I think one of the scariest questions you have to ask yourself as a dentist is, “Am I ready to lead my team through obstacles and barriers to a new level of success?”

For the female dentist or office manager, the second question (usually thought about when you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night) is, “Can I confront my team on things I’d like them to do … better and still be liked?”

women in dentistry

This always brings to mind the stereotype of the female leader who runs her practice like a sorority versus a business. This on-going stereotype that women as leaders fall into is perfectly highlighted in one of my favorite books called "See Jane Lead," by Lois P. Frankel, PhD.

The good news? Since the 1980s, there has been a dramatic shift in the traditional business world when it comes to effective leadership skills and traits. The shift resulted from the emergence of technology and "dot com" companies that flattened lines of communication and accountability. This rendered obsolete the "old school" leadership (the male stereotype) required to run a big business which was aptly labeled "command and control."

Command and control leadership was based on the assumption that when the boss would say, "Jump!" the employees would say, "How high?" A command and control leader exhibited traditionally male characteristics exemplified by blind adherence to strict rules, a rigidly defined, top-down hierarchical chain of command and an emphasis on winning at any cost.

Now, thankfully, it is a widely-accepted business truth that the people who should naturally lead the change processes and systems of an organization are those closest to the customer. As a result, the self-directed work team model was born (which is the perfect model for dentistry!).

The self-directed team doesn't want to be told what to do, when to do it and how it should be done. In fact, the new type of leadership that evolved out of command and control has led to the feminization of leadership. The feminization of leadership is based on the need for the characteristics and traits required to inspire from the bottom up vs. the top down, which fall under the heading of softer, more intangible skills traditionally attributed to the female.

Therefore, the essential traits of leadership to succeed are perfectly created to utilize and embody the natural characteristics of the woman dentist. In fact, in today's business world, women are considered to be the more natural choice for leadership roles. Let's see how many of the reasons naturally fit you:

1. Women are more likely to consult with others (experts, employees, and fellow business owners) when developing strategies. We all know the story of a man never wanting to stop for directions. In a dental office, that can lead to misfires on financial management, staff management, patient management and clinical and technology management because it would close the old-fashioned leader off to new information and a paradigm shift.

2. Women have a greater natural tendency to multitask. That reminds me of the old song: "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan ..." Women dentists are more likely to come out of the operatory and deal with the other administrative, management and leadership tasks required to be a successful small business owner because they have been naturally trained to have the tea party, change their dolly's clothes and still be able to beat up their little brother when nobody is looking.

3. Women have fewer competitive tendencies and often seek a more collaborative approach. Need I say more? The sports analogies that are utilized to explain success in leadership diminishes to the degree that women are in charge.

4. Women emphasize relationship building as well as fact-gathering. It is easy to look at the clock and see that your appointment coordinator was seven minutes late on Wednesday and 10 minutes late on Thursday. But wanting to know why she's late, as well as collaboratively attempting to negotiate a solution that can work for both is a more likely scenario for a female leader than a male leader.

These traits alone show that leadership has become a woman's art: what's needed in today's work environment are the softer skills. It doesn't mean that men can't do it. It means that just as women had to learn to be competitive, controlling and exhibit position power, men will have to learn to be collaborative, inspiring and willing to be in relationships with others. If you want to inspire your team and your patients, then assume the mantle of new leadership as, Jane Smith, DDS!

So what are the first steps in using your natural characteristics to become a true leader of your practice? I want to suggest a leadership model based upon values. Nearly every successful woman in the business world has attributed her success to values-based leadership as a core principle.

women in dental management

The model based upon core values also emphasizes direction setting, influencing, building teams, risk taking, motivating, and having the emotional intelligence to support those core values. The key feminine skills that support a values model, highlighted in "See Jane Lead," include:

1. Creating a vision, aligning people behind it, and developing a plan for executing it.

Do you know what you really, really want to accomplish? And more importantly, do you know the strategic tactics you will focus on to make the accomplishment of your goals possible?

2. Communicating in a way that inspires trust and confidence.

To communicate effectively with your team, you must tune in to three radio stations: WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”), WSI (“why should I?”) and MMFI (“make me feel important.”).

3. Motivating followers to sustain the effort required to meet organizational goals.

There’s a huge difference between a “nice gesture” and a “motivating moment.” A nice gesture will get you a “thank you” at best. A motivating moment gives   your team members a reason to be inspired to act a certain way into the future.

4. Building teams that understand and value interdependence and synergy.

If you have ever experienced the “West Side Story” phenomenon in your practice - The Jets vs. The Sharks (AKA The Front vs. The Back) - then you know    why this is so important in running efficiently in dentistry.     

5. Exhibiting emotional intelligence.

This strictly means being authentic, honest and genuine – no hidden agenda when communicating what you want and why you want it.

Don't tell me that every one of you reading this doesn't recognize in yourselves at least one or two of these key skills. The myth of women not being naturally bred to be effective leaders is hereby busted!

You want to survive this crazy economy? Then it is vital to embrace your leadership role and inspire patients and team members to want to do what you want them to do. In my next article, we’ll delve into these five skills so that you can make your vision a reality.

Amy Morgan, Pride Institute CEO and Spear Resident Faculty


Commenter's Profile Image Monica G.
September 10th, 2018
Great article! I'm forwarding this to all my female dentist. Thank you
Commenter's Profile Image Cynthia S.
September 25th, 2018
Well written I believe it can be done. I survived a sorority?