12 Tips for Being a Better Leader

by Roger P. Levin, DDS

Leadership is often the quality that separates the great practices from the good ones. Due to the demands placed on the dentist, it can be difficult leading a practice to the highest levels of success. Based on 21 years of consulting to dentists and specialists, Levin Group has found that the right training can help practitioners become better leaders. By enhancing your leadership skills, you can help take your practice to the next level.

Management guru Peter F. Drucker once said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” These 12 tips on leadership can help you achieve greater success:

1. Create a vision

Vision is not about where you are, but where you are going. As the practice owner and leader, you must define the vision for the practice. Not only will this help the practice set goals, but it also allows the staff to know where they are going and commit to the practice’s future success.

The practice vision should be put into a vision statement — usually three or four sentences that describe where the practice is headed in the next 3-5 years.

2. Share the vision

Leadership is the ability to motivate others in the pursuit of a shared vision. The key word is shared.

Once the vision statement has been created, it must be shared routinely with the dental team. Read the vision statement at the beginning of monthly staff meetings to help the team members focus on what they are trying to achieve in the long term. Post the vision statement in employee-only areas.

3. Communicate effectively

To build a strong team and reduce stress, you must be able to effectively communicate to team members. Use structured formats such as morning and staff meetings to reinforce the practice vision and goals, educate team members about new services, and seek feedback on solutions to challenges.

However, important communication should not only be limited to meetings. Throughout the day, you have opportunities to coach team members, respond to questions and concerns, and motivate the team. You should provide positive feedback to team members on a daily basis to validate excellent performance and to encourage improvement when they under-perform.

4. Set clear goals

To achieve the practice vision, you must translate it into weekly, monthly and annual goals.

Goals should be written down, have a deadline, and be measurable. Goal setting keeps everyone focused on the same objectives. At monthly staff meetings, you and the team should review the goals, discuss any current challenges, and review progress toward achieving the goals. If the practice is experiencing challenges, evaluate the issues, seek input from the team, and devise strategies to overcome those challenges and achieve your goals.

5. Implement documented systems

Documented systems can reduce unnecessary stress and allow dentists to focus on providing exceptional patient care–not administrative matters. A goal in establishing documented systems is to create the highest possible levels of efficiency. Without step-by-step systems in place, practices will find it difficult to build a strong team. Documented business systems allow the office to bring new team members into the practice and train them faster and more effectively. Creating step-by-step guidelines for every operation in the practice is critical to success.

6. Train team members

No leader ever accomplishes the vision alone, and it is only through the hard work and commitment of your team that you can achieve your practice vision. Team members should be trained to run the office while the dentist focuses on providing patient care. This ideal situation can occur only through extensive training of the team.

Levin Group recommends writing out systems in a step-by-step manner as one of the best ways to train the dental team. This standardized approach benefits new team members, especially those without an extensive dental background. It also establishes a level of responsibility and accountability when combined with job descriptions for each team position.

Training your staff is not something that can be effectively accomplished in the 10 to 20 minutes dentists may have between patient appointments. To ensure that team members fully understand their roles, time must be set aside away from patients, and maybe even outside the office in some cases, so that the proper focus and concentration can be achieved. Morning meetings and monthly staff meetings are good opportunities for the doctor to provide more focused training.

7. Motivate others

A good leader motivates others. There are many different types of leadership styles-driven, supportive, energetic and low-key, among others. Whatever their management style, good leaders find creative ways to motivate their team members.

One way to motivate people for the long-term is to set up data-driven systems that allow team members to excel in their performance. The right systems help staff members to operate at their maximum potential.

Another strategy to motivate staff members is to implement a bonus program. The incentive should be good for both the practice and the individual. A clearly defined bonus program that rewards team members for meeting or exceeding practice goals allows everyone in the organization the opportunity to improve.

8. Promote excellence

You should have high expectations and challenge your team to reach their potential. Think about your own experience. Have you ever been to a course or seminar when the teacher or speaker really motivated you? You knew that when you walked out of that program that you were going to be a little bit better in some way. A spark had been ignited, and you were ready to raise the bar on your performance. As the practice leader, you have to provide that spark.

Provide small and large challenges for your team. This allows those individuals to think through problems, grow and mature, and begin to excel in their jobs. Your team will be better for it-and so will your practice.

9. Coach your team

Coaching helps your team reach its potential. Effective and responsible leadership focuses on positive, specific and practical feedback that helps team members learn, grow and excel at their duties.

Coaching encompasses a variety of techniques including informal feedback during the workday, formal performance reviews, one-to-one meetings with team members, and regular staff meetings. Coaching is an ongoing process for every leader.

10. Delegate

To lead your staff to the highest levels of practice success, you should delegate more and more responsibilities to your team. Delegation allows you to effectively work through others. A good way to evaluate what to delegate to staff members is to make a list of all of the legal requirements that pertain to the dentist. Everything else should be assigned to a team member, so that you can focus on patient care. Levin Group recommends dentists spend 95% of their time chair-side. This is where you are most productive and effective.

Delegation can only be achieved if step-by-step systems have been put in place. Maximizing your staff’s talents and skills through delegation results in greater job satisfaction and enrichment for the team. Most staff members want to perform a variety of duties, tasks and responsibilities that allow them to develop their potential. Proper delegation provides one of the best opportunities for job enrichment, which will help decrease stress and burnout.

11. Treat your team incredibly well

Recognition, respect, flexibility and constant appreciation of your team are the hallmarks of an excellent leader. The longer you can retain a quality team, the less time and money that you will have to spend searching for new employees. For example, it takes approximately six months
for an employee with no dental background to gain an overall understanding of the dental practice. Unfortunately, at this point, many individuals opt to leave the practice because they become frustrated not knowing exactly what is expected of them. This costly turnover can be avoided by training, an inclusive work environment and strong leadership.

12. Lead by example

The best way to earn the team’s respect is to “walk the talk.” Remember, the team is always watching the dentist. The way you behave will have a significant effect on how the team acts. If you come in late two or three times a week, you can’t expect your staff to arrive on time. Your team is looking to you for leadership guidance, and the best strategy is to lead by example.


Taking the practice to new heights requires strong leadership and a quality team. These 12 tips can help you improve your leadership and team-building skills. An excellent team can drive superior performance and help you reach the highest levels of success.

For a no-cost analysis of your leadership skills, call 888-973-0000 or e-mail your name, address and phone number to customerservice@levin group.com with “Leadership” in the subject line.