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Are you a leader or a manager in your dental practice?


In short, the leader decides what should happen and the manager makes it happen.

A fundamental misconception keeps many dentists from becoming as effective as practice leaders as they otherwise might. They confuse leadership with management. In fact, they’re often so entangled in managing day-to-day office operations that their schedules restrict the amount of time available for practicing dentistry - let alone functioning as practice leader.

The difference between managing and leading

A dental practice may be far smaller than a Fortune 500 corporation, but large organizations illustrate more clearly how different the roles are for leader and manager. The CEO sits at the top of a multi-layered structure and is rarely involved hands-on in the company’s daily production. It takes hundreds of managers directing thousands of others in the delivery of products or services.

The best CEOs know operations inside out and interact with the rank-and-file on a regular basis, but they are not running around giving orders, telling employees how to do their work, updating files, or re-engineering production lines. They delegate all that - to top-level managers, who in turn pass assignments down the line - because they must. There are too many tasks and too many details for one person to juggle.

The corporate leader retains a relatively small number of critical responsibilities, and these are all-encompassing, big-picture roles. He or she defines the vision, sets the goals, rallies the troops to reach those goals, demands accountability and adjusts direction in response to necessity or opportunity.

In short, the leader decides what should happen and the manager makes it happen.

More from the author: The role of the hygienist in the practice's growth

How practice leadership works

No matter how small your staff, taking the right approach to leadership will enable you to not only grow your practice at a faster pace, but also increase professional satisfaction for you and your team members.

You can (and, in my opinion, should) keep learning how to improve your leadership skills for the rest of your career. There are courses you can take, seminars and workshops you can attend, and numerous books and articles you can read on the subject.

Here are some fundamental recommendations for becoming an effective leader:

Create a vision for the practice

If you’re leading a team, you need to let them know where you want to go. Figure out where you want to be in three years, write it down, and share it with everyone.

Set goals based on the vision

In order to fulfill your vision, what will you and your staff need to accomplish? Come up with at least 10 such goals, track progress toward achieving them and report the results at Monthly Business Reviews.

More from the author: One of the biggest mistakes dentists make is...

Continue to page two for more...



Delegate as much as possible

If it isn’t dentistry, top-level decision-making, consulting with outside experts, or strategic planning, assign it to appropriate staff members. This includes much supervisory activity, which your office manager or others with managerial skills should be able to handle.

More from the author: One of the biggest mistakes dentists make is...

Initiate more efficient systems and training

Upgrading management systems and instituting a comprehensive staff training program are CEO responsibilities. Although you can rely on others to handle the details, you must shape the processes and approve proposed changes.

Set the pace and serve as the example

If you want your staff to be energetic, enthusiastic, patient-centric and innovative, show them how it’s done. Your team members will emulate your actions (for better or worse) more than you might imagine.

Provide inspiration and motivation

In addition to leading by example, you need to communicate effectively with members of your team. Whether helping them envision the success you’re pursuing or challenging them to improve their performance numbers, you have the power to help them succeed.

More from the author: 5 essential staff trainings within the practice


To learn how to function less as a manager and more as a leader, start by following the above recommendations. You’ll empower your team to excel and free yourself to focus more on dentistry.

Note: Learn more about building practice-patient relationships-and other proven growth strategies-at one of Dr. Levin’s new “Ignite Your Production” seminars. You can save $50 when you register 30 days in advance for the seminar in Boston on April 8 or in Towson, Maryland, on April 22. To get your savings, go here to register and use code DPM50.

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