"Leaders aren't born, they're made." If you're looking to hone your leadership skills that will leave a lasting imprint on your practice, read on. Accomplished dentist, mentor, and speaker, Dr. Bill Simon DMD, offers insights into building and sustaining a thriving dental practice.
Owning a dental practice demands more than clinical excellence; it necessitates strong leadership abilities. Successful leaders motivate their team members, create an environment of trust and collaboration, and empower their teams to perform at their best. However, leadership is not an inherited trait. It takes time and effort to nurture your skills as a leader.
As a dentist of 40 years, owner of multiple practices, and a dedicated mentor to other dentists looking to enhance their practice success, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be an effective leader. The best lessons I have learned have emerged from overcoming mistakes and major challenges. I’ve also invested time in studying the markers of a true leader by taking courses and reading books, such as Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek and Setting the Table by Daniel Meyer.
Whether you desire one day to own your own practice or you already do, here are six strategies to help advance your leadership skills and experience greater levels of success.
The Top 6 Strategies of an Effective Dental Leader
1. Determine Your Dental Practice’s Mission Statement and Core Values
One of the first steps in successfully running a dental practice is establishing a framework, or a mission statement, for the ultimate goal you want to accomplish as a leader. A clear written mission statement:
- Guides decision-making: Your team is empowered to make choices that align with your mission.
- Gives direction: A defined mission provides your team with a sense of purpose and a common goal to work toward.
- Sets you apart: A mission statement helps define what makes your practice unique and why patients should choose you.
- Provides accountability: You can measure your practice’s performance against your outlined standards and make necessary adjustments.
- Inspires team members: A well-crafted mission statement has the potential to inspire and motivate everyone involved with the practice.
Once you create a mission statement, you need to go a step further and determine your why. Your team might have the mission statement of your practice memorized, but if they don’t understand the why behind it, they likely won’t be as driven to adhere to the mission.
A fantastic book that explains the importance of the why behind your mission is Start with Why by Simon Sinek. Sinek believes that it’s crucial for every business leader to have a clear understanding of what your business does, how you achieve the what aspect, and why your business does what it sets out to do. He introduces the idea of a Golden Circle that most successful businesses adopt. The Golden Circle is comprised of 3 concentric circles:
- The why sits in the bullseye
- The how surrounds the center
- The what makes up the outermost circle.
By working with your team to formulate the core values driving your mission statement, everyone will be in sync, and you will naturally attract people that are just as passionate about the mission as you are.
2. Learn to Listen
The art of listening is one of the fundamental qualities of a leader. Those who believe their own ideas are the sole driving force of the mission don’t set the best example of true leadership.
A skilled dental leader listens to their team members’ ideas on topics ranging from how to advance the mission statement, to ways to improve consistency with the office’s core values. Bringing all team members onto the same page is the leader’s responsibility, and it starts with listening.
3. Find Solutions for Conflict
Conflict is an inevitable part of running any business. Before you jump too quickly into trying to resolve an issue, you need to understand to the best of your ability what the conflict is really about, how it arose in the first place, and what has brought it to the point where it currently is.
We encourage open communication in our practice, so if there is ever any conflict, we advise everyone to bring it up to their superior. If the issue can’t be resolved at that point, then it needs to go up to the next level. Ultimately, the issue would come to me as the practice owner.
One piece of advice I always give to other practice owners is to never allow complaints to go down the chain of command. If your practice’s structure involves various levels of leadership and administration, everyone must be aware that the complaint should always go up the chain and never down. As a leader, you are not in a position to complain to anybody.
However, you should always try to settle matters before they get to that level. Conflict resolution mostly boils down to communication. It’s best to get the people involved in a room together to simply communicate about the issue and try to find a solution.
4. Inspire Your Team Members
Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that being an effective leader requires inspiring people in a way that drives them to action. Anyone in a position of leadership must project a sense of passion and interest in what they’re doing. The best way to demonstrate that sense of passion is by modeling the behaviors that you want your team to follow. In essence, you have to “walk the walk.”
Here are a few scenarios where you have the choice of whether or not to “walk the walk”: You are walking down the clinical hallway of your practice and you notice a piece of paper laying on the floor. Will you choose to walk past it and leave it for somebody else, or will you pick it up yourself?
Or, let’s say you are running behind schedule and your patient directs an unpleasant remark at your or your staff. Your team is looking to see how you will react before responding to the patient. Do you reciprocate their comment with an equally harsh statement, or do you make it a point to apologize to the patient for the delay and let them know you value their time?
It’s in those everyday scenarios that you model the level of servant leadership that you would want your team members to imitate.
5. Foster Relationships with Your Team
The dental industry today finds itself in a unique environment where more and more DSOs and corporate entities are buying up dental practices. It’s important now more than ever to make your dental practice stand out. One of the best ways to do that is by emphasizing relationships, first with your team and then with your patients.
In my own practice, I’ve made it a point to put our team first. Many dental practices take the stance of putting patients above the team and trying to cater to their every demand. What I’ve discovered over the years, however, is that you need to lean on your team to carry out what your mission statement conveys. Placing your team as the highest priority ensures that you are surrounding yourself with people who will help you accomplish your mission and goals.
When you foster relationships between your team members, you’ll notice an attitude of support and cooperation. Team members will look out for one another. You’ll create an office culture where team members don’t leave the office for the day before finding out if anyone else needs anything.
6. Strengthen Your Patient Relationships
Putting your team first doesn’t mean that you lower the standard of care for your patients. All practice owners should strive to give the best customer service they possibly can. It’s all about listening to your patients, understanding who they are as people, and doing the best you can to meet their needs.
In my practice, we take notes in our software that allow us to gather personal information about our patients, such as their favorite sports teams, hobbies, or even pets. We want to talk to our patients about the things they’re excited about. Before we see any of our patients, we’ll review those notes and come in armed with information that will help them feel known and valued.
I also want my patients to understand that it’s about them and not about the money. When we find ourselves in a position where we might have to give some sort of courtesy to smooth over some edges, we will gladly do so rather than trying to battle for every last nickel and dime. It’s important to understand that a relationship-based practice is a much more valuable entity than a practice solely driven by the bottom line.
Dental Leadership in Action
In today’s competitive environment, certain corporate entities are driving bottom lines at the expense of relationships and sometimes at the level of care that the patients receive. If you want to be an effective leader and guide your team to success, you need to follow certain key strategies that will set you apart from most other dentists.
To summarize, you’ll want to create a well-defined mission statement driven by core values that you and your team agree on. Establishing the why behind your mission is key to being a leader and surrounding yourself with the people that are needed to drive the mission. You also must listen to the wants, needs, desires, and ideas of everyone on your team. Being a leader means being open to collaboration and understanding your opinions are not the only ones that matter.
If you want to be a great leader in your dental practice, you should also learn how to handle conflict by encouraging open communication. It’s best to resolve issues quickly face-to-face rather than allowing lingering resentment into the practice.
The best way to make sure your team embraces your values and mission is to model the behaviors you would want them to imitate. If you truly take an active role in the daily menial tasks around the office, your staff will know without a doubt that you are invested in the practice and in them.
Lastly, it’s crucial to remember what’s most important to your practice: the relationships you have with your team and with your patients. If you treat everybody with respect and make the effort to cultivate those relationships, you build a practice that is more valuable than any entity that’s driving a bottom line.
My hope is that you will be inspired to advance your leadership skills and experience greater levels of success.