Building a Healthy DSO Work Culture Through Leadership Development  

by Dr. Efrain Coronado


In the wake of the pandemic’s worst days and as worker burnout continues to impact the healthcare space, employee retention and turnover in dental service organizations (DSOs) and group practices remains a significant challenge. To ensure that its leadership team is doing all it can to maintain a thriving work environment for its staff and optimizing outcomes for patients, it’s critical that DSOs strive to create the best work culture possible.   

Prioritizing the retention of dental professionals goes beyond having competitive benefits and salary, cultivating a dynamic working environment, employing cutting-edge technology, and promoting better morale through workshops, attending conferences, and hosting retreats. Developing leadership and increasing the quality of interpersonal relationships in the workplace is critical to creating the most positive identity possible for a DSO.  

To contend with employee dissatisfaction and high turnover, DSOs that focus on developing leadership skills in their dental professionals can reap a range of benefits within their organization. Beyond the C-suite, there are many positions within the dental ecosystem that can contribute to a practice’s success by taking on a leadership role. These include regional directors, local directors, office managers and dentists.  

Acting on Feedback to Gain Trust and Foster Loyalty 

Depending on the people who are in charge, the working culture within a dental practice, and in any organization, is directly impacted by its leaders, both negatively and positively. Leaders who regularly engage in person with team members, and act upon the feedback they receive, will position themselves and their teams for success. When employees feel that they are being listened to over time, leadership gains their trust and fosters loyalty.  

By focusing on skills such as interacting and communicating with superiors, peers, subordinates and patients, individuals can develop leadership traits that will help take their practice to a higher level. By taking on new challenges, beyond simply focusing on the responsibilities of their day-to-day jobs, dental professionals can learn – on the job – how to be a better leader.  

Developing leadership and increasing the quality of interpersonal relationships in the workplace is critical to creating a DSO’s identity. Effective leadership requires a wide range of skills, experience and, in many cases, intangible, innate qualities that go beyond one’s education and background.  

Let’s focus on two themes – embracing friction as well as restraint and reflection.    

Embracing Friction 

Renowned cognitive-behavioral psychiatrist Dr. Kevin Majeres has spent years studying the effects of how people react to conflict and tense situations. His findings show that the more a person is inclined to ignore or retreat from conflict with others, the more likely they will increase their feelings of anxiety the next time they are faced with a similar situation. Conversely, people who deal with conflict head-on are less likely to experience anxiety the next time someone confronts them.  

The lesson that can be taken from Dr. Majeres’ findings is that a characteristic of good leadership can be found in those who are willing to deal with a challenging situation directly, regardless of how it makes them feel. By approaching confrontation with calmness and understanding, good leaders have the ability to increase the morale of those around them and create a healthier work environment. 

One of the hallmarks of a great leader is someone who maintains self-control in difficult situations. This, in turn, can help create a workplace that others will not want to walk away from. 

Restraint and Reflection 

Sometimes, those in a leadership position may fall into the trap of wanting to rectify a situation the moment a conflict arises. This can often lead to making a rash decision or, even worse, resorting to making demands, yelling, or storming out of a room. By avoiding the pitfall of reacting impulsively, good leaders will call to mind two words – restraint and reflection.  

When it comes to dealing with team members as well as patients, it’s critical to allow time for thought, to formulate the best decisions possible, and to give tempers a chance to cool off. In times of great pressure, Abraham Lincoln was reported to have written letters to commanding officers of the Union while he was still in a mindset clouded by intense stress. However, he would not actually send the notes.  

After a period of restraint and reflection to analyze the situation, Lincoln would tear up the letters, write new ones and send them.    

It’s important to glean from this lesson that to cultivate a winning team, DSO leaders that engage in behaviors that benefit the whole – and not just the individual – is essential to effecting real change. And it’s also important to remember that the process takes time. By methodically identifying what the core issues are, leaders can take the necessary steps to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of results.  

As a leader looks inward and works to understand how others see the way they talk, interact, and respond to those around them, that is when the creation of a healthy organizational culture begins.  

About the Author

Dr. Coronado has 21 years of experience practicing all facets of general dentistry and collaborating with specialists to deliver the best possible results. He brings experience, passion and compassionate care to all of his patients. In 2009, he founded Missions of Love, a humanitarian mission that provides free dental and medical services to those who are most in need in Colombia. Missions of Love also provides technical training, recreation and more. This year, Dr. Coronado obtained his master’s degree in theology, which he pursued for personal growth. In his free time, he enjoys tennis, soccer and traveling. He and his wife, Estefania, are happily married with four children: Natasha, Julian, Samuel and Victoria.

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