An excellent leader of any business is responsible for creating and maintaining a winning dental team culture. That's something on which we can all easily agree.

So that raises some obvious questions for a dental practice leader: First, what exactly goes into creating an organization’s culture? And, just as importantly, how do I apply that knowledge to myself, my practice, and my team?

Leading and creating a winning dental team culture is the only way to ensure innovation and synergistic growth.
Leading and creating a winning dental team culture is the only way to ensure innovation and synergistic growth.

Defining a Winning Dental Team Culture and What They Want from Their Leader

So, let’s start by defining our terms. A winning culture includes:

  • VALUES and BEHAVIORS that contribute to the organization’s unique social and psychological environment.
  • EXPECTATIONS, EXPERIENCES, PHILOSOPHY, and VALUES that hold that organization together and are expressed in its self-image, inner workings, and interactions.
  • Shared ATTITUDES, BELIEFS, CUSTOMS, as well as written and unwritten RULES that have been developed over time.

And where does this all come from? Strong leadership. Whenever you see a survey asking dental team members what behaviors they like to see in their practice leader, three characteristics always seem to make it to the top.

  1. The leader treats me as a human being, not just an employee.
  2. The leader believes in me, even when I do not believe in myself.
  3. The leader trusts me and is honest, including admitting when they are wrong.

The secret to your success as a leader lies in exhibiting all three of these behaviors, always! When you can personify these behaviors and integrate the additional key leadership skills, you will create a successful culture beyond your wildest dreams.

What are some of those additional key leadership skills? I am glad you asked.

Two Big Keys to Leading a Winning Team

What are the keys to excellent leadership? That is, of course, a big question with a lot of answers — many books have been written on the subject. But for the purposes of our discussion on this topic, we can focus on two:

  • Create a vision for change, align your people behind it, and develop a plan for executing it.

This is “Step 0” for any upgrades to your practice culture. Your vision does not have to be grand or profound, but without it, you can’t expect people to be motivated to follow. The vision must be inspirational, aspirational, and sometimes “perspirational” – your “North Star” that unlocks new potential. Most importantly, your team needs to buy into the vision and see their own hopes and goals achieved through the journey.

  • Communicate in a way that inspires trust and confidence.

Once you have the vision, it is vital to learn how to communicate in a way that inspires both trust and confidence in the people that you lead. The only communication that inspires trust is honest, authentic communication that lets the people you are communicating with know exactly where they stand. It also requires catching your team in the act of doing things right — or almost right — when it comes to fulfilling the vision, because what gets acknowledged gets repeated. Feedback that is nourishing is clear, concise, and highlights specific benchmarks and results.

This is commonly called “assertive influence,” and it includes communication that clearly states:

  1. This is what I need from you to achieve our vision.
  2. This is what I am getting from you right now (strength or challenge).
  3. This is what I expect in the future to achieve or continue to achieve our vision.

Does it take courage? Does it take empathy and heart? You bet it does! Is it important? No doubt.

Keep in mind, this is not just an exercise in creating a pleasant workplace — there are real-world, practical implications at stake here. For instance, the make-or-break point for implementing any modern technology or clinical methodology will often come down to the quality of the practice’s leadership and the dental team culture.

Leading and creating a winning dental team culture is a process, not an event. It requires continued dedication and focus beyond the dental chair — as well as a great deal of humility. As a practice management specialist, I can assure you that being a leader, investing in your culture, and inspiring change may be difficult, but it is the only way to ensure innovation and synergistic growth.

Amy Morgan is Vice President of Practice Growth Strategy at Spear, a member of Spear Resident Faculty, and former CEO of Pride Institute.