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Jonathan Gale, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Leadership: Back to the Basics
By Jonathan Gale, Ph.D.

Spring is in the air. Let us take this time to review the leadership approach you take in your dental practice, and make sure you are building on the proper foundation.

Sometimes real leadership innovation isn’t about creating something bright and shiny and new. Perhaps it is about dusting off an old piece of wisdom that others have forgotten in the rush toward novelty. Or maybe it is about taking lessons long recognized in other disciplines but not applied in our own, whether that means learning something from a different area of business or from an entirely separate field. Where did you derive your leadership style? What training or experience do you have in thinking and behaving as the leader?

Let us review some important leadership fundamentals so you can be sure you are on the right track. Leadership best practices indicate a regular review of your “core business practices” and in the case of dentists, in addition to fixing teeth, a large part of who/what you are is a leader. Mastery of a musical instrument means going over the same basic lessons again and again until they become instinctive, mastering the fundamentals before you apply anything more advanced. The same lesson can be applied in leadership – get the fundamentals right and the rest will follow.

Here are four fundamentals of effective leadership for all dentists to master.

1. Humility
When you are at the top and everyone is looking up to you for guidance, it can be easy to think that leadership is about you. But that is a deceptive and destructive way of thinking.

As historic leaders such as George Washington have realized, leadership is about the people around you. Recognize their concerns. Live with the difficulties they face. Make your focus on them rather than on yourself, your ideas, and your status. To know more about their realities, it is crucial that you make time to speak with them, but primarily to listen. They will feel heard and you will gain the necessary information to guide your leadership style.

If you can implement these practices, your people will follow you. Remember, leadership is about the ones being led.

2. Communication
Good communication is central to every human relationship, as well as every business relationship. Whether it is with patients, your staff or vendors, clear communication builds trust, improves productivity, and ensures that the job is done right.

Good communication is about listening as much as speaking; planning as much as delivering; personal moments as much as addressing the room. There are lots of details to work on, but they all come back to the fundamental point of communicating well.

3. Trust
Trust is vital to leadership and it’s not something that just happens. You have to earn people’s trust. The best way to earn trust as a leader is to make a practice of communicating clearly, listening to others and setting and living up to clear expectations.

But trust is a two-way thing. If you do not show others that you trust them, you reduce their ability to do their best work and you prevent them from ever fully trusting you. So you also have to learn to trust others, and to act on that trust. Do not try to control the details. Recognize that solutions other than your own may be good enough or even better than what you came up with. Let others do their best without you peering over their shoulders. In the end you will all be more productive.

4. Innovation
It is easy to get stuck in familiar patterns. After all, following the same routine is easy and it feels safe. But anyone can follow a routine. A leader needs to innovate and show others how this is done, or your whole practice will slip into complacency and stagnate. Make a routine of trying new things and developing new ideas. Apply skills from outside of your field. Develop new thinking habits. Train your brain to innovate.

If scales are the fundamentals of learning to play music, then principles like these are the fundamentals of learning to lead. If we keep practicing them, the other skills and habits will easily follow. But unlike scales, the fundamentals of good leadership cannot be easily deduced. So what do you think they are? Do these suggestions ring true for you, or would you have added another? This is your first practice in innovation: not to take information as fact. Instead, challenge, question, wonder. Your staff will be inspired by a leader with an open mind and solid leadership grounding.

Dr. Gale provides coaching and training to enhance leadership skills, interpersonal communications and team building. If you would like to learn more, contact him at jgalephd@mckenziemgmt.com

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