see the full details, but here is the executive summary.

Brett is the Group CEO for Miller Dental Group, an organisation he founded with his brother, Greg (who is a dentist), and transformed from a single site service with a great reputation into a business with 16 sites, 180 team members, and that provides around 4% of all dental services in South Australia.

Brett is also a member of several boards and committees.

It’s all about the teeth but not always about the money.

Alongside their business, Brett and Greg established Australian Dental Foundation, Australia’s leading dental charity, after seeing firsthand the consequences of a system unable to deal with the dental needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

When Greg visited his grandmother, in her 90s, in an aged care facility, he realised that she wasn’t receiving the dental care she needed. Soon, Greg was providing care to his grandmother and other residents of the facility. When that grew to encompass multiple locations and most of Greg’s Sundays, Brett became involved, and the foundation was born.

The Wisdom Tooth.

This is either a Dad joke or a Dental joke – probably both. Either way, Brett loves it and we have shamelessly stolen it. It’s all about the wisdom he has accrued along the way and that he shared with our listeners in the pod.

This was a free ranging interview, but it centred around Brett’s eight principles for Leadership. In the interview, we drilled down on each of these principles.

  1. Authentic
  2. Engaging
  3. Innovative
  4. Transformative
  5. Self-reflective
  6. Courageous
  7. Balanced
  8. Long-termism

Wisdom 1: Authentic Leadership.

This is all about having a trusting and collaborative mindset and being values based.

Be aware of power balance issues – in the health sector (as in most organisations) there can be significant differences between the experience, qualifications and perceived power of team members.

This can be mitigated with mutuality of respect and by being honest, empathetic and real. Keep the purpose of the journey (which will often be shared by team members at all ‘levels’) front of mind.

Wisdom 2: Engaging Leadership

Brett focuses on who he is communicating to and how he can best deliver a message to get the best out of people. He is introspective about how he communicates to different people and uses this reflection to adapt.

The benchmark is telling the right story and telling the story right.

Wisdom 3: Innovative Leadership

Brett talks about the vision for the organisation as being the north star – but being innovative about how you reach that, which means seeing challenges as opportunities to evolve.

You may not always get the optimised decision but having good people around you means you minimise the risk of making bad decisions.

Brett uses Feedback Fridays as an opportunity for team members to fearlessly speak up about what they are seeing and experiencing – they have ‘parliamentary privilege’ which means they are able to speak freely without worrying about any fallout. By enabling discussions that are robust and respectful, and by not taking what is said personally, problems can be reframed through the perspective of others. Brett doesn’t reciprocate the feedback to team members on Feedback Fridays – this is their opportunity to talk about what they are experiencing.

Wisdom 4: Transformative Leadership

This is all about using strategy to achieve competitive advantage via continuous innovation. The reality is that we won’t construct a business model that others can’t replicate. There is always someone more resourced or who has more people. You don’t have to have the smartest idea; you just need to understand what you do best.

The winds and currents do their thing, it’s your ability to navigate and execute that makes the difference.

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Wisdom 5: Self-reflective Leadership

This is about embracing feedback and balancing assumptions. Brett likes to spend December looking at the year that was – what went well and what they ‘cocked up’.

When things don’t go well, he believes in looking past the instinctive reaction – if I yelled 20% louder, would that make a difference? Instead, he looks at his own role in the outcome and learns from that. He aims to see the best in people and manage adaptively by asking questions like, ‘am I making this a better place?’ and, ‘am I supporting people?’

Wisdom 6: Courageous Leadership

Brett’s philosophy is that ‘tough decisions are the right decisions. Deal with them with dignity and compassion.’

That might involve adopting approaches that go against advice or conventional wisdom. In the case of the Foundation, it has been the recognition that ‘a decision might not be the most prudent approach but if we don’t do it no-one will.’

In terms of people, it can be the recognition that sometimes people aren’t the right fit – but that you can deal with that with dignity and compassion and set them up for future success.

Wisdom 7: Balanced Leadership

What do you do outside work to keep you grounded and energised? For Brett, this is about family, fitness, food, and sleep.

At work he focuses on being open to change, learning from the wisdom of the tribe and mastering the art of listening.

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Wisdom 8: Long term-ism

Success is about balancing the needs of the current with the needs of the future, and providing opportunities for growth and dynamic role transformation.

A great question to ask yourself: what do you want to leave behind?

A great insight: amazing things are achieved by people like us – so why can’t we do that thing we are dreaming of?

Gold fillings

Throughout the discussion, Brett dropped in some bonus insights that didn’t sit under any of the eight principles. In the spirit of the ‘Wisdom Tooth’, we have called these Gold Fillings (go ahead and steal that one back if you like Brett!)

  • Find elegant solutions to wicked problems.
  • As you grow, oversight and enforcing compliance need to be let go – and replaced with empowerment and vision.
  • When the business reached a levelling point at which things stopped working as well as they had been, the questions Brett and Greg asked were: Is it them? Is it the model? Is it us? That led to the recognition that there needed to be a change of leadership mindset.
  • The difference was really moving from going and telling people – carrot and sticking them – to ‘working on the vision and values and thinking as a leader about how does my role change.’


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Got a question for the Podcast? You can drop us a voice message via Instagram or email us at: authenticity@reallearning.com.au

Thanks to our Podcasting producer, Josh at Deadset Podcasting for all his work behind the scenes.

Thanks for listening!