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C.L.E.A.R. Leadership in a Dental Practice

“A great culture in dental practices begins with C.L.E.A.R. leadership,” dental consultant Judy Kay Mausolf frequently tells the audience as she lectures around the country. “I'd love to say that culture comes in a box, that I could just take a box and say, ‘Here, doctor.  Here's your culture. Go ahead. Go with that.’” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Creating a great culture requires leadership, and leadership can be scary for a lot of dentists. “They go to school to be a dentist, and it's not until they've been in the business for a couple of years that they start to realize, ‘You know what? I'm a provider, and I also have to run a business.’”

Oftentimes the person who is the most vocal or who is strongest personality in the practice becomes the person who runs the practice. It could be a hygienist or assistant or the office manager. And in a very short while, the practice culture becomes what that person wants it to be versus what the doctor wants it to be.

“When I start working with teams to help them create their culture, I start with the doctors and defining what's important to them and really helping them be clear about leadership,” said Mausolf.

 C.L.E.A.R. is an acronym for:

  • Creating core values
  • Leading by example
  • Empowerment
  • Accountability
  • Results

Creating Core Values

"I ask dentists to come up with their four core value words in order of priority," said Mausolf.  That can stump some people.  And if there are multiple doctors in the practice, they may choose different values. In that case, the dentists need to talk about what they value most and agree on their top priorities.

Some examples may be excellence of service, compassionate care, or efficiency.  Often, it's helpful to think about what led to the dentist having a great day. The things that went right are often a reflection of the dentist's core values.

"I ask them to be consistent with their message about the service they deliver, the team they hire, how they work, and how they lead." 

Leading by Example

If you want to have a culture in a certain way, the dentist needs to ensure he or she is setting the standard for leadership. 

"The team is going to follow your lead," said Judy Kay Mausolf. "That's the number one leadership principle there is." 

A leader's attitude, behavior, expectations of others, appreciation for others, and celebration of the practice's achievements must be consistent with the dentist's identified core values.  Otherwise, it will come across as having one standard for the dentist and another set for everyone else.


It can be easy for doctors to think that they need to come up with all the answers.  Mausolf said that's not the case.

"Truthfully, the team wants to be involved in the decision-making process or at least give feedback. They want their opinions heard and understood," she explained during a discussion with Amol Nirgudkar, the CEO of Patient Prism. 

Empowerment is established in a variety of ways. A few easy ones include training, communication, and team meetings, said Mausolf. 

The goal is to create a safe environment where team members feel they can provide their honest opinions for identifying concerns, offering suggestions, and implementing solutions. 


"Accountability is more than just having a conversation and saying, 'Let's do this"," explained Mausolf. "It's really about the follow-up. It's have a clear delegation of duties and clarifying expectations."

The key is to identify the who, what, when, where, why and how of the process that needs to be implemented, and then making sure it happens.


Dental practice leaders need to evaluate measurable results. Everyone needs to know what success looks like, and which metrics will be used to evaluate that success. That way, everyone in the practice understands his or her role in reaching those metrics, and everyone is working toward the same goal.

"That's clear leadership in a nutshell," said Mausolf. 

About this Industry Leader:

Judy Kay Mausolf - Profile Pic

Judy Kay Mausolf

Practice Management, Team Building & Communication Specialist

Judy Kay is owner and president of Practice Solutions Inc, a dental practice management coach, speaker, and author of Rise & Shine; An Evolutionary Journey to Get Out of Your Way and On Your Way to Success. With expertise in communication and team relationships, she coaches dentists and managers who want to be better leaders, motivate their teams to work together better, and ultimately grow their practice. She was President of National Speakers Association Minnesota Chapter (2012-13), and a member of the National Speakers Association, Academy of Dental Management Consultants, and Speaking Consulting Network. She is an Advanced Transformational TrainerTM. Judy Kay is a contributing author for The Progressive Dentist, Dental Economics, Dentistry IQ, AGD Impact, First Impression, Pink Tooth, and the Observer. She also publishes the monthly newsletter Show Your Shine.

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