Gavin Shea is the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing for Wells Fargo Practice Finance. With more than 17 years of banking experience with an emphasis in practice lending, he leads sales and marketing strategy development and implementation throughout the national footprint.

Leadership Skills Need Attention, Too!

It goes without saying that excellent clinical skills are required for achieving dental practice success. In fact, if you are like most doctors, you attend CE courses every year to keep your license current and refine your techniques. But don’t forget that your leadership skills are important, too! Here are five ways that effective leadership can positively impact your practice:

  1. Helps maximize productivity. The ability to inspire others to follow you is one of the key definitions of leadership. And indeed, having a team that is willing to accept your lead and direction is critical to maximizing productivity within the practice. By clearly guiding your team in the ways they can best perform their roles and meet your expectations, you help to ensure that the practice is gaining the greatest benefit from its investment in staff time. As each team member begins to operate more efficiently under your direction, your practice increases its potential for greater productivity through coordinated delivery of patient services.
  1. Supports constructive change. Change is inevitable in business, and effective leaders are better able to absorb and manage change both within the practice and from outside influences. With strong leadership, you are more likely to develop stability and resilience within your team so that it becomes easier to avoid disruption during challenging transitions, such as expanding your office, adding an associate doctor, or selling your practice. And because your staff is secure and committed under your guidance, you may be better prepared to capitalize on opportunities as they arise, like an added location or new clinical techniques. With steady leadership, change can become an opportunity for growth rather than a destructive influence.
  1. Enhances the patient experience. Your patients recognize and respond to the environment in your practice, and a harmonious office that runs smoothly under the direction of a good leader tends to deliver an enhanced patient experience. A friendly team, timely appointments and efficient procedures all contribute to a positive atmosphere for patients–and in the end, happy patients may bring more referrals, fewer no-shows and overall increased growth for your practice.
  1. Motivates your team. Effective leadership can also enhance the employee experience. By providing a vision for your team to follow–whether it’s to create a family environment or deliver the latest technology–you can help motivate staff members to perform their best work. You can give them a sense of ownership of their personal responsibilities and the quality of service that they provide. Leading by example–demonstrating patience, fairness and commitment–can help build a work setting that team members are proud and enthusiastic to participate in every day.
  1. Creates future leaders. The most effective leaders are excellent delegators. By handing off meaningful responsibilities to your team members, you help build their confidence and develop their skills. Ultimately, you are working to develop your key team members into future leaders–individuals who can influence others to follow their positive example. Investing in your staff’s future by delegating responsibility may lead to greater employee satisfaction and loyalty to the practice.


It should be clear that leadership is not a quality that can be outsourced–it is solely an inside job. However, as with your clinical skills, it’s a characteristic that can be learned and developed. Following are several ideas for practicing and demonstrating good leadership skills with your team, right now:

  • Define your vision. Work to develop a vision or mission for your practice, and then pursue it with consistency. Even better, make this part of a broader business plan that helps ensure your practice is competitive, has a plan for growth and is well positioned to achieve business goals. For help developing a business plan, click here to read the online article, Recipe for Creating an Effective Business Plan.
  • Listen to your staff. Your employees may have valuable insights into how to best address patient needs and stay competitive. Conduct regular staff meetings or take advantage of your daily huddle to gain employee input about operations.
  • Take risks as needed. Take necessary but reasonable risks to establish and grow your practice, such as expanding your location to accommodate a consistent influx of patients. Consult with your financial advisor before committing to any significant investment or change in direction.
  • Create a support team. Having access to a group of professionals who are familiar with your unique challenges as well as the dental industry can help you stay on track. Consider including a dental lender, CPA, practice management consultant, real estate broker and attorney.
  • Improve your communication skills. This will also help to improve your relationships with both team members and patients. Practice active listening–hearing what others have to say without prejudgment or interruption.
  • Take time to celebrate. Acknowledge small wins every day–a new patient referral, on-time appointments all day, an uptick in collections. A quick staff meeting or “pat on the back” may be all that’s needed.


To a great extent, your personal style of leadership will determine how you approach the challenge of directing your team. For example, do you prefer to demand immediate compliance from your employees, or mobilize them towards a common goal? Do you tend to create emotional bonds with your staff, or expect self-direction from each team member? For an understanding of different leadership styles, see Leadership Styles and How They Impact Your Success.

By giving your leadership skills as much priority as your clinical skills, you may soon find that you are not only improving the patient care you provide, but also the overall environment of your practice.