3 leadership lessons for every dentist

Here's how to avoid communication problems in your dental practice

Dentist Staff

Reprinted with permission from Sally McKenzie and McKenzie Management.

When you entered your first “real” dental practice, either as an associate or an owner, it’s likely one thing became abundantly clear early on — along with that DDS degree, you unwittingly earned a full ride in the school of hard knocks, and oh what a ride it is. With little warning and even less preparation, many dentists are tossed into leadership roles overnight. It’s a job requirement that can leave new and even experienced dentists bewildered. They quickly learn that teams don’t lead themselves, and there’s a lot more to being “in charge” than most people imagine.

Dentist leadership in managed group practices

While there are multiple pitfalls that can plague new leaders, here are three to steer clear of in your role as “The Boss.”

Dentist Staff

The “no surprises” directive — Make it abundantly clear to your team that you do not like surprises. After all, as a dentist you are meticulous about precision, preparation, and planning, all in an effort to achieve perfection. So when the inevitable occurs, you’re blindsided.

You might be embarrassed in front of a patient or colleague. You might have to dine on your least favorite entree — crow. You are NOT happy and you make it perfectly clear to your team. They are not to let this happen again, but it does, because stuff happens. Problems arise, best-laid plans unravel, and people make mistakes. And there you are as the leader of your team, exposed, vulnerable, and (gasp) imperfect.

You told them you did not like surprises, yet there’s a veritable smorgasbord of unexpected situations, snafus, and problems spread before you. Why? How did this happen? You asked for it. Not directly, but if you tell your team that you don’t like surprises, don’t want bad news, or dismiss them when they need to talk to you, you’ll get no news, no information, and no notice of a brewing storm on the horizon.

Work is about solving problems and finding solutions. If it were all fun, we would go to “fun” every day. Instead, we go to work. Open the lines of communication in your dental practice, and create a safe environment in which your team members can share concerns, and yes, bad news when something is amiss. Together you can work to address something long before the problem or ugly circumstance chews you up and spits out your battered pride.

Assuming everyone understands — This is the most common pitfall when leading employees — asuming your staff knows what you want. Why do so many doctors fall into this trap? Because they have either acquired existing teams or insisted on hiring employees with “previous dental practice experience” hoping that they would not have to bother with actually training the staff. If you want systems and procedures handled according to your specifications and not those of the last doctor that someone worked for, you have to tell them.

Spell out your expectations and employee responsibilities in black and white for every member of the team. If you choose not to, they will keep performing their responsibilities according to what they think you want. If you honestly don’t know what you want or how to explain things to your employees, you’re not alone. Many dentists regardless of where they are in their careers struggle with this. Get answers. Seek help from a competent practice management consultant. Establishing clear expectations for your team early on will save you years of stress and unnecessary employee failures. And that leads me to the next pitfall…

Hiring under pressure — Every doctor has dealt with at least one hiring disaster. Perhaps you panicked, you were in a pinch, and you hired a family member to fill in. You knew almost immediately that this was a bad idea, and you found yourself in the extremely difficult position of having to fire the family member. That certainly makes holiday gatherings uncomfortable. Poor hiring decisions are among practice owners’ worst nightmares. Take your time. Create a clearly defined hiring system and spare yourself hiring horrors.

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Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a nationwide dental management, practice development and educational consulting firm. Working on-site with dentists since 1980, McKenzie Management provides knowledge, guidance and personalized solutions that have propelled thousands of general and specialty practices to realize their potential. She can be reached at 877-777-6151 or sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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