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leadership practices

As of 2021, there are an estimated 187,000 dental offices in the United States. You've worked hard to make your dental practice a reality, but running a professional practice comes with many challenges.

You must blend dental know-how with business skills . Like any organization, this means having an efficient team to help carry out your vision and serve your patients.

To have the best possible dental office, you will need to understand and deploy consistent leadership principles. To learn more about leadership and management techniques you can use to serve your patients and employees with excellence, keep reading below for the top 10 leadership principles for dental offices.

1. Commit to a Team Oriented Viewpoint

Many businesses have a set hierarchy and organizational chart. Others are less structured and prefer to cross-train team members. Whatever your approach, employees quickly establish a pecking order of who's the boss and who isn't

If leaders aren't careful, this can create a counterproductive workplace environment that leaves employees feeling undervalued and unappreciated. 79% of workers who feel underappreciated will quit altogether (Source

Instead, focus on a team-oriented viewpoint for your dental practice. Leaders understand the importance of teamwork. It's basic common sense that everyone in the office plays a vital role in keeping the practice running and the patients happy, but how do you actually achieve teamwork and "buy in" from your employees?

In my interview with Jean-Benedict Steenkamp, the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, we explore how leaders can foster an environment of teamwork through a commitment to lifelong learning and clear communication.

How often do your employees have the opportunity to give feedback to their supervisor?Do the same team leaders and managers always run the team meetings? To help ensure collaboration and communication are a priority for your team, try talking to them more often about what they love and what they hate about their jobs. Give them the opportunity to lead the next team meeting. 

Show them that “none of us is as smart as all of us” when you commit to a team approach. And commit to hiring a diverse group of people with diverse skills and talents.

2. Practice the Effective Delegation of Tasks

It may be your practice, but that doesn't mean every aspect of decision-making has to fall on your shoulders all of the time. The best leaders understand that task delegation is one of the essential leadership practices they must embrace, even if they aren’t very good at it. If there is someone in the organization who can do the task 80% as well as you can do it, delegate the task today. Agree on how you’ll measure results, assign the entire responsibility and provide support or feedback only on the initial 10% and the final 10%, if necessary. 

Great leaders know how to get the best out of their team by helping them see a brighter future and giving them tools and support necessary to tackle bigger projects and responsibilities that stretch them towards growth, job satisfaction and continued success.

3. Establish Open Communication Methods

Good leaders don't rely on a "guess what I'm thinking" platform. They are open and honest in communicating their expectations and needs in a way that is clear and understandable. They don't leave their employees wondering if they're doing something the right way or not. Whether you recognize it or not, you can set your employees up for success or you can set them up for failure.

Encourage your team members to speak up if anything is wrong so that you can properly address the issues. Reward and celebrate the times when people speak up in the organization in the pursuit of excellence. Communication is a two-way street. Employees must be able to “kick up” and supervisors must “love down” in organizations with good leadership practices.

Employees want to be heard and understood. How often do you check in with each employee? What if you deployed a weekly check-in with everyone in the organization? If you allow open communication, it will keep a bridge of ongoing dialogue. This is how you build trust and lasting relationships.

4. Actively Engage in Team Building Skills

Communication and delegation go hand in hand with creating a strong team for your dental practice. But you must also reinforce your team dynamic as part of your leadership practices. Encourage cooperation and involvement from all the members of your team. 

78% of leaders in business maintain a focus on improving engagement with their staff. Hold regular events at your dental office or host outside gatherings that enable your team to bond with one another. You'll have more than just a loose base of employees and more of a team dynamic.

If there are ever any concerns with dental office team members not fully understanding standard operating procedures in your dental practice, assign another team member to help give them the proper training they need. When all of your employees are operating at their best and feel like a unified team, your dental practice will thrive.

5. Make Choices with Compassionate Confidence

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many dental practices to close except for essential or emergency services. This forced practice owners to make tough decisions regarding their business and the well-being of patients and co-workers. 

Leaders often make very important decisions. You must commit to your core values and objectives as an organization. Especially when the decision is difficult, you must reassure and communicate to the team that you are focused on the right path for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Employees look to you for guidance and support, especially when your practice faces challenges. If you appear to waffle or sound uncertain, it can cause your team to lose faith in your abilities as a leader, so you must remain committed to doing the right thing.

6. Demonstrate Humility 

Being the boss of your dental practice doesn't mean you have to rule with an iron fist. Quite the opposite is true when it comes to top leadership practices. If you are forthcoming about your flaws and shortcomings with your team, they will appreciate the authenticity and rally around you to help support the areas of the business where you need help.

Admitting when you are wrong or have made a mistake also makes you a more approachable leader. You're not caught up in your own ego. You're not imposing a "my way or the highway approach" that isolates you from your team. It also fosters an environment of continuous learning. Unless you walk on water, you’ll probably want to change your approach from time to time and admit that you were wrong. It’s the fastest way to growth. You can get over the hurdle and onto the next project when you admit fault quickly, ask for support and move on.

If something doesn't work well within your dental practice, it's up to you to address it according to the organization’s core values and find the right solutions to remedy the situation. Show authority, but remember that you are human and have faults of your own too.

7. Always Display Compassion 

While you want to have a successful dental practice, you need to understand that your dental office team members are people and not machines. They have busy and important lives outside of work. They will experience ups and downs that might sometimes impact their ability to work. They will also make mistakes that can cause issues in your dental office. It’s called being human. You were taught to embrace perfectionism in dental school, but make no mistake. When it comes to people, perfectionism is evil.

You must be understanding of these circumstances as they happen. Set allowances for staff members who must take time off for illness or family emergencies. View any mistakes or setbacks as an opportunity to offer your employees the best training protocols and continued runway for growth and success. 

You must always display compassion and empathy towards your employees. People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses and dental health care workers who have recently quit tell me and my trainers all the time that they quit because their boss or practice owner didn’t really care about them as a person.

8. Exemplify Trustworthiness

A good leader is trustworthy. Good leaders hold themselves and their dental practice to a high ethical code.  

Trustworthy leaders keep their commitments to patients and employees. They embrace a high ethical code. They are fair with employees and treat their team members equally. Good leaders do not play favorites or pit team members against one another.

Trustworthy leaders earn the respect of team members. They stand by the guiding principles of leadership and management. When disputes arise, employees expect leaders to handle the matter with integrity and come to a fair resolution. 

9. Focus on Progress Over Perfection

As much as you want everything to always run perfectly in your dental practice, this is not always feasible. Instead, focus on a progress-over-perfection mindset. You're bound to encounter setbacks and experience mistakes, but you can't let them stand in the way of your overall progress.

Great leaders understand that obstacles and pitfalls are a part of every business. The best leaders take on these challenges headfirst with confidence. You may stumble along the way, but making solid progress is better than standing in one place and being too afraid to move. 

Perfection is a pipe dream that isn't achievable or measurable. But laying out the steps and charting the progress you've made in growing your dental practice are not only measurable but can also be achieved consistently.

10. Lead by Example

One of the best ways to practice leadership is to give your dental office team an example to follow. Your actions and behaviors speak volumes to your employees. In his excellent book, The Ajax Dilemma, Paul Woodruff says “leadership is easiest to spot when it’s not there." Your team will follow the example of how you manage your business and how you treat patients and co-workers. If you fail to lead, so will they.

It's a simple but effective way to put your top leadership practices into action. How you compose yourself tells your staff members everything they need to know about the way your dental practice should be run. However, if there are ever any questions, let it be known that they can ask you for clarification without repercussions.

Leading by example is a consistent way to get everyone on the right page and create a thriving dental practice. 

Discover More Leadership Practices for Dental Practices with Burleson Seminars

High-performing dental practices require your care and your attention to many things, including leadership principles, in order to ensure successful operations. While leadership and management skills might seem daunting to learn alone, Burleson Seminars and our fellow members remind you that you are not alone.

Dr. Dustin Burleson, DDS, MBA of Burleson Seminars is an accomplished business strategist, author, teacher, and professional speaker for dental practice owners across the world. Burleson Seminars can assist you with your leadership practices and give you the right tools you need to grow your business.

Contact us today for more information on how Burleson Seminars can help you continue to thrive in dental practice through tested and proven business principles and strategies.

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