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Leading a dental practice is about much more than being skilled in the exam room. Dentists must also learn and leverage management skills to creat a high-performing team.
There’s an old expression that laments the problems arising from too many bosses and not enough leaders. But the reality is that to run a dental practice effectively and efficiently, and to maximize production, virtually every member of the practice team should be a leader.
Ann Marie Gorczyca, DMD, MPH, MS, owner of Gorczyca Orthodontics, and author of “Beyond the Morning Huddle,” believes that every member of the practice team should be a champion in some specific area.
“This is especially true when it comes to customer service,” Gorczyca says. “You want each dental assistant to be a leader in customer service; to see how they can best serve the patient, and whatever they see needs to be done, they own it and they resolve it.”
Gorczyca talks about transformational leadership, an approach that brings about change in individuals and social systems. For example, Michael Jordan was always known as a player who made others around him better. Tom Brady has done the same in football.
In a dental practice, transformational leaders inspire their team members to transcend their own self-interests for the good of the patients, and the practice. Office goals are clearly explained, and they’re reviewed in a charismatic manner. The result is team members are excited about the office goals.
“The mission is understood, accepted, internalized, and expressed by all,” Gorcayca says. “Individuals are working to be part of something; part of a larger purpose. And they’re excited to be part of it.”
Idealized influence is leadership by example, Gorczyca explains, pointing out that dentists lead by their example—their attendance, their work ethic, their character, and their integrity. That inspires teams to great accomplishments.
“The team members are invested as stakeholders in the success of the dental enterprise,” she says. “They’re inspired to, ‘Do this together,’ and ‘Let’s make this happen.’”
Can leaders be developed? Gorczyca believes that all leaders are developed, and that they are developed based on their own interests, such as the work they do. Along the way, they have three things in common: courage, communication, and candor.
“Effective leaders always speak the truth about what’s going on,” she says.
Communication is key. Gorczyca references Mary Parker Follett, an American social worker and management consultant in the late 19th century and early 20th century. She was also a pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. And she had a very insightful phrase.
“It is only by friction that we polish,” Gorczyca says. “And what that means is, it’s only by discussing what needs to get better that we actually get better. That’s the job of the leader, to continuously be changing and transforming the office to keep it better.”
That also means having vision, and knowing in what direction you want to move your practice, not unlike the captain of a ship.
“But the lowest form of leadership,” Gorczyca says, “is laissez faire leadership. That’s when the leader abdicates responsibility. It’s the type of dentist who says, ‘Oh, ask the office manager.’ In that situation, employees need to be self-motivated and do things without guidance.”
And it’s not as rare a situation as you might think. Gorcayca recalls being at a meeting with dental office managers, and one of the managers noted that her dentist never comes to the monthly meetings.
“She’s rather play golf,” the office manager said.
Gorczyca couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “That’s no leadership,” she said.
Gorczyca believes that running a dental practice is more work than doing dentistry itself. It’s all encompassing, and requires keeping your finger on the overall pulse of the practice.
To that end, Gorczyca recalls the words of Jack Welch, considered by many to be the world’s foremost authority on human resources.
“He was a very smart guy,” she says. “And he said, ‘You are not a leader to win a popularity contest. You are a leader to lead.’”
That’s important to remember as the leader of a dental team, Gorcayca says. It’s important to press forward with what you’re trying to achieve. People will no doubt periodically object, but that should lead to lively discussion.
“When you have team meetings, there should be lively discussion,” Gorczyca says. “I mean, if there isn’t lively discussion, people are not engaged. You need to press forward, and not everyone will be in agreement, but that’s the way it is.”
And to be a good leader, you need to be comfortable with that.