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Dentist – Lead Thyself


Create a culture in your practice that ensures your team feels respected, valued, and safe.

Dentist – Lead Thyself | Image Credit: © Coloures-Pic - stock.adobe.com

Dentist – Lead Thyself | Image Credit: © Coloures-Pic - stock.adobe.com

In my travels across the country, I’ve spoken to thousands of dentists of all types and all sizes of practices—from general dentists to specialists to dental students.

During my presentations I like to ask the dentists in the audience, “What are your single greatest concerns, difficulties, or pain points in running a practice?” Any guesses as to what that response is?

The single most common response I get from clinicians is their difficulty in finding and retaining team members. Probably no surprise to those of you reading this article! Ask any dentist and they’ll tell you about how a new hire didn’t show up for day one, how a hygienist left for more pay, or how a long-term office manager decided to go join a different dental team.

When I ask your dental colleagues why they think this is happening they respond with some mix of:

  • Complaining about the work ethic of today’s Gen Z
  • Explaining that team members are leaving for more money, despite already being paid above market rates
  • Ruing the lack of loyalty among their team members
  • Believing that there is simply a severe shortage of outstanding people to hire

But do you know the response I never get? I’ve never heard a single dentist say, “I think my inability to hire and retain superstar team members is due to my mediocre leadership skills.” Not once.

To highlight this lack of self-awareness, after the dentists in the audience say that staff hiring and retention is their number one problem, I ask them the following question, “How many of you have ever invested in leadership training for yourself?” Usually around 10% or less of the dentists in the audience raise their hand. TEN PERCENT!

After the audience realizes that very few of them have ever invested in themselves as leaders it becomes time for some “tough love”, masqueraded with some humor. My response to the audience is, “Well, I guess the rest of you either received all of the leadership training you needed in dental school, or you were born a great leader!”

“Leaders are not born or made–they are self-made.” – Stephen R. Covey. [This is one of the top quotes from the well-known educator, author, and speaker.]

After my comment they laugh, because they all readily admit that they received little to no leadership training in dental school. And then I also remind them that great leaders are not born—that great leaders are SELF-MADE. Great leaders evolve through the hard work of challenging themselves and making themselves vulnerable. In other words, the ingredients of personal growth and development!

If you own a dental practice, you are the most important person in that office. I don’t say that to belittle or minimize the contributions of your dental team. I stress that because you are the CEO of the dental practice, you are the greatest producer and driver of production/revenue, and you are the “tone setter”—the keeper of the culture.

How you interact with your team and your patients impacts and ripples throughout the entire office. Your leadership style is the single most important factor in determining the culture of your office.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.—Peter Drucker

Wow. I LOVE that quote from the late Drucker, who was one of the best known and influential educators and writers on the subject of modern management theory and practice. Let that quote roll around inside your brain for a few moments.

You can talk to your team till you’re blue in the face about process and strategy, but unless you have created a culture in which your team feels respected, valued, and safe it won’t matter. A negative culture will destroy your office like a cancer eating away at a body.

If you have an amazing, incredible team member—a true superstar that the rest of the team (and your patients) loves and respects—why should that superstar team member continue to work with you if you are a mediocre leader? Why stay if your office culture is one of negativity, gossip, and passive-aggressive behavior, or if patients are not treated with tender loving care?

Here's a news flash. They won’t stay! Because your superstar is a healthy, positive person they will eventually leave you to work at a healthy, positive team environment.

Meaning your culture gets even worse. And leaving you with a hiring and retention problem. Rinse and repeat. A downward snowballing cycle that will demoralize you, your team, and your patients. This may make you wonder why you ever choose dentistry as your profession. Think of how sad this all is—all the joy that you should be deriving from your practice has been sucked out of your experience.

Here’s the great news. By investing in yourself via leadership training, you can grow and evolve as a leader. As you become a better leader, your office culture will begin to improve. And your team members will eventually be willing to walk across a bed of hot coals for you. Barefoot.

Another powerful quote, this one from leadership expert John C. Maxwell, addresses the importance of developing your critical leadership skills. The author and speaker says, “The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development.”

Why? Because people crave a culture in which they are respected, trusted, and challenged. A culture in which they are sincerely cared about, a culture in which their perspectives and contributions are encouraged, valued, and celebrated.

What are the key leadership ingredients vital to creating this type of culture? What characteristics separate great leaders from average ones?

Next steps? Invest in yourself and your leadership skills! My website at (https://www.dentaldollarsandsense.com/) provides information on my courses related to leadership and culture and I’m happy to connect you to other amazing leadership coaches – my email address is dougfettig@dentaldollarsandsense.com.

Stay tuned for my next article in this leadership series, titled “The 2 Qualities Shared by Every Great Leader”.

Until then, go forth and invest in yourself. It’ll be the best investment you ever make!

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