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The Worst Advice I Got in Dental School

“Just do good dentistry and the rest will take care of itself.” 

We all heard this same advice in dental school. At the time it was comforting as it allowed me to continue to simply focus on attaining clinical skill. However, as I approach my 20 year dental school reunion, I can confidently say this is poor advice. While the intent comes from a good place, the application is certainly flawed. 

Let’s study why this advice is flawed by introducing the three people that are leading your practice. These three people all take turns being the leader of your practice and while all three are essential, allowing any one of them to over function without input from the other two will prove harmful to your practice. It won’t take you long to appreciate that these three people are the same person and if you own your own practice, I’m talking about you. 

The Entrepreneur

Inventor, Innovator, Opportunist. The entrepreneur looks constantly for ways to improve the practice, its quality of care, the customer experience, as well as the financial success of the business. This is the visionary or the dreamer. Some of the best qualities of your practice came from the entrepreneur in the form of any idea. The entrepreneur thinks in the future and doesn’t get bogged down by today’s smaller challenges. This person is excited to implement big ideas and is usually the inspirational leader of the practice. The entrepreneur is fueled by emotion. 

Caution -  He or she loves change and often jumps to a new idea before the last one has time to be proven. The entrepreneur also sometimes frustrates the team when their attention is everywhere but what needs to happen right now, today. A dental team requires extreme clarity around tasks and responsibilities and an over functioning entrepreneur can often paint mixed messages about where the practice is headed.

The Boss

The Boss is driven, logical, and uber-focused on the day to day operation of the entire business. The boss sees the big picture and understands how all the processes fit together to achieve business success. This includes implementing ideas from the entrepreneur as well as staying consistent among all the practice’s functions. Whereas the entrepreneur is fueled by emotion, the Boss is fueled by action. Things are black and white in the boss’s eyes. The boss provides order, predictability, and operational success to the practice and is focused on holding the team accountable to performance standards. 

Caution - An over functioning Boss can overlook the emotional needs of the team and can drive team culture backwards. When too much attention is paid to tasks and systems without nurturing the people on the team, the work environment can suffer. In addition, focusing only on today’s performance without innovation, will eventually lead to a decline in overall performance. The Boss needs the Entrepreneur and vice versa. 

The Clinician

Both the Entrepreneur and Boss need the third leader, the Clinician. The clinician is the one that actually delivers the product of your business, dentistry. The clinician is focused on the techniques and the sensitivity of those techniques that leads to clinical success or failure. The clinician is solely responsible for the quality control of the dentistry. The clinician is the doer and is happiest with his or her head down doing dentistry. 

Caution - When this person focuses only on the clinical aspects of the practice, the business as a whole suffers. While quality dentistry is a non-negotiable requirement, the patient experience is only partially affected by the quality of the dentistry. The clinician can often become blind to the Entrepreneur or the Boss since their entire training and focus for so long has been on the technique. With an over functioning Clinician, the team isn’t given the clarity they need, and the culture suffers due to a singular focus only on clinical success. 

Take Home Message

Striking the right balance between these three roles is key to your practice’s future success. All are important, necessary, and all will lead your practice to failure if left to dominate and drown out the other two. This is why “just doing great dentistry..” almost never results in business success.  Yes, you can provide amazing clinical dentistry and have poor performing business at the same time.

The best overall practices have a leader or leadership team that is intentional about allowing all three of these leaders to emerge at the right time, for the right amount of time, and in the right way. Give thought to your own balance between the three. While you spend the most time as Clinician, have you established the behavior and habits necessary for you to also be the Entrepreneur and Boss? 

Look for the next installment of the Leadership Corner for specific strategies and processes you can use to help you find the balance between the three leaders you need to be!



Dr. Barrett Straub

Dr. Straub practices general and sedation dentistry in Port Washington, WI. He has worked hard to develop his practice into a top performing fee for service practice that focuses on improving the lives of patients through dentistry. A graduate of Marquette Dental School, his advanced training and CE includes work at the Spear Institute, LVI, DOCS, and as a member of the Milwaukee Study Club. He is a past member of the Wisconsin Dental Association Board of Trustees and was awarded the Marquette Dental School 2017 Young Alumnus of the Year. As a former ACT coaching client that experienced first-hand the transformation that coaching can provide, he is passionate about helping other dentists create the practice they’ve always wanted. Dr. Straub loves to hunt, golf, and spends winter on the ice curling. He is married to Katie with two daughters, Abby, and Elizabeth.