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How to Be a Good Leader

By Dr. Rick Workman

There’s More to Being a Good Leader Than Having Your Name on the Front Door

Owning and leading a dental practice requires more leadership than just being a well-trained practitioner. You also need a set of soft skills that go beyond what you learned about dentistry.

You’ve probably heard the expression “lead by example” quite a few times in your life. Cliches often stick around for a reason. Your role as owner/good leader requires you to be the example for your staff, especially when it comes to how they treat both patients and each other. How do you start inspiring them to be their best every day? That example starts and ends, with you. 

What are the 10 Traits of a Good Leader?

Being a world-class leader requires a lot of humility and patience along with your dentistry training. Experience and time are often enough to gain the wisdom and perspective you need to know what a good leader looks like. Even if you’ve been practicing for a while (and especially if you recently opened your own office) these 10 traits will help you determine how well you measure up as a good leader.


You can’t be everywhere at once, and you can’t do everything alone. How well do you share the responsibility of running the day-to-day operations? Is it time to bring in a new associate to balance the patient load? When you ask for help when you need it, your team inherently knows that you trust their skills and abilities. 


Thanking both your staff and your patients regularly makes everyone feel appreciated and respected. A quick “thank you for your business” or “thank you for handling that for me” is the easiest thing to do and encourages everyone else around you to do the same. 


Even under the best of circumstances, life is unpredictable. That goes for a business as well. When you lead a dental practice, you set the tone for the entire environment. As your team observes you adapting with a level head to issues you can’t control, like patients running late or one of your most critical pieces of equipment going on the fritz on a busy day, the more adaptable they will become. 


Treating people with dignity and kindness is often elusive in a busy, hectic practice. The day can get ahead of you, stress is often insurmountable, and people lash out. It happens to the best of us. But there’s an old adage that’s stuck around for good reason. Treat people with the respect that you wish to be treated with they’ll do the same in return. 

Speaking of respect...


Empathy and respect go hand-in-hand. When people who work for you know that their feelings matter, they generally know that you respect them as individuals. If you feel like there’s still a disconnect in this area, it’s okay to turn to your staff periodically and just say the words, “I hope you know that I respect your intelligence and your skills.” That may open the door to a conversation allowing them to express themselves about how they feel. The key then is to listen and make sure they feel heard.


Always be honest. Even if that requires some discretion and delicacy, offering up a straightforward explanation is the best route to take. Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones for any stable business. As a small business owner who leads a dental practice, it’s that much more important that people see you leading with integrity every day. 


Communicating is a bit like exercise. We don’t always feel like doing it, but the minute it’s over, you feel better. Just like keeping up with your exercise routine is easier when it’s on the calendar, schedule regular meetings, and one-on-ones. Develop simple agendas to follow that include feedback sessions, and make sure you encourage your staff to share their feedback with you. Keeping the lines of communication can be tricky when there are a lot of personalities in the room. Eventually, though, communication will become a healthy habit for the whole office. 


What we do and how well we do it is often very subjective. How do you measure your own behavior as you lead your dental practice and the team? Try a few simple tips like:

  • If you’re having a bad day, take a break before you start a conversation
  • Know what your stress triggers are so you can either avoid them or plan around them
  • What is the time of day when you’re the most productive?
  • How often do you need to take little breaks to reset? 
  • If you’re unsure of how your behavior or moods are being perceived, just ask the team. Remember to always be patient and listen. 


You can be a leader in both your own industry and your own office by influencing the adoption of new technologies and techniques. Furthering your education and advancing your skills keeps you abreast of the latest and greatest in your field. Writing or contributing leadership articles to publications sets you apart as an influencer in the industry. Providing your staff with ongoing training and access to new technology helps set the pace for other practices in your area, keeping you ahead of the curve. 


We saved the best, and potentially the most difficult, for last. Being a leader isn’t always going to mean that everyone likes you. In fact, it often means the opposite. Difficult news can be hard to share, especially when it’s the truth. It’s not easy to be the person in the office who is burdened with delivering it. Still, it’s what’s going to be asked of you frequently. 

Following the other leadership rules, we outlined here consistently requires confidence and, yes, bravery. Uncertainty makes everyone uncomfortable. You are going to face a lot of uncertainty when you’re in the driver’s seat of a small or medium-sized business.

To make your team believe in you, the first thing you have to do is make them believe that you believe in yourself. Confidence in yourself will inspire the best efforts from others. Part of this job as a leader is to maintain a cool and collected nature, always believing the best for the company even when things are looking dire.

You have to display enthusiasm in order to inspire your team even when you feel like things may be at their worst. Leaders ask for dedication, even when you yourself may feel like throwing in the towel. However, when you spread energy, enthusiasm, and confidence, it will inevitably flow back to you, especially at times when you need it the most.

That is possibly the greatest consequence of being a good leader. When everyone else around you is following these very cues, you become the very benefactor of your own excellent leadership skills. When excellent leadership starts with you, it sets the tone for the rest of the team.





Dr. Rick Workman 

Founder & Executive Chairman, Heartland Dental




Tags: Dental Practice Management, Dr. Rick Workman