They say leaders are born, not made. Fortunately, they’re wrong. Countless entrepreneurs and professionals — including dentists — become outstanding leaders based on learning and determination rather than on natural talents.
Vision: answering the question, “Where do you want to be in three years?”
What’s your idea of the perfect practice? If you haven’t figured this out yet, take the time to do so. Give it some serious thought. Talk it over with your spouse, mentor, best friend or a trusted colleague. As the practice leader, you need to have a destination in mind to help you focus your energy and resources and make the right decisions. And don’t keep it to yourself. Write a vision statement of where you want your practice to be in three years (when you fulfill the vision, you’ll be ready to write a new one for the next three years). Explain it to your team so they’ll understand what you’re all working toward. And remind yourself and them about the vision every day.
The best teams are the best-trained teams
By the same token that true leaders are made, not born, the best teams are made, not hired. Instead of trying to hire ready-made administrative stars, find people with the right attitude and prepare them to excel by training them well. Establish a staff training program that will equip them with outstanding skills. Use scripting to help them say all the right things to patients. And, to stay ahead in a changing world, commit to an ongoing program rather than a one-and-done approach.
Delegate almost all nonclinical responsibilities
Many dentists feel frustrated because they’re overworked and underpaid. How, they ask, can they increase revenue if they’re already working at full capacity? The problem is that they’re micromanagers, doing too much of the wrong kind of work. If you make this mistake, you’ll never reach your potential. Leaders don’t do, they delegate. In your case, that means just about everything that isn’t actual dentistry. If your schedule is clogged with nonclinical (that is, nonbillable) administrative tasks, let go of it. Your well-trained team (see no. 2 above) can handle it much more cost-effectively than you can. Of course, you’ll need to make higher-level decisions and maintain financial oversight, but team members can take responsibility for almost all routine office tasks.
Targets … powerful motivational tools
Which do you think will work better: giving your front-desk coordinator an assignment (such as scheduling as many first-time callers as possible) or giving her a target (for example, schedule 90 percent of first-time callers within seven days)? If you know anything about human nature, you understand that targets inspire team members to do better and to do more. Targets should be specific and measurable, written down and monitored. Include them in job descriptions. Report actual performance versus targets in staff meetings. In short, put the motivating power of targets to work in your practice.
Set the bar higher than the practice down the street
The leader is the standard bearer. Train team members to have exceptional skills. Motivate them with assigned targets. And let them know that, for your patients, nothing less than excellence will do. You want your practice to succeed from a business standpoint, but the overriding priorities are to provide the best possible clinical care and maintain the highest standards of customer service.
Walk the walk
Talk is cheap. Rather than merely telling your staff to make the effort to WOW patients at every opportunity, show them by your own example. You may not realize it, but members of your team pay close attention to how you behave. As their leader, you have tremendous influence, so be mindful of what kind of example you’re setting.
Resist change at your peril
Flexibility is essential for today’s practice leader. In our challenging economy, you need to be a nimble leader, ready to respond quickly as conditions —some beyond your control — change. You may be surprised to learn that great leaders don’t control situations as much as they adapt successfully to them. Look at changes as opportunities to innovate.
Climbing the learning curve to the top
I’m an avid proponent and practitioner of lifelong learning. It’s especially valuable for practice leaders who want to improve their performances and their bottom lines. Fortunately, the educational resources for leaders are broad and deep. Depending on your objectives and personal schedule, you can put together an excellent long-term curriculum for leadership development. You’ll find numerous books, seminars and courses on the subject. Take advantage of as much as you can, from now until retirement.
Great dental leaders are made, not born, and the eight principles discussed here will be instrumental in helping make you the best leader you can be. Use them as a foundation for upgrading the skills you need to build your ultimate practice.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Dental Practice Success. It was written by Dr. Roger P. Levin, founder and CEO of Levin Group, a dental consulting firm. Attend one of Dr. Levin’s new seminars to learn the latest practice-building strategies. See the complete seminar schedule here.