Great leaders and great managers

Sept. 1, 2008
Question: "Are dentists leaders or managers?" ANSWER: YES!

by Mark Murphy, DDS

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: leaders, managers, business of dentistry, management, leadership.

Question: "Are dentists leaders or managers?" ANSWER: YES!

Do you know the fundamental difference between chess and checkers? The board is the same. So, too, is the objective. Certainly chess is more strategic and complex, but why? In checkers, all of the pieces move the same. In chess, each piece or sets of pieces have distinct moves they can make. It is the management of these movements, the decisions we make with our pieces, that execute our strategies.

Our decisions and choices in managing and leading a dental team similarly are responsible for our success or our frustration. It is not our choices about the dentistry that determines our success, rather the ability to make good decisions about the business of dentistry.

It is the behavioral and communication issues about running a business that bother us most in dentistry. You see, we went to school to learn how to perform technical tasks that require technical training and skills; we did not go to school to learn how to run a business that is engaged in those technical skills. Therein lies the difference.

But there's good news! Leadership and management can be learned. We have to consciously decide to develop these skills and capabilities, but they can be acquired.

Management focuses on doing things right. Leadership focuses on doing right things.

We clearly need to do both of these things well to succeed. Our vision and mission for the practice is something we should guard closely. Yes, our staff should help us articulate the mission of the practice, but only after we have the right people on the bus with us. We drive the bus, and it is our responsibility to decide where it is headed. Share that vision and dream, recruit the right team, and draft an operational mission statement to guide us in the direction that we (as dentist/leader) have chosen.

Managing the various policies, strategies, budgets, and metrics that get us there is a separate skill set that we need as well. Rallying the team to see the possibilities that the future holds and articulating that message is leadership's responsibility. Putting the right people in the right jobs, giving them the tools, and then measuring and celebrating the results is management.

Great managers figure out what is unique about an individual and capitalize on it.

Great leaders sense what is common to the team and rally them to a better future.

Great managers select good people based on their strengths. They define clear expectations and measure activity and achievement. They praise and recognize people for good performance, and they care for their team. Managers leverage people by identifying their strengths and weaknesses and coaching them appropriate to their learning style.

Great leaders motivate and inspire people, not by pushing them in the right direction, but by satisfying their basic human needs. Leaders are measured by the behavior of their followers. They accept total responsibility for their teams. Leaders eliminate confusion; they communicate well and most importantly, they listen.

To play checkers with a dental team does not make much sense. It is more like playing chess. Unfortunately, we have not all been given or taught the skills we need to manage or lead a team well. We went to dental school, not leadership, management, or business school. My good friend, Dale Sorenson, DDS, spoke to the senior class a couple of years back at Indiana University Dental School. He told the class that their dental license was, of course, a license to practice dentistry, but also a license to learn.

Graduation did not mean they were finished with learning, rather they had just begun. He did not mean only dentistry and the techno-clinical skills we need to be successful in that arena. He also meant a license to learn about the business of dentistry, communication, management, philosophy, leadership, and the plethora of other skills that help us practice fulfilling and balanced professional lives — skills that help us lead our teams to a preferred future. If we do not seek these skills, we may end up frustrated and confused, tired and burned out.

Bob Dylan said, "If we are not busy growing, we are busy dying." Success and fulfillment in dentistry will be the result of acquiring and executing several skill sets. Good leadership and management are two we cannot afford to skip. Get busy growing in these areas and it will make all the difference.

Mark Murphy is a featured presenter for the National Dental Network and the National Lab Network. He lectures internationally on a variety of dental clinical and behavioral subjects. Dr. Murphy practices part time in Rochester Hills, Mich., and is the director of professional relations at the Pankey Institute. You may contact him by e-mail at [email protected] or visit

Sponsored Recommendations

Clinical Study: OraCare Reduced Probing Depths 4450% Better than Brushing Alone

Good oral hygiene is essential to preserving gum health. In this study the improvements seen were statistically superior at reducing pocket depth than brushing alone (control ...

Clincial Study: OraCare Proven to Improve Gingival Health by 604% in just a 6 Week Period

A new clinical study reveals how OraCare showed improvement in the whole mouth as bleeding, plaque reduction, interproximal sites, and probing depths were all evaluated. All areas...

Chlorine Dioxide Efficacy Against Pathogens and How it Compares to Chlorhexidine

Explore our library of studies to learn about the historical application of chlorine dioxide, efficacy against pathogens, how it compares to chlorhexidine and more.

Enhancing Your Practice Growth with Chairside Milling

When practice growth and predictability matter...Get more output with less input discover chairside milling.