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How to effectively lead. your dental team

Is your leadership holding back your dental practice? 4 ways to change that

Nov. 27, 2023
Do you dream of being able to just practice dentistry and interact with patients? This is possible with the right kind of leadership.

Leadership is essential in the success of any business; however, dentists don’t receive training or education on leadership before they enter dental practice. This gap in leadership education can create a deficit in the practice later as it grows and the dental team looks for guidance, mentorship, and coaching.

The first step to becoming a good leader is to understand the end game. You don’t become a better leader by taking small steps and waiting to see what happens. That’s why it’s important to understand a concept that we call Level 4 leadership. This type of leadership is the ultimate objective of every dentist as a practice leader.

You might also want to read: Are you the right leader for your staff?

The four levels of leadership 

The first level of leadership is when the dentist opens or purchases a new practice. As a leader, the dentist has time to understand the new practice and, over time, certain patterns become obvious and leadership strategies are put in place. Leadership of a brand-new practice is about entrepreneurial spirit, working hard, and compensating for insufficient staff in the early days. Fortunately, all this is fueled by high motivation and energy.

The second level of leadership is when the practice is growing. As the practice grows and continually changes (including the advancement of staff skills and behavior and the practice culture), the leadership approach must continually change as well. The Level 2 leader is one who progresses and transforms as the practice grows and more staff members are hired. In this stage, the dentist is working hard, but also enjoying the fact that the practice is growing and providing a higher level of income.

The third level of leadership is where most dentists remain throughout their career. It’s characterized by hard work and a practice that’s mature and has likely reached a plateau. In this stage the practice is either no longer growing, is growing very slowly, or is in danger of declining. Level 3 leaders either don’t enjoy their practices or aren’t at the level of enjoyment and satisfaction they could be. They feel like they go to work to wear multiple hats, put out fires, and keep everything on track while providing excellent care and creating practice production.

Level 3 is a good level to get to, but it’s not necessarily a good place to stay. Most Level 3 dentists enjoy their practices, but not with the excitement, energy, and enthusiasm they once had. Many report that they’re more fatigued than they were in the past and some report that they’re burned out.

Forward-thinking dentists who want to get the most out of their careers eventually arrive at Level 4. This is where the dentist doesn’t do anything other than perform dentistry and build patient relationships. Imagine if you could walk into your office with a wonderful positive attitude, go through your routine to prepare for the day, attend the morning meeting, and have dental assistants instruct you all day to keep you on time.

Everything outside dentistry is handled by the dental team. We might refer to this as maxim delegation. It’s a very strategic operational plan to train all team members at the highest level, ensure they’re committed and motivated to accept all responsibility in their job descriptions, and to delegate all functions the dentist is not required by regulation or law to handle.

For this to happen, dentists must think of themselves as an investment. Every dentist should ask whether they’re getting the return on investment of themselves that’s in the best interest of the practice. If the dentist isn't chairside creating production or advancing patient relations, then they’re not doing the main job they should be. Almost every other job in the practice can be handled by team members once they’re trained and have systems to carry out their jobs and contribute to practice production.

A new way of practicing

Some dentists may feel like this is a utopian view of dentistry. After all, how ridiculous is it that a dentist could spend an entire day simply treating and interacting with patients? Be assured that we’ve seen many examples of this even though most dentists are still at Level 3. If you set the goal of becoming a Level 4 dentist, then you’ll have the opportunity to make changes, implement systems that allow the team to accept delegation, and focus on dentistry and patients. Will this be easy? No, but it’s always worthwhile.

As a dentist moves to Level 4, wonderful things happen in the practice. These include:

  1. Higher production
  2. Higher profit
  3. Higher income
  4. Higher staff satisfaction
  5. Lower daily fatigue
  6. Higher level of delegation

A key factor for making this happen is to have self-disciplined team members. When people are self-disciplined, they’ll find a way to excel in their positions and solve issues. Self-disciplined team members simply don’t fail. They make mistakes, as all people do when they’re growing and learning, but ultimately, they don’t fail.

They nearly always find a way to complete a task or project successfully, and one of the most important factors of the Level 4 dentist is to stop managing people and start measuring. The team should know exactly what targets they’re trying to achieve with daily, weekly, and monthly measurements in place.

There are four levels of leadership for dentists. However, most dentists are stuck at Level 3 where they continue to work hard but must continually manage nonclinical tasks. At Level 4, practices perform better, stress disappears, and the doctor and team are positive, happy, and satisfied.

This article originally appeared in DE Weekend, the newsletter that will elevate your Sunday mornings with practice and innovative practice management and clinical content from experts across the field. Subscribe here.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that’s worked with more than 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on dental practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and more than 4,000 articles, and he regularly presents seminars in the US and around the world. To contact Dr. Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit levingroup.com or email [email protected].

About the Author

Roger P. Levin, DDS, CEO and founder of Levin Group

Roger P. Levin, DDS, CEO and founder of Levin Group, has worked with more than 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on dental practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and more than 4,000 articles, and regularly presents seminars in the US and around the world. To contact Dr. Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit levingroup.com or email [email protected].

Updated January 23, 2024

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