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Understand the Keys to Effective Practice Leadership


Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and in an inclusive practice environment could be anyone. The challenge for dentists is to not only be aware of their own leadership skills, but to also encourage the development of those skills in others. Because without leadership, a practice has no direction and little to show in the way of outcomes.

"...One of my most important roles as a leader is to make sure that I develop other leaders" says Manuel Cordero, DDS, CPH, MAGD

Leadership is defined as the action of leading a group of people or an organization; the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.

Is it important for leadership to be present in a dental practice? You bet.

“In every community large or small, of two people or 200, there has to be some sort of leadership,” says Manuel Cordero, DDS, CPH, MAGD, president of the Academy of General Dentistry, and a practicing general dentist based in Sewell, New Jersey. “Someone has to take initiative to direct the boat. Otherwise, you are aimless.”

And while dentists often set the tone, leadership does not always have to emanate from the person who owns the practice.


Where do leaders come from? Cordero believes leadership can come from a dental associate, or a hygienist, or anyone else within the practice who motivates and creates initiatives. As such, he points to past receptionists who, in some respects, were more of a leader than he was.

“They took initiatives to make sure we were always booked, to make sure patients were always cared for in a certain way,” Cordero explains. “They didn’t handle the clinical part of the practice, but it was the receptionist who set the tone for how the schedule was going to function that day.”

So it’s incumbent, Cordero adds, for dentists to recognize that there may be more than one leader in the practice, that one individual may possess a certain skill set that separates them from others, and the importance of developing leaders.

“I believe in allowing everyone to contribute,” he says. “And one of my most important roles as a leader is to make sure that I develop other leaders, not just followers. I don’t want someone to be my follower, because then I don’t learn anything from them.”


Cordero says that when it comes to leadership, it’s important for dentists to not only know their staff, but themselves as well. Some people are phenomenal administrators but not phenomenal clinicians, or vice versa. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. It just means they’re not as good at one skill set as they are another.

And they need to recognize that.

“When I opened my practice I didn’t realize I was located within a half mile of many other very successful dental practices,” Cordero recalls. “I needed to overcome that aspect of competition and set myself apart. And the only way I could set myself apart was by doing things better than everyone else.”

That meant more training, looking at areas where his skill set wasn’t as strong as it could be and taking courses to become better. Cordero’s goal was to tackle the marketing and competition issue with increased competence. And it worked.

“My leadership developed through my continuing education experience,” he says. “Every time I went to classes I interacted with people much smarter and more talented than I was. And these people were willing to share their knowledge. I became more secure in my skill set, and I also grew as a human being. You can always learn something.”


Leadership doesn’t just impact dental practice staff, it can have a huge financial effect on the practice’s bottom line. Cordero believes the greatest amount of money a practice will make is the money not spent. If a dentist or other staff member demonstrates efficiency and frugality, others will follow suit.

“At the end of the day you can have an 80 percent overhead, or you can have a 60 percent overhead,” Cordero says. “A lot of that is within you, and how you handle your expenses.”

For example, Cordero says that many practices go overboard with marketing and information technology budgets. In contrast, his largest budget item is materials and supplies. He designates his expenditures in this manner because he believes in doing the best for his patients.

“Dental treatments, restorations are subject to the worst environment in the body,” he says. “There is nothing that takes a beating like the mouth.”

That’s where Cordero budgets his expenditures, on chemicals and supplies that will be used in treating patients. It’s his way of leading by example, and when they see that, his staff will follow suit.

“Our finances are definitely attached to our actions as a leader,” he says. “You have to have a clear philosophy. What is your goal? It’s not just to make money. It’s to produce something that is successful for the patient so they’re well cared for.”

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