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    How to be a successful dentist CEO

    The best CEOs know that their success or failure depends on their ability to inspire and guide the people in their company.

    When I work with dentist entrepreneurs in emerging or small group practices with three to 10 practices, they often began their journey envisioning themselves as the CEO of their future enterprise—away from the “chair,” sitting in a corporate wood-paneled office, meeting with a stellar executive team that is getting the job done in each department, with little or no oversight. They imagined themselves in a leather padded swivel chair, turning around as they look out through their floor to ceiling windows at the cityscape, all the while having a conversation on their headset. “Ah, it will be great,” they think.

    What they don’t realize is being a CEO isn't about having a C-level title, a corner office, or the power to make important company decisions. The best CEOs know that their success or failure depends on their ability to inspire and guide the people in their company.

    Being a CEO doesn’t mean to manage people; being a CEO means to lead people.

    Read more: How to grow your dental practice in a competitive market

    Manager versus CEO corporate leader

    Having worked in a number of corporate environs for more than a decade, along with having worked with many dentist owners in solo or small group practices, I’ve noticed some parallels. If I had to classify who dentists are in a corporate setting, I’d say dentists are basically “middle managers.”

    Middle managers make sure that people do their job. Middle managers make sure all the operational pieces are working. Middle managers stay in communication with the other stakeholders who are needed for operational success. But dentists differ from middle managers because dentists don’t report to anyone, and that is one of the major flaws of dentistry. Dentists have no one to be accountable to except themselves—and that’s dangerous.

    Management’s job is getting work done through people. The CEO’s job is developing people through work. Management is about the day to day. The CEO is about the future. Management is generating appropriate action that leads to results. The CEO is about generating appropriate thinking so the people grow and develop, which leads to better actions and results. Management is about reaching the goal. The CEO is about setting the goal. The CEO is about peer relationships, while management is about hierarchical relationships.

    Dentist CEOs have difficulty because they think they’ve been leading, but what they’ve actually been doing is managing.

    The accountability of the CEO

    The CEO is accountable to the core values being stringently upheld -- that the vision is clear and the team is fully engaged in those actions that will make the vision a reality. The CEO is accountable for hiring the right executive team to get it done. The CEO is accountable for the fulfilment of the strategic plan and making the agreed upon goals each quarter. The CEO is the ultimate “committed listener,” ensuring employees, managers and directors all deliver on their word. The CEO is accountable for generating a culture where integrity really matters.

    The CEO is also accountable to the lenders and vendors. The CEO inherently gives their word that they will honor the organization’s agreements, leases and contracts. The CEO is accountable for payroll being met.

    More from the author: Are DSOs headed for trouble?

    In summary, the CEO is accountable to the core values being profoundly embedded and embraced in the enterprise, the senior executive team performing well and the company achieving its strategic goals. They do this not through management, but through leadership. Not through direct orders, commands or requests (that’s management), but through influence.

    Influence is the capacity to affect the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. Influence is an area where dentists perform poorly. They haven’t developed the skillset to influence people, so they revert to management to get things done. Dentists’ ability to impact, stimulate and inspire is simply not well developed.

    The CEO sees where the organization needs to go as the future unfolds. The CEO’s job is to keep the company relevant and growing, increase recognition in their space and expand brand awareness. But the CEO’s job always comes down to being a powerful leader who inspires and ignites others in such a way that they are committed to the company and to its mission.

    Up next: Why dentist CEOs fail...

    Dr. Marc Cooper
    Dr. Cooper's professional career includes private periodontist, academician, researcher, teacher, practice management consultant, ...


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