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5 Keys to Unlock Your Leadership Potential for Your Private Dental Practice

By Planet DDS
September 29, 2021

Dental schools do a far better job preparing dentists for the clinical aspect of running a private practice than they do the business side. In running a small private practice, you’re not only a dentist, but you’re also leading a team. Here are five keys to unlocking your full leadership potential for your private practice.

We’ve all seen great leaders. Those that stand out in history or business as nothing short of extraordinary. The FDRs and Steve Jobs of the world exude qualities that we dream of for ourselves. While each leader is unique, here are five keys to leadership that will help you realize your own leadership potential for your dental practice.

1.   Leaders exhibit high emotional intelligence

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a must-have leadership skill, accounting for 90% of what sets high performers apart from peers with the same technical skills and knowledge.

EQ can be broken into four components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” Sheryl Sandberg

  • Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. This is easier said than done. In fact, 95% of people believe themselves to be self-aware, but studies show that only 10-15% of us actually are, which can cut a team’s success in half due to increased stress and reduced team motivation. So, what can be done to improve your self-awareness? One suggestion is to offer 360-degree feedback and start creating an environment where you welcome the evaluation of your performance. Then, you can make improvements.

“The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry.” J. Kenfield Morely

  • Self-management is the ability to manage your own emotions. This is a vital skill to have on stressful days when it’s easy to lose control of your emotions. An excellent way to improve your self-management is to take a pause, recognize your emotions, and collect yourself before you react.

“Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.” Brene Brown

  • The flip side of self-management is social awareness. Social awareness is your ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others through empathy. Understanding your team members’ emotions and perspectives will help you work more effectively with them. In fact, empathy is rated the number one leadership skill as leaders who master empathy are able to motivate teams to do their best work. Putting yourself in your team members’ shoes will help you understand them better. Ask yourself: Can I give more recognition to my team members? Am I overlooking a problem they’re struggling with? Am I eager to learn what motivations my team members have?

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” Henry Ford

  • The last piece of the EQ puzzle is relationship management. In any workplace, it’s natural to have occasional workplace conflict or disagreement. It’s estimated that for every unaddressed conflict, about eight hours of company time is wasted. It might seem easier to avoid talking about an underlying conflict, but particularly in a smaller dental practice, it’s imperative that you help manage relationships to avoid losing productivity. One positive way to view disagreements in the workplace is to recognize the value in healthy disagreement. Studies show that organizations have higher productivity if they identify conflicts earlier and talk them through.

2.   Leaders offer clarity

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” Fitzhugh Dodson

Have you ever been in a position where you weren’t sure what was expected of you and weren’t clear on how you would succeed in the position? It’s hard to get anywhere fast when you don’t have a roadmap.

That’s where a leader can offer clarity—clarity in roles and responsibilities for individual team members and clarity for goals at the practice level and on an individual level. Not only does this help individual team members be more successful within their own position, but it also helps guide your entire practice towards your overall goals.

3.   Leaders display integrity

“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” Chinua Achebe

Did you know trust is an asset to your dental practice? Trust is earned externally with your patients and internally with your team. Time and time again, studies show that organizations with high trust outperform organizations with low trust. In the consumer world, 85% of people will choose a company they highly trust over other companies. That’s why it’s so important to earn the trust of your patients. In the stock market, trustworthy companies consistently outperform the S&P and are 2.5x more likely to be high-revenue companies compared to their less trustworthy counterparts.

Of course, no one is perfect. But as a dentist owner, taking time to build trust with your team and patients will pay large dividends in the organization’s value and reputation. Think of your day-to-day interactions with your team and your patients. Real-life examples of building trust as a dentist include: 1) making sure that your patients are receiving accurate cost estimates when treatment plans are presented, 2) taking time thoroughly explain a diagnosis and answering question on you recommend a certain treatment, 3) following up on referrals, and 4) when appropriate, taking responsibility as the practice leader instead of casting blame.

4.   Leaders communicate

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.” Colin Powell

Studies show that communication is the single biggest predictor of an organization’s performance. As the practice leader, you set the tone for communications across your team.

For dental practices, holding effective morning huddles, 1-on-1 meetings, and regular team meetings help cultivate a well-functioning team. Open communication helps everyone get on the same page with goals, opens the door for resolving issues or roadblocks early, and fosters a stronger team dynamic.

Ryan McCostlin, Founder and CEO of Tailwater, joined us on The Dental Economist Show podcast where he shared his insights about how to create a positive culture within practices, you can check out the full episode here

5.   Leaders empower teams

“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” John Maxwell

Perhaps you can look back on your own career path and think of a mentor or a leader who empowered you. How did they make you feel, and what were you able to accomplish as a result?

Great leaders nurture high morale and motivation by offering everyone opportunities to gain new skills, recognizing the strengths of their team members, investing in training, and rewarding through promotions. By empowering team members, you’ll see higher productivity and lower attrition rates. In your practice, do you offer your team members opportunities for professional development? From a practical standpoint, you could implement a practice management solution for your private practice to help team members be more effective or help them create a script to improve their production numbers. Helping them succeed in their roles will help your dental practice succeed, too.


Reflecting on your leadership skills for your private practice, what are some areas where you could improve? Investing in improving your own leadership abilities will help your team and your practice thrive.