Follow What Leader? A Lesson in Leadership
The push for higher levels of productivity in dental offices is fueled by the financial and emotional goals of the doctor CEO. New technology is a must for all practices seeking recognition and growth. New products and advances in dentistry are exciting and we all want to buy them and try them on our patients. Sticker shock brings us back to the reality that there is not enough money in the budget to get the latest dental gizmo and the old gizmo will have to last a while longer. Leadership is sometimes born of the desire to have better things and that includes a more successful practice.
The Business Administrator of the practice must support this position of leadership. Understanding the dentist CEO’s vision and mission is important in establishing the type of leadership necessary to accomplish goals. Tyrannical or authoritarian type of leadership dampens creativity and supports rote behavior. Fostering motivated, thinking, and supporting behaviors in our staff promotes leadership styles that lead to prosperous practices. Often the Business Administrator is the bridge between the dentist and the rest of the staff. She or he is put into the position of “tug of war” between the wants and needs of the staff and the direction and focus of the dentist CEO.
Without written office policy manuals, job descriptions, and defined areas of accountability there are power struggles over leadership. The dentist must be the leader or there will be anarchy, lack of consistency, confusion, and breakdown of systems.
Dr. Allgood (not his real name) sent his two business staff, Steve and Janey, in for McKenzie’s Advanced Business Training Course. Dr. Allgood’s goal is to increase production so that he can make necessary improvements to his building and buy new digital equipment. Neither of his business staff had formal training in dentistry or in accounting. They both had worked in retail and in customer service prior to coming to work for Dr. Allgood. Steve had worked for Dr. Allgood as his assistant and office floater for almost four years. He did most of the talking and had an attitude that he had all of the answers. Janey worked insurance and scheduling and was trained by Steve. Steve had become very familiar with the front and back office to the point where he considered himself the “office manager” even though the title had not been given to him. Neither Steve nor Janey had written job descriptions yet both had carved out their own “niche” in the practice and developed areas of expertise separate yet cross-trained. “We are a clique,” announced Steve. “The practice can not run without me.” Steve stated. Steve was very critical of the dental assistant and the hygienist and excluded them from his relationship with Janey. Dr. Allgood had not shared a vision of success or a mission statement with any of the staff. There was a loosely written office policy manual that had not been updated in years. Steve said “he didn’t see the point to the training, when Dr. Allgood was not going to change anything.” What Steve was really saying is that he (Steve) was not going to change anything. Dr. Allgood’s lack of leadership had created an opening for Steve to step in as leader. Steve was ill equipped and viewed leadership as power over the other members of the staff.
Morning huddles and monthly staff business meetings were abandoned long ago. Communication between staff members was limited to the events taking place that day on the schedule. There had never been performance reviews and raises had been given when staff threatened to quit. It was evident that Dr. Allgood needed to assert his leadership role and take back his practice. Steve’s duties included treatment coordinator, assisting, financial arrangements, collection, scheduling and wherever else he is needed in the practice. He is a hard worker and a value to the practice but now is very resistant to any change that will affect his power as leader. In order for Dr. Allgood to reinstate himself as the leader of his practice he must have the support of a Business Administrator who recognizes him as the leader and works with him to set up systems and protocols for success. If Dr. Allgood is to keep Steve as a valued member of the team, he will need to establish a new understanding of Steve’s role and his leadership position.
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