Leading your team

My father owned a small business. He ran a construction company which was the leader in the area. I learned a lot about business by following him everywhere.

Michael Gradeless, DDS

My father owned a small business. He ran a construction company which was the leader in the area. I learned a lot about business by following him everywhere. I read blueprints at the kitchen table, worked in the warehouse, drove a truck, and ultimately ran small construction projects. The lessons I learned regarding integrity, quality work, and customer service still resonate today. Dad also taught me the “blue collar old school” method of motivating employees. Many times, I saw him get right in someone’s face and offer to “drop the tool belts” and take the discussion outside. I admired the way he would never compromise his principles, but this approach simply wouldn’t work in my dental practice.

When a prudent person hears something once, he or she spends a little time examining the information. When something is heard twice - especially from two different reliable sources - the prudent person not only re-examines the information, but also re-examines his or her actions.

Recently, I attended a dental leadership seminar presented by the Pride Institute. Three days later, I was reading an interview with Stephen Covey in the latest issue of “Fortune” magazine. He noted that, while we live in a “Knowledge Worker Age,” our leadership models come from the controlling industrial age. The attitudes of “my way or the highway” and “they do what I say because I pay their salaries” are outdated and ineffective leadership models.

While most of us tend to think we are pretty savvy leaders, a recent Harris poll of 23,000 employees revealed some interesting statistics.

Only 37 percent of employees have a clear understanding of what their company is trying to achieve and why.

Only one in five employees was enthusiastic about their organization’s goals.

Only one in five employees said they have a clear “line of sight” between their jobs and the organization’s goals.

Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.

In dentistry, we typically work so closely with such a small staff that we tend to believe that these poll results could not possibly apply to our offices. The truth is, we could all improve our leadership by implementing a few easy actions.

Your first task as a leader is to make certain everyone understands what you are trying to accomplish. This is done by writing a vision and philosophy statement, and then sharing it with your staff. As a new dentist, private practice is an exciting change from dental school. However, you will quickly find that there are many repetitive tasks in a dental practice. If you do not have a strong vision, the repetitive tasks can become drudgery for both you and the staff.

Your second responsibility as a leader is to build enthusiasm for practice goals. There are several key steps to building enthusiasm and, fortunately, they are easy. Adjust your attitude first. Every day you walk into the office should be showtime! Your staff will be “infected” by your enthusiasm. Leave your troubles in the car and walk in the door every day with a smile on your face. Once everyone has a positive attitude, you continue to build enthusiasm by giving positive feedback. Spend some time every day looking for ways people are doing things right and recognize positive behaviors more frequently than you correct the negative. Finally, provide clear standards so the staff may objectively measure progress. This means you must quantify goals with numbers and always find ways to celebrate success.

Building trust is the most difficult and misunderstood step in leadership. The difficult part is walking your talk, but it is also rewarding. We emphasize cosmetic dentistry in my practice. In the 12 months after I had veneers placed on my teeth, we quadrupled the number of veneers we placed for patients. Walk your talk by consistently demonstrating the behaviors you want to see repeated by your staff. We misunderstand the process of trust when we believe we can never make mistakes. A simple verbal skill to help you build far more trust than you can ever imagine is, “When I (insert your own personal mistake here), I made a mistake. Now I need your help.” Trust doesn’t mean you have to be perfect; it means you must be caring and human.

My father taught me many enduring truths, but leadership is a field that is evolving as quickly as new dental materials. Taking at least one continuing-education course a year on leadership will pay huge dividends in your professional life.

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or email to drmike44@aol.com.

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