A stint in the military is a leadership learning platform like no other.

By nature and necessity, it is disciplined, focused and ordered. However, beyond the purely practical, time in the military provides a wonderful study into human nature. Through the experience, a person comes face to face with leadership in all its forms.

With a willingness to observe and learn, it’s possible to discover and refine a personal style of leadership.

It’s this latter concept – leadership – that warrants a closer consideration, especially as we look to apply it in dental practice.

Leadership and dental practice

It’s a long-held belief the military is a source of inspirational leadership and there’s no doubt it’s true to a point.

Think Winston Churchill, Sir John Monash and Sir Peter Cosgrove, rather than Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men and his infamous, “You can’t handle the truth!” remark.

But the reality is, you’ll find leadership in the military is like leadership in any organisation, large or small. It’s a mixed bag.

What does this have to do with your dental practice?

The truth is, it’s up to each practice owner to be a leader in their business. What I’ve learned is conscious leadership is essential for business success. And it starts with you.

Practice leadership: how to have it, why you need it

Business ownership is the best leadership course around

There’s a popular myth that natural leaders are born and the rest of we mere mortals must suffer out our days just trying to work it out.

Actually, it’s not the case at all.

In fact, leadership can be cultivated in anyone, if there’s a willingness to grow and learn. And business ownership is the perfect learning environment.

As business owners, it’s upon us to lead our own ship.

In their book Lead the Ship, Edward and Rebecca Plant describe three levels of leadership in a business.

The first ship to lead is your own. This means taking responsibility for ourselves.

The second ship that requires your leadership is the business and team. And the third ship where you need to step up and lead is with your customers.

Let’s look at how that translates to a business owner working in the trenches of their dental practice.

Would you follow your lead

Caught up in everyday operations, it’s hard to step up and be the leader your business needs you to be. So what does it take to be a leader in your own practice?

While charisma is an element of leadership, it is by no means the most important factor. More essential is the ability to set a vision and then be able to drive others to the vision.

It also wise to understand your strengths as a leader, and how these can be developed. Knowing your weaknesses, and how to improve these, is vital too.

Honesty’s important with this exercise. You might decide to delegate an activity you don’t enjoy doing. However, if there’s an area where you really do need to ‘own’ a task you’ve been avoiding – like staff management or looking after the numbers, then leadership means doing that too.

Ironically, it’s the tough situations that come up in business – like dealing with the difficult staff member or business partnership challenge – that create the greatest environment for learning, growing, and becoming a stronger leader.

Leadership does not mean knowing it all

As dentists, our natural inclination is to make decisions and act based on gathering all the information. An ideal approach in the realm of patient care, perfectionism can be limiting in the execution of business strategy.

So here’s another truth: leadership means making decisions without all the information sometimes.

My coaching clients will know in business I work to the maxim prolific beats perfect.

Because it’s just not possible to know everything before you begin, as practice owners, we’re better off finding the balance we can live with between too much and too little information.

Instead, know and accept there are three parts to every decision: the preparation, the decision itself, and the execution.

The nature of business, with its constant changes, demands we remain agile enough to adjust our approach accordingly.

Leadership means understanding boundaries

I wouldn’t be the only business owner on the planet to have felt challenged by leading their team.

Knowing how to connect, without being too familiar is a fine line, and it takes time for a business owner to mark out that line.

At 21 and leading a team of 30 in the navy, I struggled with this dilemma. But after some valuable learning experiences, I had a realisation.

My team and patients want to be led. It’s more important to them to feel comfortable and confident in me as a leader, than it is for me to be their best mate. What this means is I can say thank you, lend a hand and connect, yet still maintain my posture and boundaries as the leader in my business.

And it’s here where boundaries make life simpler. It is possible to strike a balance between friendly and professional by establishing clear expectations from the outset.

Position descriptions, implementing key performance indicators, and regular 360 reviews, provide clarity around expectations and performance. Using these tools effectively means you and your team are working from the same page.

Leadership also means working together

Many dental practices are owned by a husband/wife team. So how does business leadership translate when there are two of you involved?

Unless you’ve done your critical thinking about roles and responsibilities, this is an area that can cause confusion and leave one or both parties feeling disempowered.

Sharing the business leadership means aligning both partners to the vision for the business.

It means empowering both husband and wife by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each, and then working to these.

It also means setting clear boundaries around communication, roles and responsibilities, which in turn leads to a more balanced, respectful relationship, professionally and personally.

This approach applies equally to professional partnerships and directorships too.

Leadership is never done

One thing you must know is that leadership in business is never done.

Through Savvy Dentist, we talk a lot about continuous improvement. We get better results by asking better questions, and the question to ask here is: what can I do to lead my ship better?

Continuous improvement happens through analysis, training, reading, coaching, strategic planning and then execution.

If you and your team ask that question regularly, you can’t help but be successful at growing and scaling your business.

If you’d love your team to be asking “what can I do to lead my ship better”, book in for our next two-day intensive, Be Impressive on Purpose: the Aligned Team. This workshop brings together essential ingredients to train and support your staff and key players to be top performers – and leaders on your ship.