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Inside Dentistry
March 2016
Volume 12, Issue 3

6 Essential Skills for Leading a Successful Dental Practice

How to accomplish more effective practice leadership

Naomi Cooper

Steve Jobs. Michael Jordan. You. What is the common denominator between a tech CEO, an athlete, and a dentist? It’s a trait that is essential for each to perform his or her job, yet is not inherent in every individual.

The trait is being a skilled leader. Every dentist, whether he or she realizes it or not, is the ultimate leader and CEO of the dental practice. The dentist needs to be the role model for the staff and must be equipped with the ability to inspire each team member to be the best.

Being a leader doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that’s okay. Just as it takes practice to learn how to expertly place a crown, every dentist can learn to become an effective leader. It’s important to note, however, that a dental office will only be as successful as its leader demands. By following these six steps, any dentist can learn to effectively lead a dental practice.

1. Create Momentum

When working to achieve a goal or implement a new process in the practice, it’s up to the dentist to keep the progress moving forward, and it’s important to include the team throughout. It is easier to gain momentum if everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction, so getting staff buy-in is critical to overall success.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm for every new idea may not always happen automatically, so it’s essential to know that any time a dentist initiates a change in the practice, it helps to share it with team members so they understand the reason for the change. It also helps to make it clear for them how they will individually play a role in making the new initiative a success to keep everyone committed to moving forward together.

2. Be the Example

As the leader of the practice, the team looks to the dentist for guidance and reinforcement, so the dentist has to “walk the walk.” When the dentist fails to lead by example, the team senses the lack of commitment and any new initiative can end up doomed from the start.

For example, if the goal is to increase patient referrals, the dentist needs to be the first one out of the gate asking patients to recommend the practice to their friends and family. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time or being the best at something—it’s about showing willingness and being able to model the proper behavior, not about having the highest batting average on the team.

3. Celebrate Wins

Nothing boosts morale more than encouraging feedback. After all, who doesn’t love to hear they’re doing a good job? An effective leader takes every opportunity to recognize a job well done. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, once said, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

Now, this isn’t to say that all feedback has to be positive. Constructive criticism is necessary when mistakes are made in order for the team to learn and grow. A good rule of thumb is to praise in public and criticize in private.

4. Invest in the Team

A successful leader not only shares goals with the team, they also make sure the team members are equipped with the skills needed to be successful in their individual roles. Many times this comes down to training, which in a dental practice setting can be clinical in nature, but remember that customer service is as important to your patients as the care you’re delivering.

At the end of the day, there’s a right way and a wrong way for staff to communicate with patients—and with each other—so training is often necessary to educate the team on an ongoing basis.

Just as dentists need to practice a new technique before it becomes second nature, team members need to hone their communication skills to feel confident when interacting with patients. Encourage staff to practice with one another after training is complete to help the right habits gel. Role-playing can foster a collaborative atmosphere with the side benefit of increasing the team’s retention of the material learned at the same time.

5. Inspire and Motivate

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority,” according to management expert Kenneth Blanchard. What does this mean? Effective leaders don’t just order their teams to work hard. They inspire them to want to exceed expectations. To do this, the leader has to earn the team’s confidence, and one way to accomplish this is to establish open lines of communication. The staff needs to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and they should know that it’s okay to raise concerns when issues arise. Creating a candid office culture will help the team to feel as though their voices are heard and their contributions are appreciated, making them more likely to remain committed to the practice’s success.

6. Continue Learning

This last step is perhaps the most important one. A good leader is a humble one who recognizes that there is always more to learn, that every day presents a new opportunity to grow, and that every mistake is another chance to learn. While management skills can be taught, it takes continual practice to become an effective leader, so it should come as no surprise that there are a host of trusted industry experts, such as Pride Institute (, that are available to dentists looking to develop and refine their leadership skills.

Final Thoughts

While these skills may not be inherent, they are easily learned if you follow the steps for success. Communicate with the team, give them the skills they need to be successful, and inspire them to keep pushing forward. Eventually these skills will turn into habits and become second nature. Do this and you’ll be equipped and ready to guide your team through 2016—and beyond.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing strategist, consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader. Naomi teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing courses and works with individual dentists to craft and implement a customized modern marketing plan. She also consults for leading companies across the dental industry, developing a cohesive marketing approach and creating momentum for their marketing efforts aimed at the dental profession and the dental consumer. She can be reached via email at, and she blogs regularly at For regular updates from Naomi, including dental marketing/social media tips and tricks, follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “like” Naomi Cooper – Minoa Marketing on Facebook at

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