Management: Maximizing the potential of your practice through leadership

by Cathy Jameson, Ph.D.

In his book, The Way of the Leader, Donald G. Krause says, “Successful results are the foundation of leadership. Taking effective action is the basis for successful results.” In this same book, Krause says, “Organizations and nations prosper or decline based solely on the vision and capability of their leaders.”

No, you aren’t the leader of a great nation, or of a major company for that matter. But, strong leadership in a dental practice, I have found, separates the outstanding practice from the average.

Leadership is evident and vital to the lifeblood of the thriving practice of the new century and beyond. You may be managing your practice flawlessly, but without great leadership, your potential success is limited.

According to Stephen Covey in his outstanding book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, leadership must come before the management. Covey says, “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success. Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Leadership and your dental team should go hand in hand. My definition of a great team is: “A group of leaders tied together by a common sense of purpose and focused on the accomplishment of a definite set of goals.” It is a group of individuals that realize that “the sum of the whole is better than the individual parts.”

Think about that definition-a group of leaders tied together by a common sense of purpose and focused on a definite set of goals. Think of the energy and the productivity set forth by a group who truly epitomize that definition!

How can you develop and encourage this kind of leadership within your team? It takes a visionary leader to develop the leadership characteristics in others. Learning to identify the strengths of your team members, being courageous and confident enough to acknowledge and reinforce those strengths may be the greatest factor in becoming an outstanding leader.

There are certain “threads”, or characteristics, that define an outstanding leader. Let’s look at these characteristics. Survey your own leadership style and see if you can honestly say you personify these characteristics or if you need to work on their development. Ask yourself if your team members epitomize these characteristics or if continued education and development in this area need attention.

An outstanding leader:

— Has a sense of purpose/mission;

— Pursues a clear, definite set of goals;

— Finds joy and satisfaction working in the service of others;

— Strives for excellence in everything;

— Nurtures the potential of all members of his/her team;

— Is results-focused rather than activity-oriented;

— Commits to establishing and maintaining open lines of communication;

— Has a sense of ownership in the organization and carries out his or her tasks with pride and responsibility.

Let’s look closer at each of these facets of an outstanding leader.

An outstanding leader has a clear vision of the mission that he/she is about. This person knows there is a purpose to be served by the work, the people, and the services being rendered. As I mentioned earlier, a great team is one that has this common sense of purpose. You will rarely find success or fulfillment in managing your business if you do not have a vision of what you are working toward. A great leader sees this and strives toward his/her mission or vision and every decision made is based on this vision.

An outstanding leader is goal-oriented. Their goals are clear and definite and go hand-in-hand with their overall mission/purpose. Having a specific process of goal accomplishment in place in your practice will increase the productivity of the individual members of the team, increase the overall productivity of the practice, provide time management, motivate members of the team, and is fun. Through goal-setting, you will find yourself concentrating on the priority areas in your life and growing both personally and professionally. Become a team of leaders focused on a definite set of goals. Watch the practice thrive.

An outstanding leader finds personal and professional fulfillment by serving others. Joy and satisfaction result from providing this service. No doubt, if you did not thoroughly enjoy being a healthcare provider, you would not be in the profession of dentistry. I have never been surrounded by a group of professionals more committed to patients, to each other, and to providing excellent service. In spite of the negative media that our profession receives, there is not a more ethical, sensitive group of professionals, in my opinion. (Without a doubt, you do, indeed, find joy and satisfaction in serving others.)

An outstanding leader does what he/she does with excellence every time. It has been said, “If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing excellently.” Good advice from wise advisors. In his book, Krause says, “An effective leader does not seek recognition, he seeks the opportunity to provide better service.”

Most often, taking even the smallest of shortcuts will result in inappropriate results. The last thing you want to do is to have to go back and “redo” anything because it was not done right the first time. Of course, there is no such thing as perfection. Perfectionism can be an extremely stressful “requirement” you put on yourself. Be ever aware of the fact that there is no such thing as perfect. However, as you have long been instructed by the outstanding leaders of our profession, strive for excellence in all that you do. This, of course, applies to both the clinical area and the business area. If the systems of your practice are working against you and are not “clean”, do something about that-NOW!! One of the most stressful things about a dental office is a lack of systems. Put monitors in place so everyone can continually monitor the health and well-being of those systems. Then, be consistent. Consistency, consistency, consistency.

In addition, as you evaluate all the systems-both clinical and managerial-in your practice, ask yourself, “Is any one system putting one person on the team against the other?” If the answer is “yes,” then either change or eliminate that system. A system must never put one person against the other.

An outstanding leader believes in the people within his/her organization and, because of this belief, is willing and able to delegate responsibility effectively to those people. The key word here is “belief.” Developing belief in another person means that you see the talents within that person, and your goal is to help maximize those talents. By building on the strengths of the individual members of the team, the strength will penetrate the organization. Assign responsibility, provide the proper training and resources, and then, let go.

Many people short-change their leadership opportunities because they cannot “let go.” They are stuck on the idea that “if you want something done and done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” This attitude is detrimental to the leader, the team member and to the team as a whole.

People WANT more responsibilities. People WANT challenges. Without new opportunities and challenges, team members are likely to become bored. Boredom will create job dissatisfaction, dropout, low productivity and discontent.

As a leader and a businessperson interested in growing your practice, if you work at developing the talents of the members of your team and put faith in their abilities, you will ultimately come out a winner. You will have a team that gives more to their positions and to the practice, you will have increased output resulting in increased productivity, and you will keep members of your team for longer periods of time.

An outstanding leader is results-focused rather than activity-oriented. This means that the outstanding leader defines what he/she wants to accomplish, gives proper direction, and then allows the members of the organization to do what needs to be done to accomplish those results.

So many people get “stuck” on the little things that do not really make a big difference in the practice. They focus on the day-to-day activities to the point that creativity is hindered and end results are not achieved. A great leader never loses sight of the big picture. They make sure their ladder of success is always “leaning against the right wall.”

Phenomenal basketball player, Michael Jordan, had this to say when discussing his goals and accomplishments: “I approached it with the end in mind. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there. As I reached those goals, they built on one another. I gained a little confidence every time I came through.” Focus like this has brought Jordan, and many great leaders before him, true success and incredible accomplishments.

An outstanding leader commits to practicing good communication skills. Even though most people agree that communication is the bottom line of success, very few people undertake an active study of the communication skills. Communication is often taken for granted. Many people believe that being a good communicator is something you are born with. No, it’s not. Communication is a skill, and because it is a skill, it can be studied and learned.

The success of your relationships, the success of your practice, and the success of your career balance on your ability to communicate. An outstanding leader realizes this and is committed to establishing and maintaining open lines of communication, both personally and professionally. He/she makes sure that continued education in the area of communication is a part of the practice curriculum. Improved communication not only enhances relationships of team members, it also enhances relationships with patients. Indeed, great communication does equal great production.

An outstanding leader carries a strong sense of “ownership” of the practice, of the responsibilities of the position and of the end results of the efforts put forth. In other words, a leader walks into the place as if he/she owns it. Having this sense of ownership gives a person the initiative and the drive to get in there and do something if an opportunity is available or if a problem needs attention.

It is this leadership characteristic that ties all of the others together. It means that no one needs to say “do this” or “do that.” If something needs to be done, this person takes the first step and makes sure the project gets done. Dr. Ken Blanchard says, “You never hear ‘That’s not my job’ on a high performing team.”

In his book, Believe and Achieve, Samuel Cypert helps describe this characteristic of a leader by saying that leaders with the quality of a sense of co-ownership are those who “take the initiative, who assume leadership roles, who volunteer for difficult or unpopular assignments because they know someone has to do it. They have the confidence in themselves that they will get the job done right, on time, and on budget. And they usually do.”

In Summary

Do you personify these characteristics? Whether you think you have them or not, chances are you do. The key is discovering them and using them. Stretch yourself and your abilities for the betterment of your team and your practice, and you will see the success of your business grow right before your eyes.

Cathy Jameson is president of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental lecture and consulting firm. She holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology.