10 Behaviors of an Outstanding Leader
Roger P. Levin, DDS
Leadership is one of the most important factors in the success of a dental practice. It's not enough anymore to simply "hang a shingle" and expect to be successful. Leadership is a key skill that dentists and office managers need to improve practice performance, create an outstanding and superior team, and build a culture that fosters high levels of enjoyment and satisfaction. Here are 10 behaviors that dental practice leaders should adopt immediately:
1. Be the example. Being the example isperhaps the most powerful leadership behavior. Leaders can start by identifying four to six key traits that they'd like to see their team display. Then, they should select one each week and start working on it themselves. If the trait is having a positive attitude, then be positive. If it is punctuality, then be punctual. If the team respects its leaders, they will gradually begin to adopt their behaviors.
2. Communicate. If troubling issues are arising in the practice, communication on the part of the leaders is needed. Overcommunication with the team is better than undercommunication. Overcommunication helps terminate gossip, which is the single most debilitating factor in destroying the harmony of a dental team. When there is a lack of communication, the gossip begins.
3. Be transparent. In the past, leaders were guarded about showing their real selves, or "their cards," so to speak. Today's leaders are more transparent. They are not afraid to express their true views, show certain vulnerabilities or weaknesses, or be open about what is happening in the practice. If a significant change is going to occur in the office, it should be shared with the team. If a leader is unhappy with practice performance, they should share their feelings with the team. Transparent leaders are respected because they let team members be part of the process and learn about changes in real-time and not after the fact.
4. Have compassion. One of the great lessons the recent pandemic taught leaders was to be compassionate. Compassionate leaders have a unique approach in that they believe they are there to serve their employees in the best way. This means they want to know each team member's needs and how to best address those needs. They view compassion as a strength and not a weakness. The days of tough leadership are ending, giving way to compassionate leadership.
5. Educate the team. Good leaders take time to educate the people around them. This results in several benefits. First, it leads to higher-quality team members. Second, it motivates people who are growth-oriented and want the opportunity to expand their skills and contribute more to the practice. Third, it allows leadership to teach the team new processes for problem solving. One technique leaders can use for problem solving is, when team members ask the leader a question, the leader should ask them a question back. This prompts the person to think through an answer. Even if the answer is not exactly right, this process teaches team members to think on their own. This gives them more confidence and a greater sense of responsibility and can save time for the doctor, office manager, or other team members who are being asked lots of questions.
6. Delegate. Delegation is a crucial aspect of leadership, as without it leaders will become overwhelmed at some point. Failure to delegate will lead to failure overall. Delegation involves explaining and teaching tasks as well as measuring results. It is important to determine not only what to delegate, but to whom. The right person for the task is one who has the confidence to handle it, will be motivated to do it, and wants to grow and develop in their career versus someone who prefers to stay in the same job with the same tasks day to day.
7. Hold meetings. While meetings are generally viewed as a waste of time that keep people from getting actual work done-which to a large degree may be true-there are two essential meetings that a dental practice needs to hold. The first is the daily morning meeting. Think of a football team having a huddle before each play. It's an opportunity for the team to get its act together for that day. Having a well-defined agenda will allow the leader(s) to complete the meeting in 10 minutes. This meeting can be an effective tool for getting organized, communicating needs, and filling in any gaps that may exist that day.
The second essential meeting is the monthly business review. The agenda for this meeting should include a review of practice goals, a quick reminder of the mission, and a review of the vision for the next 5 years. Other agenda items might include improvements needed over the next 30 days, any necessary training, and a rundown of successes and failures. These meetings should be interesting yet practical. It is important to make decisions about action items before the end of the meeting; a meeting without action items is simply a waste of time.
8. Have a positive attitude. A dental practice should be a positive environment. As mentioned earlier, the team will gradually take on the traits and characteristics of its leaders. If the leader complains and is unhappy, the team will surely adopt these behaviors. If the leader is positive, upbeat, and motivated, the team will likewise adopt these traits as well. If leaders want a team with a positive outlook and great enthusiasm, then they need to bring these attributes with them to work every day. There are no days off from a positive attitude for leaders.
9. Be energetic. In addition to sometimes being physically demanding, the dental profession also has a significant mental component, as the care provided impacts people's lives. Leaders in a dental practice should display high energy, which comes from engaging in good fitness and a healthy mental outlook. Not only does the team notice energy, but so do patients, and good energy is contagious. The more positive energy the leader(s) gives out, the more other people will become energized. There are countless books that offer tips on increasing one's energy, eating well, exercising, and getting proper sleep to achieve the mental clarity and energy needed to lead.
10. Treat the team as customers. A novel concept is to treat the office team as customers and develop an annual "customer service" plan for them. The plan could include education, training, bonuses, time off, and surprises, such as filling the staff room refrigerator or bringing in lunch. Taking the time to think of the team as customers will help to create a happier team that performs better and has high longevity. Caring and compassion go a long way toward building loyalty and longevity. Develop an annual plan and think of the team more as customers than employees.
In summary, leadership is not complex even though many books and articles make it sound that way. Incorporating the 10 leadership behaviors noted above will help dentists, office managers, and any other practice managers become outstanding leaders. The desires of today's team may be different than in the past, and leaders need to lead from that point of view. Excellent practice leaders meet the needs of the team, inspire the team, and act as an example, ultimately leading the practice to success.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO and Founder, Levin Group, Inc. (levingroup.com), a practice management consulting firm that has worked with more than 30,000 dental practices