All About Leadership

by Lisa Philp, RDH CMC

dental leadership

Leadership is an invisible strand as mysterious as it is powerful… It pulls, and it bonds. It is a catalyst that creates unity out of disorder. Yet, it defies the definition. No combination of talents can guarantee it. No process or training can create it where the spark does not exist. The qualities of leadership are universal. You can find them in the poor and the rich, the humble and the proud, and the common person and the brilliant thinker. They are qualities that suggest paradox rather than pattern, and wherever you find them, leadership makes things happen. Leadership’s imperative is a ‘sense of rightness,’ knowing when to advance and when to pause, when to criticize and when to praise, and how to encourage others to excel. Their followers draw strength from the leader’s reserves of energy and optimism. In their determination and self-confidence, they find inspiration”. Marie Marquies du Deffond 

Ever wonder what it takes to make it to the peak in dentistry? To be one of those dental hygienists who has it all – high performing team, financial freedom, solid patient relationships, an exciting career and boundless enthusiasm and energy? Our experience coaching hundreds of dental teams shows that the above-mentioned scenario is achievable. We have derived these strategies from the belief that dentistry demands leadership as an owner and high performance of the dental team to access their full potential. 

It all starts at the top is not a cliché. The challenge practice owners have is that not only do they take on being the owner, financial manager, and human resource expert, they have to be with patients doing dentistry daily as the primary revenue producer. 

The need for the owner to be a strong leader and build a high-performing team is what builds successful practices across this continent. As a rule, success does not happen accidentally or because of luck. It takes solid leadership ability in personal development, the ability to build a high-performing team, communication skills, effective problem-solving ability and systems. It combines the right moves, the proper training, the right timing, and, most importantly, the right attitude. 

Changes in dentistry are happening faster than most people can keep up with. New procedures, products, technology and management philosophies are a few of the changes we see daily within the dental industry. Never before have more businesses seen changes in every aspect of what they do and how they do it. These changes are going to require strong leadership skills. Without effective leadership, change rarely happens. 

Many dental practices get “stuck” doing things the old way because it is comfortable. 

We must respect ourselves by being willing to look at our many abilities rather than fixate on one or two parts of who we think we are. Successful leaders can appreciate the diversity within themselves and others. For example, the coach of a championship team gets the best from players by placing them in different positions to assess their potential rather than insisting they always play the role for which they were hired. When we are willing to look again, we extend respect. This allows us to stay open and flexible toward others and ourselves. 

An interesting aspect of trust is that people with the highest self-esteem find it easier to trust others. When a person is confident in their abilities, the fear of trusting others diminishes. When you have high self-esteem, you are more likely to share problems or feelings with a friend or companion. On the other hand, if your self-esteem is fragile, you will worry about what others think of you and keep problems and feelings to yourself. 

The self-empowered person finds it easier to trust because their self-esteem and confidence do not depend upon the approval of others. Therefore, one benefit of building your self-esteem is that you will increase your ability to trust and empower others. 

The dental leader has many demands and must wear many different “hats:” Owner, Team Leader, Operational Director, Technical Service Provider and the main Revenue Generator. Assessing your leadership style and how it sets the stage for the culture and climate gives you freedom from having to do it all. Creating and building a cohesive team with a standard set of values, purpose and vision is significantly and directly related to the practice’s overall health. 

Dr. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee identified six emotional leadership styles in their book “Primal Leadership.” They found that different leadership styles can directly impact team behaviours and the culture of the work environment. They also discovered that leaders with the most success were the ones who didn’t depend on just one style but were able to adjust the style based on the business situation. Which one are you? 


Leadership demands immediate compliance and operates from a “do what I tell you” mode. This style can be detrimental to morale and should only be used in a crisis when there are problem employees or desperate change is needed. 


Leadership operates from a “come with me” mode. This style has the most positive impact on a work environment. It mobilizes people toward a vision and is most effective when creating a shared vision. 


A leader creates emotional bonds and harmony with a “people come first” philosophy. It is best used to heal team rifts and motivate during stressful situations. 


Leadership builds consensus through participation by taking a “What do you think?” approach. Best used when one needs input from a skilled team. This can have a negative effect when overused with a team that wants the leader to know the answers. 

Pace Setting 

Leadership expects excellence and self-direction and has an attitude of “do as I do.” It can hurt team morale and can burn out people quickly. Best used just when dealing with a need for quick results from a highly competent team.  


Leadership employs a “Try This” attitude and will positively impact building people for the future, developing a person’s strengths. Many dentists say they don’t have the time in this high-pressure environment for the slow and tedious work of teaching people and helping them grow. Leaders who ignore this style are passing up a powerful tool and its positive impact on performance. 

The most positive style as far as impact on the success of a business is the Visionary Leadership style. The other positive styles depending on the situation, are Affiliative, Coaching and Democratic. The key to effective leadership is to understand your dominant style and how it serves your purpose and then look at which other styles would be worth learning based on your situation.

About the Author

Lisa Philp RDH, is the Chief Visionary Officer and founder of TGNA: Transitions Group North America; a full-service coaching company for dentistry. Her career began in clinical hygiene, however she quickly transitioned into a world class coach; creating a periodontal disease management program, in which she coached thousands of dental professionals. Lisa is an industry leader, author, consultant, coach and speaker. Through Lisa’s leadership, TGNA has developed into one of dentistry’s premier full-service practice development companies.