Though Drs. Gabriel Holdwick and Alexandra Barton Otto work in two different practice settings, they share similar challenges when it comes to being a leader in their dental offices.
“Just like the art of dentistry, learning the traits of leadership is something that I practice and work on daily,” said Dr. Otto, a general dentist practicing as an associate in a six-location pediatric-focused group practice in the greater Fort Worth area in northern Texas. “I make mistakes, learn from them and try to be a little better today than I was yesterday.”
“I am not sure you are ever really ready to take on the mantle of leadership,” said Dr. Holdwick, a general dentist with one hygienist, one assistant and a receptionist in his Harbor Beach, Michigan, practice in a town of 1,700.
“There are just things you can only learn from doing it. Situations arise, and I don’t always have the answer.
With each day comes new challenges, and as time has progressed I have gained more experience and am more effective at both leading and managing the practice.”
Dr. Otto works at fi ve different offi ces alongside more than 30 assistants, six hygienists and dozens of other auxiliary staff. Being dependably constant is one thing she has learned since she graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in 2013.
“It is critical that I am consistent with my mood, demeanor and methods of practice so that they know what to expect from me. When they know that they can rely on me to be consistent with how I function as a dentist and leader it is a lot less stressful for everyone on the team.”
To Dr. Otto, encouraging reinforcement is key to being an effectual leader.
“I not only verbally tell my team how much I appreciate their effort and positive attitudes during the work hours, but I try to make it clear how much I appreciate and value them as an individual as well,” she said. “I make an effort to attend events to celebrate their outside lives that I am invited to — everything from baby showers to supporting my hygienist at her bodybuilding competition. The assurance that I am there to support their success and happiness both in and out of work has made for a positive and healthy work environment.”
As for Dr. Holdwick — a graduate of the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Dentistry in 2014 — being a leader in the office should translate to being active in the community.
“My patients expect me to lead while I have an instrument in my hand, but they also look to me for guidance on matters related to treatment planning, finances and the balancing act of dovetailing dental care seamlessly into lives that are often filled with other pressures.
In a town like Harbor Beach, part of leading the practice is making sure it is visible in the community. I am a member of the local Rotary Club, chamber of commerce and a local historical association. I enter a fl oat in the annual lighted Christmas parade, and I support causes and organizations where my patients are trying to make our community a better place to live. A vibrant community is in the best interests of myself, my staff and my patients. As a dentist, I have an opportunity and responsibility to play a role in that work.”
Both espouse the view that being a servant leader and collaborative are goals to aspire to, whether you are a team member or lead your own practice. And as new dentists, they realize that effective management skills are gained throughout a long career.
“All the study and introspection in the world doesn’t always translate perfectly into practice when working with actual people in stressful situations,” said Dr. Otto. “I know that learning how to be the best possible leader is something I will have to keep working on
for the rest of my career.”
To learn more on how to manage a dental team, “The ADA Practical Guide to Leading and Managing the Dental Team” is available. Readers can save 15 percent on this book and all ADA Catalog products with promo code 17155 until Dec. 15. To order, visit ADAcatalog.org or call 1-800-947-4746.
The ADA Center for Professional Success features resources on leadership and management of the dental team, including a podcast on being a great boss and a guide to running effective team meetings. The resources are available at Success.ADA.org.