Want to Lead Your Patients & Team?  

January 16, 2023 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Here’s how to become an instant leader.

A while back, I sat in on a Facebook Live interview with a dentist who was discussing practice management for young dentists. Like so many times, the interviewer asked the guests, “What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a dentist who is just starting out in his or her career?” And like so many “experts” the dentist replied, “Learn leadership.”

It was like asking for advice on how to live a long life and responding, “Keep breathing.”

Yes, leadership is the right answer, but have you ever looked at the number of books available on leadership? Today I looked on Amazon and found 60,000 leadership books.

Young dentists need better answers.

Young dentists need more practical answers—answers that allow them to apply what they know. Leadership comes in many styles and sizes. Leadership is a universal concept. Did the dentist mean the Leadership Lessons of Abe Lincoln…or the Navy Seals? There is a big difference.

A better question might have been: Where should I start regardless of style, personality or even mission?

What is the one thing that all leaders have in common?

The answer is followers. No one can be a leader without followers, and in a dental practice, followers are patients and staff. Not one of them will take one step forward if they don’t believe that you are the doctor that will take them where they want to go.

What is it that the followers in a dental practice want to know?

They have two silent questions in their mind. You must answer the two silent questions for them to trust you. And they must trust you to follow you.

The first question is: “Do you care about me?” So that is your starting point. Don’t take for granted that you are being perceived as someone who puts their patients and staff ahead of themselves. It takes lots of time to develop the mindset and habit set that leads to this perception. As a young dentist you need to start there and work on this.

The second question is: “Can you do the job?” or “Are you competent enough to do the job?” As a young dentist, understand that you are still in your apprenticeship stage of your career. That means there is plenty more to learn. In my career I remember taking many technical courses that were disconnected and I had to make sense of them. It was more like a self-directed apprenticeship.

Who can help you become a leader?

Mastering leadership, trust and technical dentistry is a combination you will find at The Pankey Institute. I tried numerous CE programs and read thousands, of books. But it was the inspiration and mentoring I received in the Pankey community, and the discipline of journaling (reflection) that I adopted mid-career that kept me on task towards mastery.

Today I would advise the young dentist to find a mentor or mentoring community, and when you find them, ask, “Do you care about me and can you do the job?”

That would be my advice to any young dentist looking to learn about leadership, trust and even mastery.

Related Course

E3: Restorative Integration of Form & Function

DATE: October 5 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 9 2025 @ 2:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute


Dentist Tuition: $ 7400

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Understanding that “form follows function” is critical for knowing how to blend what looks good with what predictably functions well. E3 is the phase of your Essentials journey in which…

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).