Leadership: a New Challenge for Dentistry

There is a large gap between being a "boss" and "leader." As new groups emerge, many who have spent their careers as a "boss" are being asked to lead a much larger team. Are they up for the challenge?

With the emergence of hundreds of new dental groups over a short period of time, there is a shortage of strong leaders in our marketplace. Many dentists who were a good “boss” to five or six employees are now being asked to be a clinical director or to manage multiple offices, but are they leaders? Do they know how to be a leader?

If you ask anyone who manages people if they are a “boss” or a “leader,” a high percentage of them will tell you that they are a “leader.” If you ask the people they believe they are leading what they think, you can probably guess what the response would be.

My first suggestion in the quest for leaders is to do just that, ask people who report to someone what they think. If asking people in a one-on-one conversation is difficult for you then conduct an anonymous survey. There are many online services that allow you to quickly and easily design a survey. If they have a feature to make replies anonymous, be sure to let the recipient know that their replies cannot be attributed back to them as they are then likely to be more candid. As a word of caution, do not make the survey more than five questions and allow for written responses, not just “pick a number.”

Once you are aware if you have a leadership issue in your organization, the next thing to do is address it. I will bet that many of you reading this already know the issues that exist without requiring a survey. The point of my article is for you to make the changes and not just accept the key people in your group for how they interact with others.

Some options for you to consider:

  • Have roundtable discussions with your executive team on leadership. Lay down a few ground rules: “be honest,” “what is said in the meeting stays in the meeting,” and “people cannot defend why they do what they do because this is open feedback.”
  • Take a few of the many leadership courses offered on the Internet.
  • Look for leadership talks at dental meetings
  • Hire a consultant experienced in leadership development
  • Take a leadership course at a local community college.

So far, I have only written about general management leadership. What is unique to dentistry, especially during these times, is dentists are being asked to be clinical directors for the organization. While they may exhibit qualities of good general managerial leadership, you also need leaders who are good teachers.

When it comes to finding great leadership skills in someone who is also an excellent teacher, the best answer may not be your best-producing dentist. Besides that, if they are such excellent producers, then leave them be to do what they do best. Instead, you are looking for a great team player. You want to surface your best communicator and decision maker. Depending on the size of your organization, they may not even be on your radar yet. My thought pattern is always “who makes the best player-coach?”

To maximize the value of your clinical director:

  • Choose someone who is already respected
  • Have the person take ongoing leadership courses just the same as they would with dental continuing education
  • Network with other groups
  • If you are a member of the ADSO, reach out to their clinical committee, which is comprised of clinical directors, to learn best practices. Other organizations have the same.
  • Ensure that your clinical director has integrity beyond reproach.

While I have used this space to position the issue of leaders as others in your organization, now is a great time to take a moment to ask yourself if you are a good leader or should you be the first one to transition for “boss” to “leader.”

Editors Note: After 45-years in the dental industry, most recently as the Global President of Henry Schein Special Markets, Hal Muller has joined DSO News as a regular contributor. An interview with Hal was featured in the inaugural issue of DSO News.