Discussing 5 different styles of leadership in today's dental practice

2020 06 24 22 34 2052 Pezzolesi Dennis 400thumb

The focus of my first article for DrBicuspid.com was to highlight the differences between leaders and managers. Before we begin leading, however, we must identify our leadership style. We must also understand and recognize all styles of leadership, as there are many. We can then identify which style is needed for any particular scenario.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Which leadership style is most appropriate for the task at hand?
  • Which style is most prevalent in the organization?
  • Why would my team follow my lead?
  • How can I alter my behaviors to become this type of leader?

Let's look at the individual leadership styles. As we do, ask yourself which one(s) you most identify with -- and be honest with yourself on the answers.

1. Autocratic leadership

Dennis Pezzolesi, DMD.Dennis Pezzolesi, DMD.

Autocratic leadership can be defined as directive and controlling, a sort of "my way or the highway" approach, which, in some instances, is the attitude that prevails. Micromanaging is a form of autocratic leadership.

In this style of leadership, the team has no freedom of expression and/or ability to participate in the decision-making process. This can alienate team members and suppress creative minds. Autocratic leadership is best used when and if your team is very inexperienced. It is not recommended for a dental team, where it is very important to get feedback and ideas from individual members.

2. Laissez-faire leadership

This is a "free reign" type of leadership. It is only successful if communication is strong with the team in terms of your goals and vision. It requires an experienced team that can be responsible for making decisions and be minimally supervised. It is only for a team that can motivate itself and is knowledgeable and experienced. It is not a good style where the team members feel insecure about their jobs or unclear as to the vision of the office. This style can create resentment if it is used to cover/mask the inability of the leader to lead.

3. Democratic leadership

This style of leadership is centered on team participation and involves decision-making by consensus. This leader involves his or her team in the decision-making process, takes feedback, and guides the team. Democratic leadership empowers team members and gives all involved a sense of responsibility in the success of the practice.

A successful leader is this style knows when to be the teacher and when to be the student. If you have not already guessed, so far this is, in my opinion, the best style for a dental practice. The only caveat here is that endless meetings can occur to decide/resolve every situation.

4. Transformational leadership

This leadership style is based on the leader's ability to motivate and influence his or her team through intellectual stimulation and individual consideration. If you recall from my previous article, this is a trait that distinguishes leaders from managers. The leader in this style understands the strengths and weaknesses of each individual team member. He or she understands the motivating factor for each team member and communicates utilizing that knowledge. Transformational leaders have a crystal-clear vision and can communicate it to their team in a way that motivates them.

5. Transactional leadership

This leadership style is characterized by centralized control over team members. This leader uses two types of "transactions" to lead: rewards and sanctions. Rewards can be praise, raises, and the promise of outcomes or decisions. Sanctions can be negative feedback, threats, or disciplinary action. This leader assumes the team is only motivated by reward or punishment and that team members know from the outset that they must obey the rules and will be closely monitored and controlled. I don't believe this style/environment works well in a dental office setting.


There are the five types or styles of leadership. As much as I personally favor democratic and transformational, each style has pieces that we, as dental professionals, can use in the practice setting with our teams. There are situations where you might be autocratic, as in the case of an inexperienced team member or in the case of a decision that you, the practice owner, must make alone. Transactional reward is a form of bonus motivation, such as if the practice hits a specific goal. Unfortunately, we have all implemented sanctions on certain team members at times. Laissez-faire is a great place to be once you have led a team that now runs smoothly and efficiently on its own.

How have you lead in the past? What brought you to that style?

After answering those questions, ask yourself the four questions posed at the beginning of this article.

We all have leadership styles and leadership skills. It is powerful to learn new ones, in addition to learning from our past as to what may be effective in certain situations in the office setting.

As I continue to learn more about this "thing called leadership," I'll grab bits and pieces and use them for a few benefits, including helping my team, advising/creating other successful groups, and enriching my personal life.

Dennis Pezzolesi, DMD, is the president and CEO of AD Dental and an Aspen Dental practice owner. He has 33 years of experience in clinical dentistry. AD Dental is full-service business development and consulting firm that consists of his Aspen practice, as well as consulting, training, practice valuation, and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisory. He can be reached by email.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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