Serious mistakes leaders make

It is true that mistakes provide the grounds for sound learning. However, it is still better if you can learn from the experience of others and not make critical mistakes to begin with – especially when their impact is detrimental to the success of your practice. Misunderstanding leadership is one of those big mistakes that can easily be avoided with a little guidance.

So what do we strive for when we talk about leadership? My favourite definition is: ‘Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he/she wants to do it.’

Leaders help themselves and others to do the right things. They set direction, build an inspiring vision and create something new. Leadership is about mapping out where you need to go to ‘win’ as a team or an organisation; and it should be dynamic, exciting and inspiring.

However, there are some common mistakes that I see being repeatedly made. The following are, in my experience, five of the biggest leadership mistakes.

1. Misunderstanding motivation

When this happens, many practice owners get hallowed into team bonding exercises and treats. They think that if they can get the team doing a fun activity, then it will create a single combined cohesively working unit. This cannot be further from the truth.

Other dentists think that successful leadership is all about financially rewarding their team alone. When practice owners develop this mindset, then every decision thereafter becomes focused on money, for both the practice principal and the team. This can work for a short while, but it can also create longstanding disruption in how your team perceives you or how willing they eventually become to follow you. Crack the whip too often and you will get frustrated as to why everyone else isn’t as motivated.

So do you know what truly motivates your team? Here’s a hint: chances are, it’s not just money! Many leaders make the mistake of assuming that their team is only working for monetary reward. However, it’s unlikely that this will be the only thing that motivates them. For some it might be work/life balance for others it might be appreciation. 

Leadership tip: the key is to figure out what truly motivates individual team members by taking the time to understand their personal goals and aspirations.

2. Confusing micro-management

One of your team has just completed an important project you set them. The problem is that she misunderstood the project’s specification and your expectations, and you didn’t stay in touch with her as she was working on it. Now, she has completed the project in the wrong way, and you’re faced with more resource allocation and perhaps more expense.

Micromanagement is like a dirty word to some leaders, but too much macromangement with no micromanagement is not good for the business either. Hence, it is critical that some of the most important projects, especially those that have a direct impact on your bottom line, are somewhat micromanaged by the leader. This can be done by clarity of your expectations. However, micromanagement is exactly that, managing the small stuff that makes a big impact. It does not mean doing micro-work.

Also, do not confuse micromanagement with delegation. Some managers don’t delegate, because they feel that no one, apart from themselves, can do key jobs properly. This can cause huge problems as work bottlenecks around them and they become stressed and burned out. Delegation does take a lot of effort up-front, and it can be hard to trust your team to do the work correctly. But unless you delegate tasks, you’re never going to have time to focus on the ‘broader-view’ that most leaders and managers are responsible for. What’s more, you’ll fail to develop your people so that they can take the pressure off you.

Leadership tip: work on your business via macromanagement but don’t forget the small stuff that often creates the biggest impact on your business.

3. Having no direction

If the practice owner doesn’t know where he/she intends to steer the practice, then there is little chance that the team will know or understand. Also, even if there is a vision, often it is more a dream and the person doesn’t believe in it wholeheartedly. When this happens the vision is merely a point on a wish list. It then becomes difficult to turn it into a reality. 

Therefore you need to define goals for the entire team. When your people don’t have clear goals, they muddle through their day. They can’t be productive if they have no idea what they’re working for or towards. They also can’t prioritise their workload effectively, meaning that projects and tasks get completed in the wrong priority order.

Leadership tip: review your vision, mission and goals with your team on a regular basis to stay on track.

4. Selling without leadership

Thinking that it is possible to get a ‘yes’ from patients for large, high-value, comprehensive cases without true leadership can lead to frustration. This is because higher value treatment plans often require more teamwork and greater cohesive efforts in order to deliver more value to the patient. Also, higher value comprehensive cases are often more complex than simpler cases and thus better communication and cooperation is required amongst the entire team. Thus, high value case acceptances require effective and efficient leadership from both practice managers and principal dentists.

Leadership tip: team preparation via morning and weekly meetings can gear up the entire team to execute a flawless case acceptance process. Also, enhanced communication skills within the team can help to gain greater case acceptances.

5. Thinking that your team will follow you just because you are the boss

It is important to be seen in the business interacting with your team. When you’re a manager or leader it’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own workload that you don’t make yourself available to your team. You may have very important work that needs to be done, but your team must come first. If you are not available when they need you, your team won’t know what to do and they won’t have the support and guidance that they need to meet their objectives.

Management via ‘walking the floor’ is a great way to be involved in your practice. This is when you walk around the practice whenever you can (taking notes of how to improve the practice) and talk to team members to make sure that they understand their roles fully. This interaction can help your team feel that you are available to them and foster creativity.

Leadership tip: it only takes about five minutes a day to ‘walk the floor’. Nurture innovative ideas, practise humility and take the time to listen to your team. You never know where the next creative idea can come from and every business needs to think outside the box.

It’s true that making a mistake can be a learning opportunity. But, taking the time to learn how to recognise and avoid common mistakes can help you become productive, successful and highly respected by your team. 

Dr Bhavna Doshi is managing director of Dental Wealth Builder (DWB), which primarily focuses on practice profitability and growth solutions in dentistry. She coaches on: entrepreneurship, practice success, leadership, marketing, gaining comprehensive case acceptances and communication skills. Bhavna is also business director of The Perfect Smile Advanced Training Institute, which provides training in comprehensive interdisciplinary dentistry including smile design, occlusion and full mouth rehabilitation via a seven-day hands-on course. For more information please go to

Become a Dentistry Online member

Become a member
Add to calendar