Content Dam De En Articles Print Volume 108 Issue 3 Practice Leadership The Secret Sauce To Creating An Unbelievably Successful Business Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

Leadership: The secret sauce to creating an unbelievably successful business

March 20, 2018
Find out why some dental practices flourish while others flounder. This often has to do with the leader. Here are some steps to improving your leadership style.

Eric Nuss, MBA

The year 2017 is behind us. Boardrooms and break rooms across the country have left behind the balance sheets and results of last year, and they’ve geared up for 2018. For some, forecasts and investment plans for this year wait in a tidy stack on their desks, or on their mobile devices so it’s with them wherever they go.

For dentists, leadership is often tied to the primary revenue generator for the business. When not producing dentistry, dentists must work on the critical elements necessary for all business owners, from filing taxes, paying vendors, processing payroll, and taking out the trash. Some delegate these tasks, while others oversee mundane tasks like a hawk. They’re on top of just about everything, all the time.

The consummate leader in a dental practice is almost always working in the business and rarely on the business, knowing full well that working on the business is the seed that generates growth and advances the business. Still, dentists lament lack of downtime, and rightfully so. For what other reason do dentists work but to provide the means to the things most important to them, whether it’s family, philanthropy, social causes, or just being a good neighbor.

As I write this, we’re already at the end of January, and just that quickly, a new year is off to a roaring start. Holiday weekends meant for reflection are either behind us or a long way off, and we’re again at the mercy of the schedule to do what we do best—working in the business to get stuff done. But is that really leading? Why does this idea of leading in another way even matter? You tell yourself that you’re the boss, and people should do what you say because if they don’t you could easily find another person to do the tasks that you insist be done by the subordinate staff.

During the first morning huddle of the year, many leaders declare, “We need results! I’ve invested too much time and money into this business to have another year like the last one. I have an idea to manage this business more closely—a new dashboard so we can keep track of key performance indicators (KPIs). This will help us get what we need out of this practice for production, collections, patient count, and more.”

Admit it; you’ve at least thought this could be a viable strategy for improving your business. I’m not refuting the importance of data and KPIs to help a business keep score. However, if this is the only strategy, I’ll save you the heartache of what you will inevitably experience two to four months down the road. In the absence of leadership, culture has a funny way of evolving on its own as employees take over the operations of the business owner. To prevent this, the leader must lead!

An extreme focus on business results has proven to be a significant cause for strife in organizations. It is important to recognize where good business results come from, and they don’t come from putting in extra hours or double -booking the operatory. Truly outstanding results come from amazing customer experiences. When customers are amazed, they want more. They actually will tell their friends about their experience at your practice, but they might need some prompting to do so. Word of mouth is the original social media.

Amazing customer experiences come from your great team. When extraordinary teams focus on creating great patient experiences—from the moment they initiate contact with the office through the billing cycle—that’s the catalyst to create customer loyalty. Where does this experience come from? How do some teams just “get it” while others seem to be missing the ability to please people? Is it that the employees at the successful businesses are just better? Of course not. The amazing teams were developed, honed, and held accountable to amazing leaders. This is where real alignment and integration begins.

How did these successful leaders become so good at influencing their teams to be amazing stewards of the customer experience, which leads to outstanding business results?

Emotional intelligence is the primary indicator of the success of any leader, and this skill can be learned with education and experience. Business leaders, in this case dentists and practice owners, all too often put their investments in things that they believe will have a “hard” ROI, or be some sort of turnkey passive stream of income. Yet the place to invest is right between people’s ears. Owners should want their teams to be sharp. They invest in training, team building, and process or procedural training, yet they fail to look inward to develop themselves as the true keepers of the business. They should want to be the types of leaders that others follow because of what they stand for, not what title they hold.

A leader’s role is to establish (operationalize) and sustain the values and vision by which the organization can thrive. This is easier said than done. Leaders must clearly communicate those values, and they should align with them both personally and professionally or risk being Dr. Jekyll at work and Mr. Hyde at home. That misalignment can cause great personal conflict and lead to disastrous relationship management at home and in the office.

I recommend picking three to five key attributes that define how you live and work. In my case, I value passion, consistency, creativity, and fun. I display these values through my actions in all aspects of my life. When I declare these as my values, my team knows what’s important to me. When I seek out people with similar values, it becomes much easier to actually lead them. Drafting a vision statement is a great first step, but living the vision is what matters. A vision should be clear, concise, easy to recite, inspiring, and inclusive. The values act as your compass, while the vision acts as your destination on the road map to success called the mission.

Author’s note: To learn more about leadership and a program dedicated to the development of leaders in the dental business, visit

Eric Nuss, MBA, heads Forward by Henry Schein of Henry Schein Dental. Forward by Henry Schein aims to be the indispensable resource to dentists for business education, strategy, and services to help move their businesses . . . forward. Eric also developed the Dental Business Institute, a key program in the Forward educational offering. Contact him at (414) 290-2542 or [email protected].

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