I was at the Faculty of Medical Leaders and Managers conference last year, their first conference.  It’s new and open to doctors and secondary care dentists. There were not many dentists there, but that’s a different story.  I thought the conference was excellent, plenty of parallel streams to go along to, interesting speakers and some good ideas to think about.

Many of the sessions covered leadership and I was particularly struck by some research presented by the Hays group.  It was about leadership styles and the preferred styles that leaders in the health service use.  Hays reported that the ‘pace setting’ style of leadership, used by 57 per cent of health service leaders is their primary style.  The ‘coaching’ style is the preferred primary style of 31 per cent.  Doctors, by comparison, also prefer a pace setting style and even fewer, only 20 per cent, primarily use a coaching style.

It got me thinking about which leadership style dentists might prefer.  Are we similar to doctors in this respect?  It also got me thinking about why pace setting is so dominant in health services.  Is there something about the prevalent target driven culture and the governments’ relentless drive for more, more, more? What about our health service value of care, care, care?  What about supporting our staff to be proud of our record of combining high quality delivery with high quality care?

All the styles described in the Hays report derive from the work of Daniel Goleman.  The six styles are:The New Leaders

  • directive
  • visionary
  • participative
  • pace setting
  • coaching
  • affiliative

They're all effective in their own right.  Here’s the proviso: as long as leaders use the right style for the right situation and regularly use a variety of styles

Pace setting is a good style, I use it myself, although not to the exclusion of the others.  “Little and often” is the pace-setter’s motto.  Goleman suggests that pace setting works well in providing challenge for high performers.  It helps us to achieve.  It sets clear expectations.  However it can create dissonance and discord when over used.  When used too often it leads to burn-out.

Generally, having a range of four or more styles is recommended.  My suggestion is that using a coaching style as your preferred style underpins most of the others, so there’s more ‘bang for your buck’.  Coaching helps people and teams to improve their performance; It aligns employee goals with those of the organization.  It contributes to reduced absenteeism and raises staff engagement.  It’s also a good style to use with patients, to raise lifestyle topics; to improve DNA figures and to improve brushing techniques and compliance.  So a coaching style of leadership makes good business sense as well as good professional and personal sense.

We know from the work of Gorter that burn out is a major health concern in dentistry.  Leaders need to do less and delegate more.  I know you’re thinking “easier said than done”.  Fine words don’t pay the staff, the lease, or the equipment bills.

My challenge to you is to start thinking about a coaching style as an investment - developing that bit of you that your patients really buy.  Yes, patients expect dentists to be good clinicians and to provide good treatment, that’s a given.  They’re known as ‘hygiene factors’ in business terms.

What they buy when choosing a dentist, whether with actual money or with their time, is the person – you.  They buy the dentist who engages with them at their level, listens to them, takes their concerns seriously, respects their wishes and choices, talks to them, explains their treatment options and helps them to maximize their oral health.  Dental professionals can develop all these valuable qualities through the coaching style of leadership.

In a relatively short time, if we haven’t already got there dentists will no longer be a rare commodity, there will be an over supply.  In that competitive environment it will be the dentist who patients want to buy that will online canadian pharmacy stay in business.  The brilliant clinician who thinks patients enjoy being ignored or rushed through the surgery will pay for their complacency.

Our clinical skills are a given, at least as far as patients are concerned, but it’s generally not our clinical skills that patients can judge.  Maybe they could if they had trained as long and as hard as we did.  No, they judge us on our chair-side manner.  In how we lead the Dental Team. Invest in yourself, and invest in a coaching style of leadership.  It's clinical leadership at its best.  It makes good business sense and you, your staff and your patients alike will benefit too.  What’s not to like?




Goleman, Boyatzis and MCKee.  The New Leaders.  ISBN 0-7515-3381-5.

Gorter RC, Eijkman MA, Hoogstraten J. Burnout and health among Dutch dentists. Eur J Oral Sci. 2000 ;108 :261-267.

Hays Group:  www.haysgroup.com