Invest in Your Leadership Skills by Paul Edwards

Invest in Your Leadership Skills 

They don’t teach you this in dental school, but it’s essential to practice success

by Paul Edwards

In dental school, you’re taught that the keys to your success are directly tied to your clinical skills, and you were not wrong to focus on becoming a great clinician during your education. The reality, however, is that as a working dentist, you will spend more time thinking about your employees and HR-related problems than your patients! That’s why the biggest challenge to real and sustainable success in the dental industry will not be your clinical skills but managing and maintaining a great culture within your team of employees.

Managing people can be hard, and becoming a great leader requires a lifetime commitment to growth—both for your team and your own leadership skills. You can be the best dentist in the world, but you must also be an effective leader. One without the other is like ... Carolina barbecue without the vinegar sauce. I mean, both are delicious, but together? Unquestionably the best!

My early businesses turned out to be the proving ground for the HR company I eventually founded. I made many mistakes and continue to learn new things every day, and so will you. As frustrated or upset as you may get, never forget what an honor it is to be a leader and to have people look to you for help providing for themselves and their families.

When I finally realized my highest purpose was to lead others, my world changed. No matter my skills or capabilities, the key to true and lasting success was surrounding myself with great people. That is where things like establishing core values, purpose and missions come into play. Finding, keeping and leading great employees is an art unto itself.

Because the American Dental Association projects that 78.1% of dental grads are eventually going to become practice owners, I thought I might share some of the things I wish someone had told me when I first got started. From this manager of people to those 78.1% of you about to take that step, my largest piece of advice would be this: Make sure you take some time to invest in your education as a leader. What I’ve observed after 15 years of being the CEO of CEDR HR Solutions is that the better I am at being a leader, the more successful my business becomes. With that in mind, here are some things that you probably aren’t spending much time on in dental school that will definitely be part of your daily life at your future practice.

Understand the rules and comply the best you can.

Every people problem has a corresponding employment law that regulates what you cannot do when solving it. When you understand the rules and regulations and comply with them as an employer, it actually empowers you to be able to lead with confidence and integrity. What’s more, if you are not aware of or not following the rules, you may find yourself powerless as an already bad situation blows up in your face, because you have been violating, unaware or not, some important employment law.

It may feel like a drag, but trust me: Great leaders need to confidently show they understand the rules of the road. To this end, keep in mind that there are going to be some things you are not competent to do. Creating your own employee handbook is high on that list. Likewise, keeping the one you were given, bought or downloaded without being given extensive training on how it works and protects you is a bad idea. The handbook, even a well-written one, is not an asset unless you receive one-on-one training.

The creation of culture, mission and purpose early on is critically important.

When I started my first business, I thought that my most important assets were my skills and the business itself. I was lucky because people would follow me for the most part, but occasionally, for no apparent reason, things would fall apart. What I have since learned is that in the absence of a company culture intentionally created and maintained by me, my team created their own culture for me, which was not good! Without the guidance that company culture creates, no one could correct themselves by looking to a defined set of goals, purpose or culture to right the ship on their own.

Instead, our good work was hijacked and replaced by petty infighting that made them stop performing the essential duties of their roles. Worse, in hindsight, I would then revert to leading by edict, making people miserable. Authoritarian leadership through fear and sheer brute force is exhausting, ineffective and unsustainable. You must work collaboratively to establish a written version of the three components: culture, mission and purpose. You are going to want to update parts of it every year. It’s not easy, but when you see it working, it can be one of the most rewarding ongoing experiences of your life.

The path to a better life is through a better workplace.

Creating and maintaining the kind of team you can be proud of—and who are also proud of you and the practice—is something almost anyone who wants to can learn how to do. It’s a process-driven, never-ending endeavor to engage and lead people. In dental school, you have the opportunity to practice clinical skills in a “safe place.” There is no equivalent “safe place” for future employers to learn leadership skills. From day one as an employer, you assume all the responsibilities and your employees will be looking to you for all the answers.

Believe it or not, those employees want to be engaged and grow in their roles at your practice! That’s why your leadership education should include learning how to be a good coach for your employees—delivering feedback and helping them develop professionally. When they get better, so do you.

That’s why it’s so important to invest in your own growth as well, although I understand with the neverending to-do list that is starting a business, this advice is easy to ignore, even if it is your best shot at having a successful practice. That’s exactly why I created CEDR HR Solutions to begin with. I wanted to give the owners of dental practices the leadership resources and legal guidance needed to run a successful and legally compliant practice.

As tall of an order as it seems right now, I hope you will take some time to begin the journey and invest in your leadership skills as you launch your practice. Recognizing the value of the people who work for you—and, to create a better workplace for them, investing in your own education as a leader—will easily be one of the best decisions you will ever make. Just don’t be like me and take 15 years to figure it out!

Author Bio
Paul Edwards Paul Edwards is the CEO and co-founder of CEDR HR Solutions, a leading provider of on-demand HR support for dental practices of all sizes and specialties across the United States. With more than 25 years of experience as a manager and business owner, Edwards is well-known throughout the dental and health care communities for his expertise when it comes to helping owners and managers effectively solve HR problems. He provides regular HR guidance on his blog at

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