Leadership Necessities During Crises

  • by Don Deems, DDS, FAGD, PCC
  • Jun 22, 2020
6-22-Leadership_JuneIMPOne of the biggest impediments to providing leadership in times of crisis is an ever-changing set of circumstances. The degree of uncertainty we are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic is unique for most people. At some level, everyone is experiencing worry, doubt, fear, depression, grief and pain. But for dentists and other business owners, in addition to making sure our families are safe, we have to lead our staff members through this crisis as well. We aren’t used to having global crises directly affect our business, so most of us do not have skills or training to lead during these stressful times. 

Help Your Business Recover

It is critical that leaders step up at the beginning of a crisis, not at the height of it. Here are some tips about how to provide solid leadership. 

Get current information, and stay current. Know the latest possible reliable information so you can understand as much as possible. In addition to organized dentistry websites, such as AGD and the American Dental Association, and national news sites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contact your CPA, financial planner, insurance carriers, bank and others you depend on. For larger practices, communicate with your HR team or department for their recommendations. 

Think ahead by preparing your return to your office. Your patients are not going to leave your practice because of the pandemic, but regularly communicating with them will reinforce their commitment to your practice. Start thinking about possible extra office hours, ways of contacting patients, new protocols for infection control, what supplies you’ll need and what types of regular team meetings you’ll have. Share your ongoing plans with your team, and work with team members. 

While you’re away from your office, think through every possible system and protocol you currently have in place. If you don’t have systems and protocols, now is a great time to develop them. 

Develop plans for how you will recover. No one knows how long this pandemic will last or if, when and to what extent it might recur. You might have to make some hard decisions. If your overhead was out of control before the pandemic, now would be a good time to reevaluate. Most dentists have laid off their employees, so reconsider if you really need to rehire each one. Make a new budget based on your projections for the remainder of the year so you will know what you can and should do. 

Be realistic with yourself and your team about pay, equipment purchases, putting together training you never got around to, completing that office policy manual, deep cleaning your office, and/or items that just got put on the back burner because you didn’t have time. 

There will be a group of patients who need your care immediately when you reopen, and there will be patients who want to put off care even longer because of financial concerns. Most likely there will be a period when you are overwhelmed with patients, although it likely won’t make up for the loss you are incurring. When you eventually experience down time, follow through on those items that you identified for recovery. 

Give yourself significant time to reflect on what happened, and learn from it. Just going back to “business as usual” won’t help. Start making a formal plan for future crises while everything is fresh in your mind. Create a step-by-step plan for what needs to be done, along with a timeline for each step’s completion. Timeliness is equally important as a plan. Having a plan in place for future events will go a long way in helping with future stress and anxiety. 

Help Yourself Recover

As a certified personal and business coach, I want to address the personal side of how to take care of yourself so that you can provide leadership. 

Take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This means eating healthfully, getting plenty of rest, getting some exercise (even a 30-minute walk outside will do wonders), praying/ meditating, thinking forward and positively, and limiting your exposure to TV and other sources that can bring you down. Read an entertaining book, and avoid overuse of alcohol and other depressants or stimulants. Make a list of 10 things that nurture you personally, and do one of them each day. 

Stay in contact with family and friends.
Learn how to share your feelings, which may be new to you. It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact, a leader who shows vulnerability is looked at much more positively than one who doesn’t. Call people every day, not just to make sure they are doing OK, but to hear their voice and to share with them what you are feeling. Online virtual meetings are a great way to do this (many have free options). You now have time to call old friends and reconnect. If you have a family, you have plenty of time to spend with your children. Great memories can be made. 

Grief is an emotion that may show up now or later and is linked to an increased risk of mental and physical illness. As dentists, we are either perfectionists or have perfectionistic tendencies, making us more susceptible to worry — especially over situations we can’t control. Thus, finding a way to maintain a positive outlook is crucial. Some ways to help tackle grief include focused relaxation techniques, repeating mantras, biofeedback, reading and learning positive psychology techniques, and seeking out psychologists, therapists, coaches and others. 

Achieve acceptance. Yes, you have losses, but blaming anyone serves no purpose; it hampers your ability to move on with life. Don’t get caught in this negative way of living and thinking. This is a great time to deeply understand what it means to accept what life has thrown at you. Finding your way to acceptance will make your life richer both in the short and long terms.

Pain is a real outcome of this crisis, and it may show up in different forms. Pain is also, from my experience, one of the more difficult and complicated experiences to overcome. However, not overcoming it and not moving on will hold you back. What can you do to work through the pain? It may sound simplistic, but try to stop worrying. Instead, start journaling about everything in your life you feel thankful for. Chronicle everything that you’ve learned from this experience and how these lessons will help in the future. 

Keep moving forward. One of the things I love most about coaching is that it’s a forward-moving process; it’s what attracted me to coaching 20 years ago as a way to help myself and others. It continues today. We can’t change the past, but we can live well today, and we can influence our future with the right actions. 

Even knowing that this pandemic is temporary may not be helpful at this point. We know it will change our world. We must accept it, make plans for the new future with the information we have available, and do those things to keep healthy in all ways. Lastly, reach out without hesitation to those who can help you; that is a right action worth taking. 

Don Deems, DDS, FAGD, PCC, known as The Dentist’s Coach®, is a trained professional, personal and business coach, and a practicing dentist.