What Does Practice Leadership Look Like During COVID-19?

by Lou Shuman, DMD, CAGS, CEO and Founder of Cellerant Consulting

The Oral Health Group has a fantastic resource on its site, curating several helpful news items and “what-comes-next” features all related to COVID-19. A number of the headlines reflect both frustration about the lack of clear reopening guidelines in different areas, as well as anxiety about the cost of reopening before patient capacity is back to pre-COVID numbers. There are so many individuals and institutions trying to make the right decision in an uncertain time that it can beg the question, “Who is really in charge?”

I would challenge you to, for a moment, shift focus from the many things outside of your control and instead think about your role as the practice leader. What can you learn from your own frustrations with those “in charge” that can shape how you lead your team and extend a sense of calm, empathy and competence to your patients?

How do we define safe?
It is crucial to remember that the data points and trends necessary to validate the decision to reopen are very different from what it takes to make your team and your patients feel “safe” to come back. This is something you need to acknowledge and make a point of addressing.

With your team, this may mean setting up a conference call – phone is fine but ideally over video so that you can “look them in the eye” – to reaffirm your commitment to them as not only employees, but as people with families and valued members of the community. You should listen to their fears about job security and safety after reopening. If you have a timeline with specific steps you are taking to protect them and patients, share that. If you do not have that yet, you can say that hearing their concerns was a necessary first step in the process. Then follow-up.

With patients, it is important to remember that they are more than just customers waiting in the wings. In crafting an email to them, you want to emphasize your commitment to health – general health first and foremost, and oral health, specifically. It is a chance to reaffirm that you will follow guidelines on when and how to reopen, but they are the last word in what is required to “go back to normal.” You can outline the steps you are taking to keep them and your staff safe and invite patients to reach out with specific questions. Do not make any promises you can’t keep or share dates that aren’t set.

It is okay to admit that no one knows what the new normal will look like. Your role as a leader is not to predict the future, but to be a trusted partner in navigating uncertainty.

“I just watched my 40th webinar on how to be safe”
With so much uncertainty, all sorts of people are trying to fill the void of information and instructions. It is important that you use deductive reasoning to assess which “experts” are worth listening to, and break through the noise to recognize those individuals and organizations that are truly looking to guide you through scientific evidence.

As the leader of your practice, you are setting the tone, crafting the plan and assessing the facts. Keep the focus on your people – staff and patients – and be a person who they can trust to move forward responsibly.

Leadership, communication, and being a great listener are the traits your team, your patients and your community will appreciate now more than ever.

As I stare out my window in thought, most importantly, I wish you all to be well and be safe.

To view more COVID-19 content as it pertains to the dental profession, please click here.