WRITTEN BY JANICE WHEELER, PRINTED IN ORAL HEALTH MAGAZINE (JULY 29, 2021)
When you made the original decision to be a dentist, it is possible that you did not also think about being the executive or leader of a practice and what that would entail. You just wanted to help people have healthy teeth and a great smile.
Later on, when you decided to own a practice, you may not have anticipated the trials and tribulations and stress that would result from being the leader of a practice. Your vision may originally have been that you would hire perfect staff who would support you and have your back at all times.
The realities of leadership
Reality sets in once you have owned the practice for a little while and you start to feel torn between doing your dentistry and, at the same time, being the bottom line for everything that happens in your practice. You are in a whole new arena as a boss and, unlike all the training you had as a dentist, you have not had any real training as the owner of a business.
As one of our clients said, “A practice with no skilled leader or management plan becomes like a ship without a rudder and is unable to steer in any set direction. The practice can become like a ship tossed to and fro with every wave that comes its way. Becoming a good leader is necessary in order to put your practice on an even keel and set a true course.”
A born leader or not
Whether or not you are a “born leader,” take heart. Most true leaders are created in the crucible of life, or else by mentoring, or by actual management training. Whichever way we get there, we all need to be leaders in our own endeavors if we are to be successful. Whether you own a practice with a few staff or with many, you will need to bring certain qualities and skills in order to fully achieve your practice goals.
1. Be caring and interested in each member of your team.
This one is mentioned first because you don’t want to ever lose sight of this ability. Your staff can sense whether you actually care about them or not. They are there to help you achieve the goals of your practice which includes delivering the best possible service to your patients. Make sure they know they can come to you with either professional or personal difficulties – the “open door” policy. But don’t wait for them to come to see you if you notice that they are looking a little “down.”
Treating them like cogs in a wheel will not elicit top performance from them. Your duty as a leader is to help them be successful at their jobs. Always keep in mind that everyone appreciates attention and care, so give it liberally and they will shine more and work harder to be awesome.
2. Have a strong business plan and make it known.
There is a famous saying: “You can’t get THERE if you don’t know where THERE is.” Your team has chosen to work for you, but they need to know where the practice is headed and what you expect of them in the actualizing of those goals. Formulating a Mission Statement and publishing it everywhere including in the practice’s policy manual will ensure that everyone knows the goals. That, combined with a passion for your service can galvanize the team into higher levels of productivity. If your team knows where you are going with the practice, what you want to achieve, and your vision for the practice, they will help you “get there.” By the way, make sure these are goals that your team would like to forward and be proud to be a part of.
3. Project positivity.
Remember the game “Follow the Leader?” In the workplace, good employees look to the leader to set the pace of how work is going to be done. If you exude positiveness when giving direction or asking for production, the staff will feel a confidence and control factor that they in turn will project into their work.
Inspire your team to want to achieve your vision. Consciously start each day with good news, compliments from patients, and even good news that is happening out in the world. Create excitement about the progress towards your goals. Do not dwell on negative aspects with your team.
4. Be predictable and stable.
An excellent plan is to have written policies for the practice and follow them. By having systems and structure put in writing where all can read and follow them, you can skip a lot of negative emotion from staff members who are feeling tossed around by arbitrary decisions that vary all the time. There is no secure feeling in such an environment.
Security can be improved by knowing what the policy is about lateness, sickness, holidays, hours, what to do when you notice something wrong, the correct reporting hierarchy, job requirements and expectations, and so on. This alone has been known to cause huge increases in productivity and passion for what you do.
5. Issue clear and concise orders.
As a boss, it is super important to be clear, concise and firm in the directions you are giving your staff. Tossing off an order to “finish that project quickly” does not lead to immediate compliance in many cases. Instead, give the team member an order such as, “I need that report on my desk by 5 p.m. today so that I can read it over tonight and be prepared for my presentation tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. If you have any questions, please ask me.” This is very precise and gives the staff member a timeline and a reason for it that they can then think with and comply to.
Good direction is the ultimate weapon of a good leader! And by the way, when you have finished a target or goal, be sure to have the next one set up and ready to go. There is nothing worse for a team than having no game to play at all. The focus of the team then turns inward, and they will start bickering and carping at each other instead of all being focused on a goal in the future that they are working on together as a team.
6. Stay confident and composed in crisis moments.
So easy to say, but it sure takes work to accomplish this one! Just remember that your staff is looking to you for how to react and proceed in a crisis or demanding situation. Use that to force yourself to exhibit composure and confidence. When faced with an urgent decision or proper response to a sudden adversity, instead of panicking and losing your composure, stop for a moment and assess the actual situation and then decide on a plan of action. Next, quickly and calmly direct those involved to take the appropriate steps you worked out. Your sureness and composure will calm the others and allow for a quicker handling of the problem with less chaos.
7. Inspire your superstars.
Always acknowledge great performance and the accomplishment of goals by your team, as well as individual Superstar producers. Give awards, prizes or bonuses for achieving certain milestones in completing steps toward the goals. Celebrating forward progress is extremely important.
When people feel that their job is not appreciated or valued, they deteriorate. Turn this around with Staff Recognitions at staff meetings or morning huddles.
Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you accomplish the milestones as well. You need to acknowledge that YOU are reaching your goals too!
8. Know that patience is a virtue.
Yelling at or getting irritated with team members are most often the extreme wrong response to an error, no matter how severe. It will definitely not lead anyone into better ways of doing things except for fear of losing their jobs. That will then lead to nervousness and more errors. Patience and composure are sterling qualities for a great leader.
While there are a great many other leadership skills and qualities available, have fun embracing these skills given here, and remember to enjoy the fruits of your own labour as a GREAT leader!