The difference between leadership and management

By Dennis Pezzolesi, DMD, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

June 26, 2020 -- There are thousands of courses, books, webinars, and articles on leadership. This article addresses my experiences in implementing leadership concepts and techniques derived from the content of many of these sources.

Like any other skill (and leadership is a skill), it must be authentic. To be authentic, it must be yours and come from the heart. In today's dental office setting, it is essential to be both a leader and a manager. Most, if not all, of us know how to manage somewhat effectively. We may, however, need some assistance in defining leadership and understanding exactly how to lead.

Dennis Pezzolesi, DMD
Dennis Pezzolesi, DMD.

There is a distinct difference between a leader and a manager. As Peter Drucker states: "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing." As an effective leader, you strive to get people to follow you, not just to follow "the rules."

Effective leaders, therefore, must ask themselves the following questions:

  • 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 behavior to become this type of leader?

There are many styles, so you should start by determining which one suits you. Once you discover what it is, you can "own it" and develop it to become the leader you desire to be.

However, for now, let's focus on the difference between leadership and management. To be successful, dental practice owners must have their team believe in the vision and implement it. Below is a helpful table breaking down some of the differences between management and leadership.

Management (structure) vs. leadership (flexibility)
Management Leadership
A function A relationship
Planning Selecting talent
Budgeting Motivating
Evaluating Coaching
Facilitating Building trust

Strong managerial traits include the ability to direct, to execute a vision, to establish work rules, and to take care of your people.

The common traits of a strong leader are honesty and integrity, having a vision, being inspirational, having the ability/courage to challenge and create new ideas, and possessing strong communication skills, especially listening.

To engage your team in providing the best service and treatment to your patients, you must enroll your team in your vision and align their perceptions and behaviors with that vision. You must get your team excited to follow you and always make sure they are clear on "what is in it for them." To accomplish this, a leader finds out what is most important to each individual team member and then leads him or her in that direction. It is also very important to then relate what that is to his or her specific purpose/responsibility ("job") within the office.

The challenge is to both manage and lead. Those who do both create a much more successful (financially and emotionally) environment. Managing your team, because it is more structured, may not take as much time once the guidelines are in place.

Let's look at a more specific example of a scenario that may occur in a dental practice setting. You have an employee who comes in late to work a few times every week. She is a good employee and a valuable member of your team, but this behavior has to change (yes, notice I referred to it as a behavior). You start at 9 a.m., and the team comes in 15 to 20 minutes before the first patient for a quick huddle.

As a manager, you would address it from a structure perspective: "We start at 8:45 so as to plan our day, and so that you can get ready for the first patient. It keeps us on time, and the patients appreciate that."

As a leader, you would address the behavior as follows: "What's been happening that has been causing you to come in late?"

You then proceed based on the answer. Notice that the manager made a statement, while the leader asked a question.

As a manager, your job is basically done unless the behavior continues. You may terminate the person if the behavior doesn't stop, but you've accomplished your managerial role if the behavior does stop.

As a leader, your job has just begun. It is time to listen, ask another question, and listen again. At some point, based on your understanding of what is important to this person, you can offer a solution in the form of a behavioral change, as in this example:

I know you care for our patients and it shows. They love you! You have said how much satisfaction you get out of making them feel safe and comfortable. It is extremely important to you that that does not change. I have a suggestion because I want you to be successful and you are a huge part of our team. Since you are having trouble oversleeping and you hit the snooze button repeatedly, causing you to be late, how about we try this? Simply move your alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Set it for the exact time you will need to get up, showered, and make it to work on time. Let's see if it helps, and please remember how important it is for you to be here on time.

Notice the leader took much more time and effort. The leader considered the relationship versus the function. The leader coached, motivated, and built trust.

In this example, the leadership technique has a much greater chance to resolve the issue long term.

In conclusion, I will leave you with these two thoughts:

  1. Be the leader who appears for your team, simply because they need and want you to.
  2. Leaders may be managers, but not all managers are leaders.

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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