If you have a problem with your team, then the problem is you

leadership conceptLeadership is a skill that can be learnt, not a matter of hierarchy, Mark Topley says.

Are you struggling to get your team working effectively?

Do you see too much of what you don’t want, and not nearly enough of what you do?

It’s easy to attribute issues in the team with problem personalities or a lack of motivation.

But the smart leaders understand that the principal responsibility lies with them.

Best-selling leadership author, John C Maxwell, says: ‘Everything rises or falls on leadership’.

He also talks about leadership being the ‘lid’ on the potential of an organisation.

In other words, the organisation will only succeed to the level of the leader.

Jim Collins, in his extensive research of what makes companies great and others simply good, concluded that the people in charge of the truly great companies had similar traits that made them standout, and by virtue of their leadership, their organisations.

We’ve all seen, but hopefully not had to work for, people with poor leadership skills.

Whether it was their abdication of responsibility, their micromanaging insecurity or an intentional choice to try and drive people in negative ways, the results are the same.

Bad leaders lose staff more quickly, have a workplace characterised by sniping and backbiting, unmotivated and ineffective teams.

There’s typically poor morale, low expectations and bad behaviour that goes unchecked.

Great leadership will bring radically different results from the same types of people.

Because of their public nature, we see this most often in sports teams, but the same lessons are true for business.

What makes a good leader?

Dentists love empirical evidence, and the best I’ve seen on leadership traits was research by the Bain Company.

What might surprise you is that the traits of great leaders have little to do with being ‘on stage’.

We need to get over the idea that to be a good leader we need to be a gregarious extrovert who enjoys public speaking.

There are certainly some good people that I have worked under who have this trait, but it’s way down the list in order of significance.

The traits that Bain identified include many that you will be familiar with – positive emotional expression, positive attitude, giving clear direction, listening, appreciating your team, humility.

Although they identified 33 different traits that make up an inspiring leader, we can be encouraged that the development and consistent application of just one or two was enough to inspire people.

And the absolute key to being a good leader – centredness.

Centredness is defined by Oxford as: ‘Well balanced and confident or serene’.

Nothing to do with introversion or extroversion then.

Leadership is a skill

Whatever your view of how good a leader you are at the moment, understand this – leadership is a skill.

You can learn to be a leader.

Leadership is not a position – it’s a state of mind, an attitude, a willingness to serve others and act in ways that will carry the organisation and everyone in it forwards towards the goal.

It’s a willingness to self-examine and learn ways of approaching people and problems in a proactive way.

In many ways it’s not a science, but an art form.

So anyone can be a leader, and to thrive, your team needs several.

In many ways it’s not about hierarchy, but if you’re in charge, then you absolutely have to lead.

Because as Maxwell and Collins have shown, the success of your business depends on it.


One of the most encouraging things I’ve witnessed is the rise of leadership as a topic in dentistry.

Of course there have always been great leaders in the profession and the industry.

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside many of them.

But they’re not the majority, and it saddens me when I read the newsfeeds particularly in practice management circles and learn of so many business owners alienating and de-motivating their teams through a lack of empathy, understanding or basic leadership skill.

Dentistry is unusual in that the principal is the leader of the business, as well as being the main income generator.

And that leaves them less time than in traditional leadership roles to actually lead people.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t.

Leadership in practice

Last month I took part in a day-long event organised by Dentinal Tubules on leadership in practice.

It was a huge encouragement and a lot of fun to spend the day with clinicians and managers who are taking steps to improve their level of leadership – to develop their skills and lift their business’ ‘lid’, as Maxwell would put it.

In my next blog, I’m going to outline the key takeaways from that day.

And I’ll list the lessons I learned from the other presenters Dhru Shah, Justin Leigh and Simon Gambold.

I’ll also explain the thrust of my session – CSR as a leadership tool.

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