Lighting the way

tunnel smallCan your team rely on you in times of darkness? Laura Horton explains how effective leadership can act as a guiding light

Some say leadership is in your bones – you either have it or you don’t. I firmly believe leadership is a skill that needs working on frequently.  Skills can be taught and, therefore, people who are automatically put into a position of leadership can work on those skills, whether it is a practice manager who has been promoted from a dental nurse, or an associate dentist who is now a partner or sole owner.
There are two reasons why practice owners and managers often struggle to become leaders:
1. They do not have the time to lead
2. They like to be in control.
If either of these apply to you, then it is likely your leadership isn’t as strong as it could be.

Invest in your team

Successful leaders share their compelling visions, but if you do not have time to plan the vision of your business, how can you share it? How do you know if it is compelling if you can’t get your team to provide ideas and ask questions?
A compelling vision is communicated with a team, creating excitement. Every team member will be right behind you because they will be able to see where they are heading, and will want to be a part of it.
Practice owners need one day a week to work on their business. However, this doesn’t mean writing treatment plans or doing admin – you should already have a support network to help you with those aspects!
Successful leaders get to know their team. I do not agree with business owners who do not intentionally get to know their team.
It is vital to know what similarities they have with you, such as background, schooling, and family upbringing, or what common interests you have, such as hobbies, films or television shows.
We all know the importance of building relationships with patients, but this is often forgotten within a team that works together every day. While you may know your nurse very well, what happens to the other team members you aren’t interacting with when you are being a dentist?
Successful leaders bring out the best in others; they do not dictate to their team members what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. They ask them how they wish to get to the end goal.
Is there any way the leader can help a team member complete a new task by providing advice or training? Are there any worries they have completing this new task?
The leader should be approachable and every member of the team must be able to go to them without feeling that they are wasting their time or looking stupid.

Taking control

Successful leaders trust in others. You may say you trust your team, but do your actions display this? If each team member was asked, anonymously, if they trusted you, what do you think they would say?
Trust takes time to build up, but can very quickly be taken away. The most vital thing you can do here is to ask your team for honest feedback – whether or not everyone feels you trust them. Ask them to provide you with an example, whatever their response.

Handing out tasks

Successful leaders also delegate. Delegation is most often misunderstood. It is not about handing out a task and never seeing the completion of it. There is nothing worse than wondering if something has been done and what the finished result may be.
Delegation is about sharing tasks with team members, giving them a deadline and reviewing the task together.
Delegating to your team helps to motivate and build trust. You need to ensure you are organised and know who has been delegated what. After all, delegated tasks are still your responsibility.

Training team members

Successful leaders train others. Increasing your team’s skills to take on new tasks is a great use of your time as a leader. Everyone in your team knows you are busy, so when you set time aside to train them and give them new skills, they will appreciate it.

You may not be the one running the training; you may send them on courses or identify others who already have these skills to train them. A key example of this is cross-training the dental nursing team to be able to work with every dentist, and training him or her to be able to carry out front desk duties such as handling new patient phone calls.
Successful leaders have the right team around them, so surround yourself with like-minded people. This is extremely important in a dental setting.

If, as a leader, you have a passion for customer service and providing every patient with an amazing experience on every visit, yet you have a team member who thinks ‘this is a waste of time’, then you have a problem. In his 2001 book Good to Great, Jim Collins stated that it is vital to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.

The end goal

Successful leaders achieve results for the business. For everyone in your team to look up to you, and respect you as a leader, they need to see you have done all of this and gained results for the business, too.
You have worked hard on the vision, connected and trained to bring out the best in your team – but have you, as a team, got the results you planned for?
Feedback is vital. When your team sees you have helped the practice achieve results, that is when you become a successful leader with a team that respects you, rather than follows you because it has to.

Laura Horton has worked in dentistry for 15 years and is passionate about treatment coordination and team development. To find out more, visit the website at

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