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Your people and your leadership in the time of COVID-19: Top 5 areas of focus

Nov. 1, 2020
Practicing during a pandemic calls for strong—but flexible—leadership. Tim Twigg and Rebecca Boartfield discuss five areas that you can focus on to make sure you and your practice come out better on the other side.

We’re nearing the end of 2020, and we’re still mired in a global pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going away easily or quickly. It’s unlikely that any employer has been left unscathed as the situation has unfolded throughout our country and the economy.

From elevated stress to businesses being shut down and everything in between, the impact has been significant. Owning and running a business has always required leadership, but the pandemic necessitates leadership of a different kind. 

After experiencing various types of leadership—both good and bad—we’ve seen effective leadership in action and the difference it can make in success. Here are five effective leadership characteristics we’ve observed.

Get (and stay) educated

Employers should have an absolute working knowledge of what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state/local health departments say about managing COVID-19 in the workplace. If an employee is exposed to or actually has COVID-19 and you are unsure about how to handle the situation, then you have some work to do.

Do guidelines change? Yes, and it requires constant studying to keep up with the latest information. Are the guidelines perfect? No, but they’re the best we’ve got. They are far better than local/national news sources, your gut feeling, or what your colleagues may be doing. 

This should lead directly to having a written action plan for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace, personal protective equipment requirements, new systems for managing patient care, expectations of employees, and much more. These guidelines also must be communicated with your team.

Open up communication

During these times, it’s important to communicate regularly and frequently with staff about office procedures, expectations, and any other pertinent business-related topic in light of COVID-19. Put it in writing too. 

Without strong leadership, employees appear to be taking matters into their own hands and making their own decisions about what to do. Sadly, this can mean trying to take advantage of a bad situation. If employers don’t communicate, inform, draw clear lines in the sand, and otherwise ensure that employees know what’s expected, then it will be harder to hold them accountable and allow you to take appropriate actions when necessary. 

Be empathetic, flexible, compassionate, and a good listener

I think we can all agree that these times during the pandemic are tough and likely very stressful. As a result, it can greatly affect the overall morale, health, and well-being of your employees. Is it important that they perform their jobs well and follow your rules? Yes, always. Is this a time when employers might allow a little bit of leeway when appropriate? Perhaps. Employers shouldn’t bend every rule or excuse every action, but a little grace, empathy, and understanding can help everyone in these turbulent times. 

Be transparent

This can mean many different things. Perhaps you are transparent about how your business is doing, whether good or bad. Maybe it’s about being transparent in managing COVID-related situations or problems. Maybe it’s about being emotionally transparent with your employees regarding how you’re doing. 

We’re not saying to open up and always share everything with the whole team. Instead, being more forthcoming and open can engender trust, empathy, understanding, and kindness. 

Focus on retention

Finding dental personnel is becoming increasingly difficult. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which includes people being scared to work in the dental field during a pandemic. When there is a scarcity of potential hires, employers must focus on keeping the staff they have, especially if they’re quality team members. What if a little training and support is all that would be needed to turn around behavior of a questionable employee?

It may be time to pull out those articles, webinars, and other materials that talk about ways to retain good employees and start putting those ideas to use. It may mean going above and beyond what you would normally do, but these are not normal times, so they don’t call for normal measures. 


We will all get through this one way or another. The question really becomes, will you come out on the other side better or worse than before? Your leadership, or lack thereof, will likely be a strong determiner of what that outcome will be. You can sit back and keep it “leadership as usual,” or you can redirect your efforts into one or all of these areas and work toward ensuring that your outcome is better and more satisfying in the long run.  

Rebecca Boartfield is HR compliance consultant and Tim Twigg is president of Bent Ericksen & Associates. For more than 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resources and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more, call (800) 679-2760 or visit bentericksen.com.

About the Author

Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg

Rebecca Boartfield is HR compliance consultant and Tim Twigg is president of Bent Ericksen & Associates. For more than 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resources and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more, call (800) 679-2760 or visit bentericksen.com.

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