15 Feb 2016  •  Practice Management, HR & Employment Law  •  8min read By  • Andy McDougall

The Importance of Leadership to Create a Successful Dental Practice

As pressure grows for dental practices to respond to increasing costs and to stay ahead of the growing competition, principals must become more commercially aware. Determining the most appropriate strategy to fulfil financial goals is vital but leading teams to achieve it is imperative. The success or failure of your leadership skills is reflected in your results.

The only way to achieve your strategic goals is to harness the team in pursuit of your vision. A culture that fails to galvanise the entire team risks a negative impact on performance. As the head of your business, there is an expectation that you will lead your team to success.

TIP: Be honest in your appraisal of your leadership skills. You’re the principal dentist, the business owner and the assumed leader of your organisation, but can you answer a definitive yes to the following fundamental leadership questions?

  • Do you have a compelling vision of where you are leading your dental team?
  • Would your dental team be able to articulate your vision?
  • Can you determine a strategy that delivers your vision?
  • Are you a leader or a manager? Do you know the difference?
  • Can you create a high-performing dental team?
What does leadership look like?

Leadership and management have their roots in the church and military with command and control structures where orders are passed down the line. Akin to when I say ‘jump’, you say ‘yes sir, how high?’ But that is not the case today where employee expectations have changed. Now when leaders say jump, they should be prepared to hear the response ‘why should I?’

People expect to be led differently than they did even 30 years ago and if you expect your team to follow you because of your position, you may be in for a sad awakening. Leadership and management skills are just that: talents that must be learned and developed.

If you want to achieve better results and harness the strengths of a fully committed, motivated team to deliver your strategic plan, then you need to invest in your leadership and management skills. To be successful, you need both; they are the opposite sides of the same coin. There are many definitions of leadership but probably the best one suggests that a leader is someone who has followers. So no matter how good a leader you think you are, if your team are not following, maybe you‘re not as good as you think.

TIP: Leaders have followers. People follow a compelling vision that is clearly articulated and against which their performance and contribution is regularly reviewed.

[blockquote cite=”Andy McDougall” type=”center”]People expect to be led differently than they did even 30 years ago and if you expect your team to follow you because of your position, you may be in for a rude awakening.[/blockquote]

The characteristics of good leadership

Leaders have passion and drive to overcome obstacles. They have strong beliefs and stick close to their values, and in doing so win the support of their team members. Leaders inspire and have courage. They know it’s not a popularity contest and they use their great communication skills to keep their teams in close pursuit of the target.

Leaders make decisions. Leaders take action.

Leaders know if they continue to do the same things, they will get the same outcome. Where a different result is required, they will find a new approach that achieves it. In other words, leaders are agents of change!

There always comes a point where the old answers just don’t work anymore making change inevitable. A key element of leadership is change: change doesn’t happen without leadership. One of the best-known business gurus, Peter Drucker said, ‘Leadership is about doing the right things. Management is about doing things right’. Leaders determine what needs to be done and managers make certain those things are done well.

TIP: If you want a different outcome, you have to make some changes to your approach. Leaders welcome change and communicate effectively to ensure their teams are supported through it.

Leaders set a compelling vision for teams to pursue

Leadership begins with a captivating vision. You have to know where you are heading before you can ask other people to follow. And your vision needs to be captivating enough that people will want to follow you in its pursuit.

As the leader, you set the direction. In the absence of any strategy, people may try to do their best but the interpretation of the role and its output is open to question. Team members who are pulling in opposing directions will create a fractious culture where outputs are less efficient and effective. Your job as leader is to communicate your vision and provide a plan for its achievement whilst illustrating how team members’ contributions are crucial to its success. A united team focused on a common goal is what you are aiming to accomplish.

Once you know where you’re heading, you can identify the gap between where you are currently and where you want to be (your vision) and that sets your priorities and helps determine the right things to measure.

TIP: Not having a business strategy means teams are left to wander aimlessly in pursuit of self-formed ideals. A clear strategy underpinning your vision immediately galvanises performance.

Leaders make decisions and take action

To run your dental practice differently you have to run your brain differently. You have to get better at making decisions and then more importantly, putting them into action. A decision is not actually a decision until it has been enacted. Making the right decisions is not a simple matter. For some, making any decision is a challenge.

Do you recognise your own behaviour in any of the following scenarios?

  • You’re not afraid to make decisions; in fact, you make them all the time. You just don’t follow them through into action.
  • You dither and delay about making decisions but did you know that not making a decision is a decision in itself?
  • You fire off decisions every day. And they change so frequently that no-one takes much notice.
  • You make decisions but they are the wrong ones!

Try improving your decision-making skills by using tried and tested business planning techniques, improving your interpretation of business information or using the services of someone who can help.

TIP: Making the right decisions and implementing them successfully are key attributes of great leadership.

Leaders give feedback on performance

Making it happen

So we have a vision for how we would like the dental practice to look in three years. We have undertaken some scenario analysis and determined the best strategy from several available to us. Our chosen strategy underpins our vision so its pursuit is essential to our success. We have articulated our vision and strategy to the team so it is time to drive through the necessary changes and monitor our performance to ensure success.

We now need to set up some performance measures or key drivers (often called key performance indicators (KPIs) that act as an early warning system so that as soon as our results go off track, we are alerted and can take corrective action. In addition to measuring the fundamental drivers of your business plan, we must get the whole team on the bus. Ideally we should be undertaking monthly one to ones with every team member to ensure they have the skills and attitude to help you deliver the plan.

Are they clear about your expectations? Evaluate their contribution; what could they do better? Are there obstacles in the way of their success that management should look to remove? The reviews reinforce the direction and ensure management maintains accurate feedback about what is and isn’t on track.

TIP: Performance management means measuring the right things (effectiveness) and then making certain they are acted upon correctly (efficiency). The two sides of the coin – leadership and management. Measuring key indicators is vital but making certain the team remains focused and able is crucial.

Time for change

Leaders can be created, which is great news for anyone who currently believes their leadership skills are lacking. Making decisions, taking action and communicating effectively underpin good leadership. Hopefully this article will challenge your thinking and encourage you to take the first step to running your brain and your business differently.

For more information about Andy, visit http://www.spoton-businessplanning.co.uk/


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