Leadership is not easy at the best of times, but is perhaps even harder in a dental practice environment because the dynamics of the practice can work against it. Think about it, the leader of the practice (usually the principal dentist) is cooped up in surgery for most of each day, which limits the amount of interaction with the rest of the team.
So, how do you provide effective leadership to your team, despite these restraints?
Here are five approaches for you to think about and hopefully implement into your practice.
1. Effective leadership starts with a clear vision
Most practices do not have a clear, well-communicated vision for the future. They tend to work in the short-term, bouncing from one week or month to the next. So, it’s no surprise that if the team don’t know what they are working towards that they sometimes operate below their true potential. The clue is in the title – leader.
If you’re leading people, you are effectively taking them from one point to another. So, take some time out to develop a clear and exciting picture of where you want to be in the future and then communicate it with all of the team…get them excited about it too! But don’t leave it there, the vision has to influence what people do on a daily basis, which means it should be constantly and consistently reinforced. It has to become part of the culture of the practice.
2. Be clear and be specific
Individuals and teams work more effectively when they have clear goals and well-defined parameters. If you want someone to do something specific, you have to communicate that in plain language that leaves little room for ambiguity. Ask your team members to explain back to you what you’ve asked, so that everyone is on the same page.
3. Don’t shy away from confronting difficult issues
I see this happening in many practices that I visit. The owners of the business becoming very frustrated with an individual or the team as a whole, but shy away from confronting the issue. One thing is for sure, if someone is doing something wrong or to an unsatisfactory standard, they will keep doing it until they are, a. made aware of the problem and b. shown how to put it right.
Most people avoid these types of conversations because they fear the worst, but if you keep everything on a professional and factual basis and provide a positive way forward, they are actually a lot easier than you might imagine. It’s the thought of addressing the problems that is the barrier, rather than the act itself.
4. Support is often better than providing instant answers
There’s a danger, as a leader, of falling into the trap of ‘doing it yourself’ whenever a team member is struggling, or when they ask a question. Try reflecting the question back to them – ‘how do you think we should approach this issue’ – help them to formulate a way forward and support them in its implementation, you might be surprised by the results. People learn and grow by trying things out and making mistakes (as long as these mistakes are not repeated). If you keep spoon feeding team members, they have no opportunity to develop their skills or knowledge.
5. Concentrate on outcomes, not strict processes
Dentistry is an environment where clear and strict processes are very often the order of the day, but outside of these compliance-driven necessities, try taking a different approach. Paint a picture of what outcomes you’re looking for and give the team a little latitude in thinking about how they can be achieved. This way, you’re opening the door for the team to think around a problem or challenge and come up with different and better ways of achieving the desired outcome.
Becoming a more effective leader in your practice will lead to a happier, more productive team and a more profitable and sustainable practice…what’s not to like?