Developing leadership skills

Feb. 1, 2011
I love doing dentistry, but I do not feel that I am a good leader in my practice. Can you give me any quick tips on how to improve my leadership capabilities?

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA

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Dear Dianne,
I love doing dentistry, but I do not feel that I am a good leader in my practice. Can you give me any quick tips on how to improve my leadership capabilities?
Dr. Ed

Dear Dr. Ed,
I've read several good books on leadership over the years. The ones that stand out in my mind are those by Nido Qubein and Rudolph Giuliani. Major bookstores have whole sections devoted to leadership.

However, there are some basic precepts that are key to helping you understand how to be a good leader. There are two primary leadership styles - authoritarian and participative.

Authoritarian leaders rule their employees from a position of power and expect submissiveness and strict adherence to rules. Authoritarian leaders often use intimidation as a means of control, and they do not seek employees' input or ideas when making decisions.

Participative leaders see their employees as fellow laborers. They encourage participation in certain practice decisions and believe in empowering employees to do their jobs well by giving them the necessary training and tools.

From this basic description of leadership styles, it is easy to see why staff members tend to be happier with a participative leader.

Nobody likes to feel that their opinions are not relevant or appreciated. Employees need an environment where they can thrive and grow professionally if they are to function at their greatest productive potential. Authoritarian environments tend to restrict growth.

We can learn a valuable lesson about what good leadership is from sheepherders, otherwise known as shepherds. One thing shepherds know is that sheep have to be led. They can't be driven. Sheep are easily panicked and have little or no means of self-defense other than running.

Not to carry this analogy too far afield (pun intended), but sheep are known to be creatures of habit. They exhibit a "mob" mentality and can be stubborn. The shepherd has more influence over the sheep than anyone else. His calming influence makes the sheep want to follow him. They are totally dependent on the shepherd for every need. He makes sure they have good water and food, and he gains their trust by being kind and gentle with them.

A good shepherd also knows how to identify predators that infiltrate the flock. Since sheep have no natural defense mechanisms such as sharp claws or teeth, predators can do great damage to the flock.

Sometimes, even a rogue sheep has to be removed from the herd if it becomes detrimental to the welfare of the herd. A good shepherd moves decisively and quickly when it comes to protecting his herd.

I think you get the picture. A good leader recognizes the value in his or her staff members. They are worthy of care, nurturing, protection, and guidance. When a leader recognizes that someone has become a negative force in the group, the leader knows that person has to be removed to protect the group.

A good leader does not use bullying and understands that happy, motivated staff members do not need to be driven to do their work. Rather, they will give their best effort to please their leader.

Being a good, effective leader to your employees does not need to be complicated. Treat them with the same attitude that a good shepherd would use to care for his herd. The better you treat your staff members, the better they will treat your patients. Further, when you treat your staff members well, they will feel motivated to perform their jobs to their highest potential.

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA, helps good practices become better through practical on-site consulting. Her book, Manage Your Practice Well, is available for purchase at For consulting or speaking inquiries, contact her at [email protected] or by telephone at (301) 874-5240.

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