Last updated on April 21st, 2021 at 03:51 pm

How can you become a leader that your staff will respect and appreciate?

While it’s critical for a dentist to have an effective Office Manager running the practice (allowing them to keep their focus chairside), as the owner of the business it’s just as important for the doctor to have and be able to demonstrate high-level leadership skills (more information about what exactly an Office Manager is here).

With that in mind, I wanted to share a post outlining six qualities any dentist can focus on that can make them a better leader!

1. Make it a game

As a dentist, it makes sense to be somewhat “serious.” After all, dental work, no matter how big or small the case, is serious business. Perfectionism is the order of the day and mistakes can’t be tolerated. As far as being a leader goes, that seriousness and attention to detail can sometimes come through as gruff, impersonal grouchiness! And this may present a problem – staff want to be uplifted and encouraged! Of course, that doesn’t mean you should tolerate non-performance or poor-quality customer relations – but there’s no reason to walk around with a frown!

(Related: Teambuilding: How to Make Every Employee Your Best Employee)

Treat managing your staff as a game. Bonus systems or prizes for accomplishing the week’s goal are a couple of examples of how you can make it a game for your staff.

Think of it like this: I personally am not a fan of running or jogging. If I feel that I need to do it for exercise, I will but I’m watching the clock the whole time, gritting my way through it, and then stopping as soon as I’ve hit my allotted time or distance. But when I’m playing a game, like basketball with friends, I end up running much harder and longer without even noticing it. I try harder. I get better exercise – even though I’m not being “serious” about it. In fact, I get better exercise because I’m not being serious about it. 

(Related: Improving Staff Initiative in the Office)

Now some people actually enjoy running, so this example may not work for everybody, but you get the point.

When the office environment is fun and upbeat, while keeping in mind the purpose to get patients healthy, not only will your staff be happy, but your patients will notice it too and naturally feel better about being at the dentist. Making it a game for the staff to play instead of a chore that needs to be done goes a long way.

(Related: 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Staff)

2. Acknowledge the good. Don’t focus solely on the negatives.

Ever had a job where your boss always told you the things you did wrong, but never told you what you were doing right? I’m guessing it didn’t feel very good, and you probably wondered if you were ever doing a good job. Of course, it’s vital that you tell your staff anything they are doing wrong so they can quickly correct it, but it’s also important that you acknowledge what they’re doing right.

When’s the last time you acknowledged your team for doing a good job? Or the last time you did something special for them as a thank you? Or did a team celebration for making your goals for the month (quarter, year, etc.)? Or told individual team members how much you appreciate them?

(Related: Why Your Staff Don’t Listen to You)

If you’ve done these things recently, then great job! But it can slip our minds easily. After all, when things are going well, that’s how it should be, right? That’s normal. But there’s a lot of hard work that goes into that, and even when things aren’t going as well as you’d like, if you just focused on everything they’re doing wrong, it’s going to be no fun (see point #1 above).

And even when you are correcting something a team member has done wrong, there’s a way to do it constructively.

(Related: The 2 Big Mistakes Most Dentists Make)

Here are two examples:

Example 1: Doctor or OM: “You’re answering the phones wrong and it’s preventing us from getting new patients.” This feels serious and isn’t very specific on what they’re doing wrong.

Example 2: Doctor or OM: “You’re doing a great job answering the phones with an upbeat attitude. The only thing I want to correct you on is what you say when a patient asks about pricing.”

(Related: 3 Techniques to Improve Employee Phone Skills)

As you can see, the second example acknowledges what the receptionist is doing correctly, but also specifically tells them what needs to be corrected. I’d even go further and explain to them why they’re being corrected and the purpose behind it. So, say you’re correcting the receptionist on what they say when a patient asks about pricing. I’d tell them why I’m correcting them and the purpose behind properly answering a question about the practice’s prices.

On a side note, we actually have an entire course dedicated to the Receptionist and how to properly answer phones on our online training platform, DDS Success. I highly recommend scheduling an appointment for a free demo to see how it can work for your practice!

3. Consult your staff about their jobs

How do you know if you’re a good leader? How can you tell if staff are happy with their job or secretly dreading it? Ask them! It can be a simple form each staff member fills out and hands to you or your OM, or it can be an online survey that keeps them anonymous (one company that offers this is Energage).

By finding out how your staff are doing, you can then tell which areas in your practice may need extra attention and which ones are doing well. Because the areas that aren’t doing well will probably have someone, or possibly multiple people, who are having difficulties or simply may not understand how to do their jobs properly. Once you know how each area is in your practice, you can work on making the needed corrections to improve the work environment and the practice’s production.

(Related: The Missing Factor in Managing Your Staff)

I recommend that the doctor periodically checks in with each team member personally to find out how they’re doing and if they’re struggling with anything. Not every day, but regularly enough that you have good communication with everyone and know how they’re doing.

There should also be some way for the staff to suggest ideas for improvements or new policies, whether it’s part of a staff meeting, a suggestion box, or just a direct conversation. You don’t need to implement every suggestion that you get, but you want to hear from your staff (we can be out-of-touch sitting chairside all day and not knowing what’s happening upfront), and the staff should feel like they’re being heard.

(Related: Suggestions on Training Your Staff)

4. Do not overburden your staff

I see this a lot in smaller offices where there are only three staff members and they’re trying to get ALL the work done just the three of them. In the beginning, this might be the way you have to run things until you can hire more staff. However, if your staff are overwhelmed and you’ve been in practice for a while, it’s time to hire someone!

Dentists tend to understaff their offices, thinking it’s saving them money when in reality they are losing much more income by underproducing.

(Related: How to Determine if Your Practice is Underproducing)

Staff who are overburdened won’t be able to get everything done, especially if they’re consistently in the middle of a task when a new task is given to them – you could be left with several partially completed tasks and missed deadlines. You find out later on that nobody confirmed the recall patients because they had to see patients at the front desk, or the accounts receivable is out of control because they were working on something else.

5. Listen to what they want to talk to you about

There’s nothing more disappointing as an employee to try and talk to your boss about something only to find out they never have time to listen, or don’t want to hear what you have to say. A good leader will always listen to what their staff want to talk to them about.

(Related: Surviving Staff Turnover)

6. You don’t always have to be correct

I touched on this a bit earlier in this post, but it’s worth repeating. As a dentist, you need to be correct, there’s no doubt about that. There’s little room for error when it comes to working on someone’s teeth. However, as a manager and leader, it’s important to switch hats and realize that you don’t always have to be correct. There will be times in growing your practice when you try out something new, such as a marketing campaign, and it may not work, and that is OK.

As with any business, there will be wins and there will be losses; the important thing is when you’ve had a bad idea or made a bad decision, you own up to it and change it quickly. Don’t stick to something that isn’t working just to prove yourself right, and also don’t sit in a paralysis afraid to implement new things or handle situations because you don’t want to do the right thing. Act! And then if it was the wrong thing to do, own up to it and change it. Your team will respect you more for this.  

I hope these tips help! At MGE, we teach dentists and office managers what they didn’t learn in dental school: the business side of dentistry. I highly recommend learning more about the MGE Power Program to truly learn how to master the business side of dentistry and become a great leader. You can learn more about it here.

If you have any questions, you can email me at JohnA@mgeonline.com or call us at (800) 640-1140.


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