7 steps to improving leadership in the dental practice

Although most dentists acknowledge their role as dental practice leaders, many are uncertain about exactly what they should do to provide leadership for their team. Through decades of working closely with general dentists and specialists seeking to grow their practices, I have identified seven steps that are absolutely essential for improving staff performance and increasing production - without consuming a great deal of practice owners’ time.

1. Create a written vision statement. A vision statement defines where the dentist wants the practice to be in three years. Usually consisting of three or four sentences, it sets the direction for the practice, constantly reminding both doctor and staff about what they are working toward. The vision also clarifies what the practice’s goals should be. In addition to creating the vision, the practice leader must also share the vision with the team - explaining it, having it posted where staff will see it often, and making sure it’s on the agenda of every staff meeting.

2. Delegate most responsibilities. In dental practices, three quarters of total production should be generated by the dentist (the hygiene department accounts for the remaining 25%). Therefore, increasing production means enabling dentists to devote virtually all their time to dentistry … not administrative tasks. These should be delegated by the doctor - as practice leader - as extensively as possible.

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3. Provide all necessary training. If team members are to run the office, they must be properly trained. The practice leader should make sure this happens in conjunction with the delegation of responsibilities. Training may be given one-to-one during the workday, at staff meetings, during special training days, or off-site in continuing education courses.

4. Set targets as motivators. Perhaps the most effective way to encourage better staff performance is to set specific, measurable targets associated with the tasks that have been delegated. Many doctors find this preferable to somehow applying personal pressure on team members - and, of course, setting and monitoring targets has a direct bearing on practice growth.

5. Become the model practice employee. What the practice leader does has a strong influence on the behavior of practice staff members. Rather than merely telling the team how to interact with patients and each other, the best practice leaders demonstrate it every day.

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6. Be open to change. As business conditions change - in the dental economy, in the local market, and in the practice itself - the practice leader should avoid clinging to the status quo. Flexibility and adaptability are essential attributes for dental practices today, and they cannot exist unless the dentist remains open-minded and willing to try new strategies for success.

7. Master the art of decision-making. Effective leaders learn to make firm decisions - and make them quickly. This decisive manner sends a strong, positive and encouraging message to team members - especially if the practice leader authorizes them to make decisions themselves in their areas of responsibility.

Even dentists with no formal business training can go a long way toward becoming more effective leaders if they take the seven steps discussed here. By inspiring their staff members with a clear vision, empowering them with responsibilities and targets, and exhibiting the right qualities day by day and over time, dentists can lead their practices to great success.

Editor's Note: To learn more about the impact of leadership on increasing practice production, come to one of Dr. Levin’s upcoming seminars. Pick a convenient date and location at www.levingroup.com/gpseminars.