26 Mar 2020  •  Blog, Dental Landscape  •  6min read By  • Gary Nelson

Being a leader during difficult times

Gary Nelson shares his thoughts on how to lead effectively during a crisis…

Being a leader isn’t an easy role. Even when everything is running smoothly it carries a great weight of responsibility. However, in difficult times be them economic, health-related or personal, it can become harder, even for the most natural-born leaders.

As a leader, your followers (which in the case of a dental practice is your team) look to you for direction, guidance and support. In a crisis, this will only increase, which even for a confident leader can feel a little overwhelming.

Empathy and emotional intelligence

At times like these there are often a lot of difficult decisions that will need to be made from a business point of view. However, one of the biggest parts of being a leader is having empathy and emotional intelligence. The good news is that as people working in a healthcare setting who spend every day caring for others and healing pain, you should be well placed in terms of your empathic skills.

It is at times of crisis that those skills really come to the fore. In terms of emotional intelligence this is your ‘capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically’.

People will look to you to provide them with reassurance, kindness and a calm head, and it’s your job to do just that. That does not mean you have to have all the answers or have instant solutions. Your team may well have practical questions, but they will also want support and to feel part of a team.

Of course, depending on the nature of the crisis, these practical questions and considerations will vary. But the need for human support is constant.


You can help to provide this type of support by keeping the lines of communication open and trying to have positive conversations with positive words. For example, “We have a great dental business and for a period we will just need to focus on how we can be in a situation to help people best, we all need to be able to support each other.”

Keep communicating with your patients as well. Use email, letter and/or your social media channels to let your patients know what is happening and what your solution as a practice is.

The only thing worse than being in a crisis, is being in a crisis and feeling like you don’t know what’s going on or that things are being kept from you. It is vital to talk to your teams, be honest with them and update them as much as possible. Reiterate that they can speak to you about their concerns and that you are there to listen.

Put people first

Your team are key in helping you to run a successful dental practice every day and during difficult times you need their support as much as they need yours. The business author and speaker John C Maxwell discussed this in a recent blog, saying the question you need to keep asking is ‘what is best for our people?’

As a dentist, this can mean both your team and your patients. As John C Maxwell says in his blog, ‘when it comes to making difficult decisions, the impact on people must be top of mind for any leader. Not just your shareholders or employees, but the people you may never see – the spouses, children, and communities that will be affected based on your choice.’

Simon Sinek, another well-known business writer, also says the priority should be on people, ‘The truly effective and inspiring leaders aren’t actually driven to lead people; they are driven to serve them.’

Difficult times do pass, and when they are over you will need your team and your patients around you. The more open you are with them, the more empathetic you are with them. The more you try and find solutions that are people-focused (as well as practical solutions) the better outcome there will be once the crisis is over.

If you are someone who does not consider themselves a natural leader this may feel daunting. In that situation, I would remind people that whether you feel like a leader or not, as someone who runs a dental practice, you are leading people every day.

You chose to run a business, you chose to employ staff. Many of you did this because you wanted to do things better or because you wanted to do things differently. This mindset is what makes you a leader, and it is worth remembering that you already have that within you.

Having a purpose

Remembering your purpose is also key to leading during crisis. In the day-to-day running of your practice, you might simply define your purpose as ‘to help people’ or ‘to provide the best care possible’.

These are still applicable during difficult times, although the way in which you fulfil your purpose may differ. Having a clear purpose can help you to see the way forward and make decisions, and reminding your team about your shared purpose will help them to understand the path you are taking.

Right now is a challenging time for any business, and it is the leader who is expected to find the best way forward. Taking each day as it comes, keeping your purpose at the forefront and putting people at the heart of your decisions can help to ease the weight of responsibility.

If I can give Maxwell the final word, he says, ‘In times of uncertainty, when you’re not sure what to do, if you’ll make any difficult decision with people in mind, you’ll find you come out better in the end.’


Gary Nelson is an Area Manager with Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans. Gary has successfully run his own business for ten years prior to joining the team at Practice Plan.

Practice Plan has helped hundreds of dentists make a successful move to private dentistry. If you’re looking for more independence or freedom from the NHS and a more fulfilling and rewarding future, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk

Get all blogs delivered to your inbox

By subscribing to our blog, you agree to receiving our monthly blog update and newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time. The security of your personal data is very important to us and we will never sell your data to other companies. You can read more about how we protect your information and your rights by reading our privacy notice.