Groom the Members of Your Dental Staff to Become Innovators and Leaders

Maggie Augustyn, DDS


Let’s stress this once again: the pandemic has been an opportunity. For those of us trying to avoid aimlessly pacing in our living rooms between emergency calls, COVID-19 has given us a chance to spend time learning online.

Zoom calls weighed down our bandwidth across the household as our kids began e-learning, our spouses began working remotely, and we finally collected the countless CE hours offered online. We had an opportunity to learn about clinical dentistry, practice management, and even better mental fitness. 

In all of this, we have been given a chance to pause and consider a future roadmap for our practice and for our life in general. And thus, in the spirit of learning via my own Mac, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to participate in many webinars hosted by Productive Dentist Academy.

The most recent of these classes, “Recovery Tactics from the Productive Dentist,” spanned eight hours over four weeks. This month-long class was just enough to sharpen my appetite as I looked for a holistic approach toward practice improvement. The most memorable lessons from Bruce Baird’s course had to do with team development, team alignment, goal setting for team members, and, especially, leadership.

The Role of Leadership

A word of caution: leader is a loaded word that means different things to different people. Leaders listen. Leaders are self-starters, not clock-watchers. Some people say leaders are born. Others swear by leadership training. Some believe leaders need to come forward on their own. Others think leaders ought to be discovered, empowered, and encouraged.

Having considered many of these angles and definitions, what seems to be most important is how leadership relates to a particular position. You need to spell out what you’re looking for in your leaders not just as a practice owner but also as the leading member of your team.

When you’re determining how to fill a position in your practice, it’s important to reflect on your current culture and what possible changes you want to accomplish. Reflection makes us better at predicting. The more time you spend examining your past experiences with employees, the better you will be at ultimately predicting how you can grow your candidates into leaders.

Team development doesn’t just happen at the direction of the leader. Connections to your office culture also happen in the hearts of your internal brand ambassadors. These team members also can be called integrators.

According to Victoria Peterson, an integrator is someone who sees your vision and proactively implements it across the practice. Your integrator is your champion. Your integrator is your second in command, inspiring others toward reaching success. And you should identify success based on specific, measurable, assignable, relevant, and time-based or SMART goals.

The Hierarchy Among Your Staff

Training can benefit everyone on your team. More often than not, training will enable them to move up in your office’s hierarchy, though not everyone will reach its pinnacle.

You’ll find your learners and helpers at the base of your hierarchy. They are at the beginning of their training, learning the layout of the practice and the duties in their job description. After gaining expertise with time, they can become specialists and contributors—the rank and file of your staff.

Next, there are coaches, managers, and mentors who have risen beyond their roles as contributors. And at the top of the hierarchy, you’ll find innovators and leaders. Integrators are at the apex as well, since they are considered innovators and leaders too.

However, integrators have the most commonly missing role in dental offices. Their leadership comes not via a lens of control or micromanagement but through influence. Integrators focus their daily tasks on fulfilling the practice’s mission and vision. They know how to identify solutions with zest and creativity, working with or through others to get those jobs done.

Integrators are essential in elevating the patient experience, and they are the fundamental force in getting the team to work together in a genuine fashion. And we all know that patients are fully aware of authentically sincere interaction.

One way to accelerate the progression of learners into contributors is to nurture their work and ambition with meetings and sessions structured for safe conversation and interaction. As team members realize that the jump from one role to the next is possible, their brilliance will shine. And the same goes for helping contributors become coaches and mentors.

As members of your team rise in the hierarchy, their work will become more involved, and the process will get longer. And helping coaches and mentors become leaders and innovators takes even more work. Again, some people would say that leaders are born, not taught.

The process begins with finding out whether or not you as the practice owner even needs leaders in your office and whether these employees want to take on these roles for themselves. It is crucial for these members of your team to express their desire for these roles too. It is only at this point that the process of grooming these employees for leadership positions can begin. And if you’re lucky enough to allow someone rise from a learner to contributor, coach, and innovator roles, you will develop a gift that will keep on giving. 

Setting the tone for innovator creation requires clarity on your part as the leader and on their part as the potential leader. All parties need to be motivated. Also, you need to regularly increase the complexity of the challenges you present, not just coach your candidates through their everyday tasks.

The time you spend grooming and developing brand ambassadors in your practice will propel its mission, vision, and values and spill happily into genuine interactions with patients. The rest of your team will find their roles in creating something greater than themselves too. As a team, then, you will be greater than the sum of your parts.

Dr. Augustyn is a practicing general dentist. She earned a DDS from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has completed the course sequence with the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She completes a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education each year as well, including orthodontics, implantology, periodontics, prosthodontics, and cosmetics. Dr. Augustyn is an avid writer. Additionally, she is a moderator on the Dental Nachos. She can be reached at

Related Articles

An Open Letter to My Dental Team

Dentistry Made Me Hate People—For a Moment

Become a Fee-for-Service Office? Not Me