Lessons in Leadership and Communication Skills, Part II

by Dr. Damon Adams

One of the toughest lessons we learn in our personal relationships is that without meaningful dialogue and considerable effort they will not last. Professional relations between the doctor and technician are no exception. Things will and do go wrong. There is no escaping it! Unfortunately, our technicians can often end up on the phone with a very unpleasant earful over a technical matter or delivery problem that many times could have been avoided. Sometimes it may not have been avoidable or may have even been the fault of the caller. Perhaps an uncontrollable material problem like a bad batch of impression material went into the patient’s mouth undetected causing a distortion/fit problem. The scenarios are many.

In this second article dealing with choosing a quality dental laboratory, we will deal with the issues of professional leadership as they relate to sustaining a laboratory relationship. If we do not have a plan to deal with unexpected conflict that technical or service problems can bring to a team, we will soon have an end to the relationship. That comes with a big cost to all parties, in both profits and emotions.

The honeymoon begins

The doctor makes the final decision and chooses a high-end, quality laboratory. Fourteen cases go wonderfully, without a hitch! All the problems with inconsistency and lack luster service are gone! “I’m in heaven, I’m in heaven…” sings the unsuspecting, dental-technician-worshipping doctor who thinks she has found a new laboratory ‘marriage’ to die for. Why shouldn’t it be? After all, the laboratory was visited, a lengthy two-way interview between the laboratory owner and doctor was completed, practice vision and treatment philosophies were in sync, and all the planets were lined up on that decisive day! Perfect match! Right?

The honeymoon is over! Already?

(Scenario of the non-typical case)

Then case #15 comes back from the quality, high-end laboratory. The doctor opens the box with eager anticipation. She and her staff are salivating at what they see! Ten beautiful pressed ceramic crowns done with exquisite anatomy and esthetics. The shade is checked. A perfect 010! A veritable bargain from this wonderful laboratory at only US$245.00 per unit!

They take them to the patient treatment room where the patient is waiting for their US$9,800.00 smile to be bonded. They proudly show the now trembling patient. A rubber dam is placed and the crowns are carefully lined with transparent try-in paste. (Drum roll please.) The first one goes to place. Well, almost. ALMOST?!? The second one… (The pace picks up.) Oh, no! (Maybe we can make it fit!) And now the last one… the 10th (heavy breathing)? Shock! “What did my lab guy do to cause this?” is already running emotionally through the doctor’s head. Then the staff began to have similar thoughts. Negative thoughts. “High-end, quality lab? Sure!” The patient sinks in the chair and looks straight ahead with a glare. She had her own thoughts. “Guru cosmetic dentist. Right! This doctor probably uses one of those cheap off-shore labs,” she thinks angrily at the disappointment of yet another dental appointment needed to get what she came in for today!

Get the picture? This fictitious example may seem a bit silly, but we all know that it does not take much, nor does it take long, to really test a relationship. In fact, I have seen situations like this send a laboratory’s clients running, never to look back.

Yes. Things can and will go wrong!

Understanding this as a fact of life, as bitter as it may be to swallow, will help us when we are faced with the inevitable call from the laboratory asking for a new (undistorted) impression, re-preparation to fit the esthetic or functional needs outlined in our prescription, etc. There is no way anyone or any procedure can be totally perfect. Within the disciplines of laboratory technology and dentistry, it is known that fabricating restorations that exhibit excellent fit, function, and esthetics can be a highly stressful technical task. Esthetics, and even function to a lesser degree, can be quite subjective at times with beauty being determined in the eye of the beholder. The important thing to focus on is the leadership skills it takes to get the entire team through adversity and into a healthy balance between the perfection that is always our ultimate goal and clinical acceptability.

How we handle adversity is the sign of a true leader

When it hits, adversity tests our abilities as a leader in our business. Of course, the time we took to build a true relationship (or not) will come home to either haunt us, or help us, during the first cataclysmic event. Our handling of situation after situation will reflect onto the minds and potential actions of our dental team and our patients. It is the essence and heart of any successful relationship over time.

Remember that a dental technician will often respond to their doctor as their doctor acts towards them. (The Golden Rule applies.) Depending on how they are treated, or have been historically treated in the profession, they may be somewhat afraid to have meaningful dialogue with their doctors. I am talking about real, roll-up-your-sleeves and get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter dialogue. In my experience, they like objective, technical, problem solving dialogue that occurs without negative emotional baggage. Like us, they are problem solvers and they like to serve others. They welcome dialogue that is perceived to be on a level playing field giving them the respect they deserve in being fellow dental professionals.

Be a leader!

Almost without exception, dentists want to be respected, revered, and followed as leaders in their profession and communities. With this in mind, the following are the qualities found in a true professional leader. These are food for thought and can help guide us in the quest for great long-term relationships with our dental team, patients, or even our family.

A leader has:

* A defined vision,

* A business and personal philosophy that is specific and consistent,

* Strong relationships built through time on a shared vision,

* Character that reflects integrity, commitment, and self-discipline in all dealings,

* Communication skills that include charisma, focus (listening), and compassion,

* A positive mental attitude,

* Competence in any skills employed in serving others,

* A true sense of responsibility when things go right, when things go wrong,

* A balanced and healthy ego (self security) that can accept criticism as well as dispense criticism with grace and effectiveness,

* An ability to take the initiative when required and to follow when it is expedient to do so or in the best interest of others,

* Generosity and graciousness towards others,

* Courage to do and say what is necessary to result in a team success,

* A passion for people, work, and play,

* A realization that the ultimate achievement of success lies in providing service to others above service to self.


When problems arise, who is at fault can often be the emotional focus between a doctor and their laboratory technician, at least at the outset. Sometimes something that seems so grave at the chair tends to come into a more realistic focus if we just step away from it for a while. If it is not an emergency, it is best to wait before picking up the phone and immediately calling the laboratory technician about a problem. Take a breath! Allow some time to think about the situation and to cool down any initial, impulsive, possibly negative urges. Everyone will benefit from this more constructive and less stressful approac
h to solving a problem. Whether it is a technical or service issue, we need to objectively investigate what happened, why it happened, how to correct the problem, and how to prevent it in the future. The real quality of our relationships and professionalism is tested by how we handle the solution of problems. It is about the strength of our character and the depth of our leadership skills. Even in adversity and under considerable stress, it is our job as doctors to handle our staff and patients with professionalism and the respect they deserve. This includes our daily interactions with our dental technicians, our extended staff.

Dr. Damon Adams is from Traverse City, MI. He is an Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, at Medical College of Ohio. Dr. Adams is an internationally recognized speaker who has lectured and consulted for many dental organizations and laboratories. Dr. Adams is listed in Dentistry Today’s Leaders in Continuing Education. .damona11@hotmail.com