Some days you just have to be the manager


Being a leader and being a manager can feel like two separate things, but you need to wear both hats if you want to run a successful practice.

I have been reading and studying the difference between leadership and management, and was starting to feel that management was a four letter word. Yes, leadership is king; we all have to lead if our team is going to be great, and our practice is going to be in the top five percent of the practices in the nation, but leadership isn't everything.

As I studied this, I had to come down to earth for just a few minutes and realize that there has to be a lot of management, right alongside our leadership. As practicing dentists, we don’t have the time to answer the phone and make sure that you have enough composite, all while doing that crown prep. The bad news is that does not release us from the need to manage all the things that are necessary to run a practice.

When does this happen, all this managing?

Before work, after work, during lunch, on days off, on dedicated training days, at dental meetings, at staff outing and lunches, when you mark off time for a consultant to train. To a lesser degree it is sort of like asking, “how do we parent our children?” We do some of it on the fly, when others are watching us give them an example. That is the scary part: employees will watch us, see if we are consistent in our values and actions, and base their conception of our leadership on some of these day-to-day interactions.

Systems and processes we have to manage are:

  • You have to get buy-in of the team to the vision and goals. This involves sharing and discussion of the what and why and how.

  • You have to manage all the systems and processes you go through to run an office. That is everything from answering the phone to billing to buying supplies. Since you don’t have time to do this personally, you have to train and trust someone else to do this.

  • You have to manage the focus on customer service and customer experience, and ultimately their satisfaction and their willingness to refer to the office.

  • You have to manage all the resources of the office: time, people, supplies, office space, funds and patient care.

  • You have to manage the organizational behavior and the culture of the office. This often takes training of the team and clear instructions from you.

  • You have to manage the training and continuing education of yourself and your team.

It's time to ask: Are you a leader or a manager?

Up next: What do choose, leadership or management? 


Management is something we DO, usually while simultaneously leading

I am more than a little bit disappointed. Here I was, ready to be a leader instead of a manager.

I was feeling that a leader was somehow a more highly developed species, and I was getting set to be superior to some people.

Maybe a Fortune 500 CEO can only lead, but in dentistry, with a few people helping us run our small business, you can’t just lead. Our reality is that we have to do both. We don’t have the choice of being one or the other.

Related: 3 things dentists can learn from big (non-dental) corporations

We can’t choose not to lead, only to lead well or lead poorly. We don’t usually have the luxury of not managing, unless our staff is so large that we have a bunch of managers. Most of us do not live in that model yet. So we do both, juggling production at the chair with on the fly managing of the issues that come up daily.

The best that we can do is try to equip our team with enough training that they can do 50-75-90 percent of what comes at us daily. This teaching takes place after work, during meetings and training, plus all the on-the-fly teaching we can do as we do our daily work.

Related: 6 tips for increasing staff performance

Did someone mislead to you when you went to dental school? Did they lead you to think this was an easy job, just doing patient care and writing up charts?  I had an uncle that did that to me. He made it seem so easy, and I think that 50 years ago when I was watching him, that may have been the truth. But it’s different now.

Leader or manager. What are you? You have two hats you have to wear. The reality in a small business is that you have the duty and the pleasure of being both. Our job often gives us a lot of freedom, so we need to enjoy that freedom and understand that we will be the key to the success or failure of our business.

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