Management: Seven Deadly Leadership Sins

by Steve Anderson and Walter Hailey

Let’s face it. If you’ve been in dentistry for any length of time you have realized that your success rises or falls based on the quality of your team. If you don’t believe that, consider the following:

1. Team members have three to four times more contacts with patients than the dentist does.

2. The team creates the lasting first impression of the office.

3. The team creates the last impression of the office as the patient leaves.

4. The team handles the most sensitive issue that patients are most concerned about in dentistry–how much it is going to cost and how they are going to be able to pay for it.

5. Team members are the first ones that patients turn to with questions about treatment. Patients may nod approvingly to the doctor, but once out of sight, they immediately turn to the closest team member and ask, “What did he say?”

6. Patients believe more about what the team members say about the doctor than what the doctor says about him/herself.

7. Patient loyalty is directly connected to team loyalty. The more turnover in dental team members, the more turnover there is likely to be in the patient base.

The greatest investment you will ever make in your practice will be the investment you make in your team. And by the way, it is better to refer to your employees as a dental team, not a staff. The former sounds like a smooth-working, dedicated group of helpers and the latter sounds like an infection!

Whether you play the role of team captain, coach, or team member in the office, there are some basic rules to follow that will create the best environment in which a team can succeed. The best way to relate to the rules is to be aware of the sins that make them necessary.

SIN #1: No vision. Most dental teams get their motivation and enthusiasm from hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope that the problems of today are being and will be addressed to reach a more ideal situation tomorrow. Hope that their own personal situation will improve. But without a clear vision, most are left to themselves to try and figure it out. With no clarity there is confusion.

Suzanne Black, the lead Coach of the Dental Boot Kamp Coaching Program, says that clarity creates velocity. If you want to fast forward the progress in your practice, make it clear with your team where the practice is going:

t Where would you like to see the practice in 1, 2, 5 years?

t How would you like things to be different?

t What type of patient would you like to see more than other types?

t What type of dentistry would you like to do more of?

t How many days a year would you really like to work?

SIN #2: No accountability. We hear this all the time from team members all over Canada: “We talk about the same problems over and over and nothing ever changes.” Why don’t things change? The reason is that there is no change agent. Talking about a problem never solves the problem. Even talking about the solution doesn’t solve the problem. It is not until a definitive solution is reached and someone is given the specific assignment to carry out the decision that problems are solved and progress is made. Every great team has regular team meetings. Can you imagine a championship hockey team that never had meetings where the coach could discuss strategy, execution and goals?

SIN #3: No recognition. This ranks as the biggest complaint team members have about their dentist. All team members want to know how they are doing from the boss’s perspective.

This produces emotional security, which is the number one thing women say they want most in a job. Since women make up the vast majority of team members in dentistry, it might be well to know how to give them the things they look for most in a great place to work. It might be just a kind word, a short note, or a quick thank you. These are the amazing things that create loyalty and harmony in any team.

SIN #4: Too much control. In the quiet moments that we have with teams in the absence of their doctor, the true confessions come out fast. We frequently ask teams, “What would you most like to change about your office?”

One of the most common responses we hear is, “We just wish the doctor would get out of the way and let us do what we know how to do. We could be so much more effective and productive if he would just let go.”

Being consummate perfectionists, most dentists think they have to manage and look over every detail in the office with as much attention as they give to doing a crown prep. But principles that apply to clinical dentistry do not necessarily translate into management practices. With the right vision in place and accountabilities clearly defined, the moment you “let go” and let everyone do what they do best, you’ll see results soar.

If you don’t feel as if you can do this, then you might want to consider why you have hired the particular team members you have in the first place. If you can’t turn over responsibility to them with the corresponding accountability, it may be time to start looking in the mirror. Is the problem with them or with you? A leader who cannot delegate effectively will eventually suffer the consequences of frustration, turnover, and burnout.

SIN #5: No open ears. In a recent survey of loyal team members who had been with the same office for 10 years or more, one of the consistent factors they said contributed to their longevity was the feeling they had that the leader in the practice listened to them and that their opinions mattered.

We all want to be heard. Just try it sometime. If you want to really get a negative reaction from people, just ignore them. It is the most offensive thing you can do to another person. Even so, team members are ignored every day by dentists who are convinced they are too busy to stop and listen, or who never acknowledge a voiced concern.

SIN #6: Gossip. It crops up everywhere unless you have a way to control it. It can tear an office apart. Accusations, rumors, and hurt feelings are everywhere because of rampant gossip. It is human nature to do it, but it can kill a team.

Fortunately the solution is easy. Sit down with your team and establish a new office rule: Everyone agrees to take all problems back to the source. If you have a problem with another person, it is your responsibility to go to that person and get it resolved. You do not have permission to discuss that problem with anyone else in the office except the other person involved.

Here’s the insurance policy that will encourage everyone to do as agreed. Present to your team a vital verbal skill that they can use in those situations where someone in the office slips up and forgets the “no gossip” rule. All they have to do when someone comes to them with something really juicy about someone else in the office is to ask, “Have you talked to them about this?”

It is a courteous way to immediately stop them cold in their tracks. Clarity with your team on this issue and how to handle it will immediately change behavior. Just do it.

SIN #7: Bad attitudes. In case you haven’t discovered it, it is a lot easier to hire people with a great attitude and train them in the technical skills they will need than it is to hire for technical skill and try to train a great attitude.

But in case you have some overdue attitude challenges on your team, step one is again to clarify what you expect. Convey your vision for the type of office environment you want to have. Define it and communicate it. Tell what type of attitude you expect from your team. Be sure that you, the counselor, exemplify that type of attitude. All good leaders know that they can never reasonably ask their team to do anything they are not willing to do themselves. Lead by example and then ask them to follow accordingly.

The duct tape solution: As a gentle reminder of the importance of attitude, we have offices all over Canada that have put a long strip of duct tape across the threshold of the back door or the break room of the office where every team member crosses each day. On that piece of duct tape (a material that is famous for fast repair work) is a gentle reminder like: “Smile, Ready, Action,” “You’re on stage,” or “Your attitude is showing.” These are all reminders of the type of attitude that all of the team members in the office have committed to when they come to work every day.

So how did you do? How did you rate in each of these areas? Sit down with your team and discuss each of the above mistakes in detail and make changes where necessary. Ask your team how you are doing in each area. Where could you improve? Where could you all improve? When you open up and get real, your team will follow.

Walter Hailey and Steve Anderson are the founders of Dental Boot Kamp — dentistry’s leading case acceptance resource. They are the authors of four books and over a dozen audio and video programs on case acceptance, teamwork and practice marketing.