By Dr. Angie McNeight
Leadership in the dental field takes on many forms. From leading our own team members in the office every day to our involvement in organized dentistry and in our communities, we find ourselves called to be leaders more often than we realize. Effective leaders are passionate, committed, inquisitive, solicitous and available. They lead with integrity, handle conflict fairly and maintain confidentiality where required. While some of these qualities are inherent to the individual’s personality, many of these traits and abilities can be improved through learning opportunities and practice.
Leadership within a dental practice is frequently combined with management, and the lines are commonly blurred between the two. Leaders formulate ideas and motivate their teams to understand the vision they have set forth. Managers focus on the day-to-day activities, setting measurable goals to report success. In small businesses, these two roles often are combined and frequently overlap.
My partner, Dr. Ryan Caudill, and I own and manage our office, and we work hard to be as organized and clear as possible to our 18 team members. We spend time training them, outlining expectations and cultivating problem-solving skills to improve self-awareness. Our morning huddles, monthly team meetings, and yearly staff reviews keep everyone focused on common goals and ensure processes are consistently followed. We also take each team member to lunch once a year on their own with the doctors to get to know each other better. Our yearly patient appreciation parties and team-building days outside the office setting are some of our favorite memories together and help strengthen these relationships. I am a more effective leader when I better understand the person I am leading.
Leadership outside the office in our communities and professional organizations can be a challenge with varying personalities and leadership styles. Staying positive and focusing on the task at hand are helpful in achieving a favorable result that benefits everyone. At Dentists’ Day on the Hill each year, I am reminded that community leaders are looking to us for guidance on critical issues, and actively listening to understand others is the first step.
I’ve found that the most important piece of leadership is cultivating personal relationships. Becoming genuinely interested in others and getting to know them on a personal level builds trust and rapport. I aim to bring others into the conversation as much as possible, creating a safe space to voice opinions while encouraging others to listen and reflect attentively. This is especially important in our virtual (Zoom) meeting spaces, where having your camera on, being engaged and calling on those who may be more reserved is essential for ensuring everyone’s perspectives are heard and team decisions are made. As a leader, I also strive to be as available and responsive as possible, ensuring fellow colleagues and community members have my cellphone number so they can easily reach me at any time. Responding to emails, texts, phone calls and social media messages in a timely manner (aka as quickly as possible) is a vital sign of respect.
As the Leadership Development Committee (LDC) chair of the Florida Dental Association (FDA), my charge is to improve leadership within our association. Our yearly LEAD: Leaders Emerging Among Dentistry event is one of the opportunities you can take part in to improve your own leadership skills with seminars related to public speaking, social media for leaders and effective meeting management. As a committee, we work together to find people who are interested in leadership positions within the FDA and help guide them on their leadership journeys. We also collect applications and nominate candidates for the speaker of the house, treasurer/treasurer-elect and editor positions of the FDA.
One of the most important jobs of every volunteer leader is to find your own replacement. You know what it takes to do the job better than anyone, so finding the right person to fill your shoes will ensure they continue on a forward path, building on what you put in place. Encouraging colleagues to join a committee is wonderful but mentoring them along the way is what truly fosters leadership. The LDC helps find these leaders and cultivates them for success.
I strive every day to improve my own leadership skills through building relationships, communicating clearly and showing integrity. Reflecting on your leadership strengths as well as areas that need improvement will help you become the best leader you can for your team, your colleagues and your community.