Visions for Leadership

Jul 13, 2016 No Comments by

Lessons from My Years in Practice.
In July 2016, the Dr. Dick Barnes Group and Arrowhead Dental Laboratory is hosting a 40th Anniversary World Symposium in the scenic mountains of Park City, Utah. During the seminar, dentists from around the world will spend two days learning from many of dentistry’s most influential thought leaders about leadership and how it relates to building a more productive and satisfying dental practice.

As many of you know, I have been in the dental industry for 50 years. During that time, I have seen and learned a great deal. Recently, I received a call from a former patient who now lives in Kansas. When this woman went to her last dental appointment, she was sent home with a clean bill of health and no additional work needed. The dentist asked her, “Who did your original dental work?” She responded, “Dr. Dick Barnes!” She generously called to thank me for dental work that has served her well for 40 years and counting.

Be the kind of leader who ensures that dentistry remains a vibrant and fulfilling profession.


Today, the forces of change are working to shape the future of dentistry and it is important for us to strive to become increasingly better dentists. It’s also a critical time for dentists as leaders.

We are seeing a vast expansion of corporate dentistry. Technology and patient attitudes are changing at an exponential rate and are reshaping the vision of dentistry’s long held value proposition of quality. If dentists don’t become the guiding influence in helping to chart the future course of our profession, we may find ourselves mere passengers on this journey.

There isn’t anything magical about leadership. It simply requires someone who will start doing things differently. Throughout my career, I have found some principles that have helped me teach dentists to become more effective leaders.

Here are some of my favorite principles of leadership:
All leaders should be firm in principle, flexible in procedure. Success is easy—just copy it. Find someone who is successful and follow their principles. But always be flexible and adapt those principles to your particular needs.
Good leaders listen. In team meetings, the leader should primarily let others talk. As soon as the leader says something, everyone else is quiet. You will learn much more about what’s going on in the practice if you let others speak.
Surround yourself with the best possible people. As leaders, dentists should hire the best people for their jobs. To continue their progress, make sure they are trained by the best trainers in practice development. Don’t try to do everything yourself—hire the highest-quality team members.
Good leaders lead and get out of the way. After hiring good people, dentists should get out of the way and let the team members do what they’re good at.
Good leaders delegate. In an ideal practice, the team members are responsible for their own jobs, and the dentist is free to be “just the dentist” and a leader who shows direction.
Leaders should be open to new ideas. Once, in my office, a chairside assistant suggested that we reorganize some of the instruments, color-coding trays and correspondingly color-coding the instruments for different procedures. This idea saved our office a lot of time by having things organized, identifiable, and ready to go. She remained responsible for her own ideas.
Leaders take risks. An introvert by nature, I took a risk early on by being more assertive and outgoing. All leaders need to take risks to get themselves and their practice to a new level.
A good leader shows direction. Many times, we get trapped doing what’s comfortable. To avoid this, ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing things the way I’m doing them?’ If your answer is, ‘Because I’ve always done it that way,’ then it’s time to take another look.
A leader knows his or her strengths. If we dentists don’t stick to doing what we are trained to do, we could be “jumping over dollars to save nickels.” You should look for “undone” dentistry!
A leader earns respect. Once a dentist earns the respect of staff members, they will trust the dentist when he or she presents comprehensive dentistry to patients. Patients will make financial sacrifices when they understand the value of comprehensive dentistry.

If you follow these principles, you can transform your practice. Your patients will be grateful that you were their dentist and provided services that were meant to last.

I hope that as you look to the future, you constantly ask yourself what dentistry can and should be. Once you have established that vision, commit yourself to becoming a leader who not only achieves success for yourself and your practice, but also ensures that dentistry remains a vibrant and fulfilling profession.

Editor's Commentary, Summer 2016

About the author

Dr. Dick Barnes is the leader in practice development for today’s cosmetic practice. A graduate of Marquette Dental School, he began his general dentistry practice in Rialto, California. As his practice, skills and reputation grew, he became known as one of the world leaders in cosmetic dentistry. In addition, Dr. Barnes taught at Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California, at their respective dental schools.
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