5 Stages of Becoming a Great Leader in Dental Management
How do you transition from being part of a team to leading one?
Most of us did not start out in a leadership capacity at our first job, we had to work our way up to it.
Some of us did not start out as an office manager or practice administrator in our current office, but someone recognized leadership qualities and gave us a “shot” at leading the team.
I was one of the lucky ones. During my first job in dentistry, I was hired with the title of “office manager.” The “glorified receptionist” type of office manager.
I sat at the front desk, answered the phone, checked patients in and out, filed insurance claims, posted payments, mailed statements, etc.
To be honest, I really was not a manager at all. From what I could tell, the doctor tried to micromanage the employees between seeing patients…YIKES!
I spent the first few months learning a new language, a little about coding, and a lot about the chaos that can come from an unstructured, under-supervised team.
No meetings, no goals, no systems, no accountability. We were literally “flying by the seat of our pants.”
At approximately three months in, I began to see through the cracks and realize how broken the system really was. Most of this team had been together for 15 years or longer, and everyone (including the doctor) seemed completely content with this arrangement.
I was just the “new girl.” How could I make a difference?
What makes a great leader?
I was viewed by the team as a “glorified receptionist,” because that was the role that had been played by previous “office managers.”
I began to realize there was a problem when the phone rang and the assistants would run to my desk, listen to the conversation, and tell me when to schedule the patients (usually the following day). It had nothing to do with availability and everything to do with their laziness.
Similar situations occurred with the hygiene department; they were allowed to completely control their schedules, were paid a daily rate with no goals, and no incentive to schedule a full day of production.
There seemed to be no concern about the health or growth of the practice.
I questioned my decision to take this job:
- Was this “normal” in dentistry, or just on this practice?
- How do I grow into the position as a “true” manager?
- How was I going to grow this practice?
Although I wasn’t viewed as a manager, surely I could evolve as a leader within this team!?! But where do I start? Who understands my position? Where will I gain support?
Soon after, my answer came via FAX…
The American Association of Dental Office Management
I got a fax about joining an organization built for DENTAL OFFICE MANAGERS!
WOW… my cry for help and my prayers had been answered!
I immediately started utilizing their website and forums to get help and answers to my questions; quickly realizing there was something more to this job, it was a career that many had grown to love and were passionate about.
But I needed more, I needed to be face-to-face, interacting with these people “like me.”
I built up my courage and approached my doctor about attending my first AADOM conference… This text opens a new tab to the AADOM conference website….
I expressed my desire to nurture this team and grow his practice. I was a little surprised by his response, but he was incredibly supportive, paid my expenses, and sent me to Orlando to connect with my tribe.
This was the pivoting point of my career in dentistry
I was completely overwhelmed at the knowledge, support, and resources that were made available during those three days in Orlando.
I was encouraged as a newcomer to take away three things that I had learned and implement them over the next year. It would be impossible to retain all this new information much less put it all into practice at once.
I took the advice and had a great year becoming a leader within my team.
As my leadership skills grew, and I started making positive changes in the practice, my doctor gained trust, and gradually began to let go and allow me to “manage” the practice and the employees.
5 stages for becoming a great leader
Over the next several years, we would buy two existing practices, take on patients of a third practice, make two building expansions, purchase a second location, hire two new associates, one new partner, and a host of new employees.
I had to learn how to grow into the position in stages each time a change or addition was made. Here’s what it took…
Stage 1. Developing leadership skills and earn the respect of your team
“Roll up your sleeves.”
Let them see that you are willing to do anything that you would ask of them and that you are totally committed to both them and the practice.
In the beginning, for me, this involved working long days and weekends.
I was new to the business, not as efficient as I should be, but wanted to make sure all tasks were completed timely and correctly.
I made sure they knew I was available to them even if it meant putting my tasks on hold for a moment.
I would also start planning team-bonding events to invest time in each individual outside of the work environment to build trust between each of us.
Stage 2. Managing the team
Everyone must be treated equally and held to the same guidelines and standards.
You obviously want to have “friendly” relationships with your team members; however, in most situations, it is best to create solid boundaries with your team where “friendships” are concerned.
Friendships that extend outside of the workplace can become particularly challenging in that it could pave the way to preferential or favorable treatment of certain team members and jealousy or resentment from others.
It will make it harder to have those “difficult conversations” if necessary and could create tension in the workplace.
I know that there are situations where “friendships” outside of the workplace between a boss and a subordinate will work, but it takes mutual respect, emotional maturity, and well-developed boundaries by both parties.
In most cases, it is just best to avoid these relationships if you want to be viewed and respected as the leader.
Stage 3. The SHIFT from doing to leading
This was the hardest stage for me!
I had a challenging time mentally transitioning from being involved to being essential, from being busy to being available, from being productive to overseeing production.
The sometimes unwelcomed but necessary paradigm shift!
Just when we are comfortable, goals are set and being met, we’ve worked out the kinks, and everyone is moving in the same direction, we get the call… “I’m buying a new practice” or “We’re interviewing a new associate.”
Over the next day, weeks, months, in addition to my routine responsibilities, I was assisting the doctor in the details of the next business venture.
Again, I would find myself becoming more anxious and working longer hours to complete my to-do lists.
It is time for a move that is typically extremely hard for most of us… delegate… delegate… DELEGATE!
Stage 4. Delegate
Too many of us are in a constant state of overextension because of an instinctive need to “protect” our work.
It is time to effectively partner with our team members and “pass the baton” on some of the duties that weigh us down and keep us from being the best manager we can be.
When assigning a task that you are concerned about letting go of, first ask yourself why you are hesitant and be sure to clearly articulate this to the recipient.
Empower them to take on their task and to be successful.
Provide them with the necessary training and let them know what is at stake if it isn’t handled with care and detail; help them understand how it fits into the big picture; and lastly, make sure they know you are confident in their ability to perform this task.
You can motivate them to care.
Through your obvious passion, you can cultivate a team that is enthusiastic about helping you and one that will commit to doing their best.
If you are a good leader, most team members will be honored that you entrust them with the job.
Stage 5. Stay engaged but DO NOT HOVER
It is essential that you remain involved, but there should be an agreed-upon mix of support and accountability.
Do not micromanage!
Be ready and available to provide vital support when needed and clarify the frequency of touchpoints from the beginning.
You will still influence, motivate, and build momentum, just not with the hands-on involvement in the “busy work” as your time, effort, and attention will have a greater impact elsewhere.
Become the best dental manager you know you can be
Remain mindful of how your involvement aligns with the health and growth of your dental practice. Surround yourself with smart, capable team members who share your determination to succeed.
Make your number one goal to invest and foster the strengths of those around you!
Meet the Author
After 21 years in the floral industry, Monica found her true passion when she made the change to dentistry in 2012.
She is a practice administrator for a multi-location practice, Lifetime Dental, PLLC… This text opens a new tab to the practice’s website… in the Mississippi Delta.
In addition to managing the clinics, in 2018, she and her doctors started Surety Dental Solutions… This text opens a new tab to the company’s website…, where they provide team-building and consulting services, as well as file dental and medical insurance for other dental practices.