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Leadership in Dentistry: A Self-Assessment

May 14, 2019

Author: Ryder Waldron DDS

The dentist is usually viewed as the leader of a dental practice. Leadership in dentistry includes being able to make difficult decisions and effectively communicating those choices to all team members. Careful communication not only makes the workday more pleasant, it builds respect and trust and motivates everyone in the office to care for patients at the highest possible level. As a leader, how would you react to the following four common dilemmas?

1. You hear that a patient was rude and disrespectful to one of your team members.

Do you:

  • Dismiss the patient from your office because you trust your employee
  • Discipline the employee because the patient is always right
  • Gather information from both sides before making a decision on what to do

Gathering all pertinent information is always necessary before making a decision, and a patient disagreement is no different. Standing up for an employee when a patient disrespects them builds camaraderie throughout the office and is the essence of a good team leader. On the other hand, if an employee displays a negative behavior, it should be addressed immediately. Make sure you have all the facts before you talk to the reprimand a patient or colleague.

2. A team member thinks they shouldn't have to do certain jobs around the office that are in their job description.

Do you:

  • Insist they pitch in if they want to keep their job
  • Explain why it's important for all team members to share responsibilities, and give the person another chance
  • Ignore the issue as long as someone else is doing the work

Firstly, its important to keep detailed job descriptions that you and your employee have agreed upon. If an employee has a misconception about their job responsibilities, discuss the issue one-on-one and give them another chance. For example, when the employee was hired, part of the job description noted that it is their responsibility to clear out the breakroom refrigerator every Friday on a rotation with other employees. If the employee consistently shirks certain office duties, disciplinary action may be necessary. Ignoring the issue and letting the responsibility fall to someone else can lead to other team members feeling unappreciated. Keep a thorough staff manual with detailed job descriptions to help prevent conflict over responsibilities. Also keep thorough notes of any discussions.

3. Staff morale is low and staff members are constantly arguing. Do you:

  • Threaten to fire your employees if their attitudes don't improve
  • Counsel them that things will get better eventually
  • Find out why, and implement periodic team building exercises.

A dental office is a close working environment where occasional disagreements are bound to happen. However, continuing office tension can make your practice unproductive and unpleasant for patients and staff. Regular team building activities, like a team dinner or movie night, allow team members to get to know each other on a personal level and develop mutual respect. Teams that care about each other work harder to support their colleagues and create a more productive practice.

4. In a patient survey, you receive several, specific patient complaints about a new employee's treatment techniques.

Do you:

  • Schedule time to train the new employee
  • Fire the new employee immediately
  • Ignore the survey in favor of your hiring choice

New techniques and systems can be taught, but work ethic and personality often cannot. You most likely hire a new employee because you like their expertise, treatment skills and personality, but they may still need training to fully acclimate to your office. It may even be the new employee's style, leading to the perception that their technique is poor. Give them the help they need and a chance to improve. If necessary, apologize to the patient and reassure them the necessary changes are being made. The patient may want to switch clinician and if that is the case, if possible, you can arrange this within your office. If it is only one or two patients and everyone else is happy, you should also allow for the possibility that these patients may have simply reacted poorly to a change in staff.

Whether you are a practice owner or an employee, leadership in dentistry is a critical skill for any dentist. Knowing the best way to resolve common conflicts can help establish you as the voice of authority in your office and lead to a positive team attitude and increased practice efficiency.

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