Certain members of the dental team might manage specific day-to-day responsibilities, but ultimately you’re in charge. The staff looks to you for guidance, for decisions, for motivation and recognition, and for answers. Yet the ability to lead doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Few, if any, dental school curricula focus on what it takes to manage the clinical, business and interpersonal aspects of running a successful practice.
In many cases, and in many industries, leaders learn to lead through experience and at their own pace. For most people, it takes practice, patience and years of education and training, in addition to reflecting on one’s leadership successes and failures. Even those who feel comfortable in their leadership roles continually hone their abilities.
Leadership can be behind the scenes or out in front. Regardless of the approach, the leader sets the tone for the way the practice operates. Much of your leadership will be by example. If you want your employees to be on time, you need to be on time, or even a little early. If you don’t want staff to use their personal cell phones, you should leave yours in your desk in the morning. If you want staff to demonstrate sincere concern for every patient, and for each other, it’s up to you to model that behavior.
As a leader, it’s important that you have – and communicate and abide by – office policies and rules that set the standards for how to take care of patients and that define standards and protocols to be followed. It’s equally as important to be fair and consistent.
You also have to surround yourself with a strong team. Good team building requires you to identify each staff person’s strengths and weaknesses and to find ways for different people to unite behind the shared goal of delivering the level of patient care that you want to provide. While it’s important that you find ways for people to work together every day, it’s essential when you need to fill a vacant position or expand staff.
Motivating, coaching and rewarding staff should be a top priority for every leader. Over time, you’ll become more skilled at giving balanced and constructive feedback. Two ways to achieve this are to provide more positive than negative feedback and be timely, specific and authentic in your communications.
It’s up to you, as the leader of the practice, to recognize when someone on staff does a good job or has achieved a significant milestone. Likewise, it’s up to you to address negative situations before a festering issue makes the atmosphere unpleasant and counterproductive since patients may sense any underlying tensions.
Strong leaders see mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than as negative situations. They recognize that mistakes frequently stem from simple miscommunication or a flawed thought process. Use these teachable moments to educate staff members so similar mistakes can be avoided in the future.