The Leadership Toolkit for Dentists

January 24, 2020 by Dana J. Murn, CAE

A patient-centered approach to looking at your practice

Managing a dental practice is significantly different than managing other types of businesses. It’s rare that the owner, leader, and manager is simultaneously the primary means of production. As dental communications expert, Sandy Roth, puts it, “Lee Iococca, when he was the chairman of Chrysler, wasn’t down on the floor making the cars.”

Therefore, dental leaders generally need to think of leadership in a different way than their counterparts in other industries. This includes very clearly defining your role as a leader, assembling and maintaining a versatile and functional dental team, and offering a patient-centered approach that is based in understanding how patients think and make choices.

Defining Your Role as Leader

Leadership in your practice can be boiled down to four main principles:

  1. The purpose of the practice (or who are you trying to serve)
  2. The standard of care to which you and others are held accountable
  3. The ethics that guide your decision-making
  4. The belief systems that govern the way you practice

Creating a culture of accomplishment in your practice starts with defining who you are and who you want to be through these four pillars. Once you have outlined a purpose, standard of care, ethics, and belief system, you’ll be better prepared to assemble or revamp a successful team and define what skillsets you need in each of your team members. In this way, the four pillars serve as guidelines in your search for, and training of, team members who can work with you toward a productive and profitable practice.

Improving Office Culture and Team Dynamics

A thriving practice begins with team members who understand their roles, how each role contributes to the purpose and mission, and who feel as if what they do matters. A straightforward way to improve your office culture and team dynamics is to “deconstruct” your team, by examining the roles and responsibilities of all team members, focusing on what types of mindsets are best suited to each of their roles, and discerning the administrative from the behavioral aspects of your practice.

Considering the gifts and talents of those you work with each day is important. When your team members know that they make an impact, when they are valued, and when they feel that their work is meaningful, it shows.

Offering A Patient-Centered Approach

While the four pillars will determine how we practice our craft and manage our teams and offices, understanding the process by which our patients think and make choices is very important in determining how we serve them. It is helpful to put ourselves in the minds of our patients. Meeting patients where they are and truly listening to the problems they are having and how they are affecting them, rather than only considering their condition, is key.

“Dentistry is huge for us. We spend a lot of time focusing on it. But for our patients, [dentistry] is a necessary, we hope pleasant, interruption to the other things that matter for them,” says Sandy Roth.

Remember that patients don’t come to us unless they are experiencing a problem, which is different from a medical condition. Often patients come to us because they are experiencing at least one of the following types of problems:

  1. How things LOOK
  2. How things FEEL
  3. How things WORK
  4. PEACE OF MIND issues

It may be helpful to remember that patients in general do not care about the data or about your treatment plan—they just want their problem to go away. Therefore, it is key to know why your patient is there, what problem he or she is experiencing, and how to communicate with them in a way that allows them to grasp how your proposed solution will fix their problem.

To learn more about leadership, office culture, and how to better understand what motivates your patients, view Sandy Roth’s suite of courses. Watch and earn CE in any order you please, “Leadership in the Dental Practice,” “Deconstructing Your Team,” and “How Patients Think and Make Choices,” will motive and inspire you to view your practice from a fresh perspective.




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