How to be the leader that this moment and your practice require

By Roger P. Levin, DDS

COVID-19 has created a situation where leadership requires radical change. Orthodontists must move into a new role of crisis leadership, which is very different than one might think. It involves messaging, communication, regular contact, and the ability to focus the team on a common purpose. These days that common purpose is orthodontic practice recovery.

Leadership in a Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has created a unique situation. Never in any previous recession have practices been shut down or faced a health scare. Every orthodontic practice is now facing a business turnaround, which will require another type of leadership. Fortunately, there is academic science behind the successful methods of leading a business turnaround. There are courses taught in business schools, with textbooks and many articles written on the subject. The acknowledged first step is to recognize that it will not be business as usual. Crisis leadership is uniquely different from everyday leadership and it should be mastered by every orthodontist. The following four recommendations will help any orthodontist lead their practice through the COVID-19 era.

1. Communicate

Perhaps the most important role of communication in a crisis is to communicate frequently. During the shutdown, Levin Group recommended that orthodontists reach out to their teams every day through short videos or emails and talk to each team member one-on-one weekly. Once practices reopened, we encouraged practice leaders to keep these lines of communication going by checking in with team members to see how they are feeling and how their families are doing. This is an excellent example of leadership communication in a crisis.

2. Show compassion

I believe that the number one characteristic of great leaders is compassion, and people will need compassion now more than ever. It is important to understand that your team will not be the same as they were prior to COVID-19 and you must try to help them reacclimate in the best way. You must go out of your way to be understanding and helpful. When you lead with compassion, team members, patients, vendors, and everyone else that you see will know that you care and will do your best to help them.

3. Keep communication short

Since orthodontic practices reopened, they have been deluged with key tasks that must be completed each day. Tasks such as contacting overdue patients, pursuing overdue collections, and investigating missing insurance reimbursements all require intense focus every day for successful recovery.  Unfortunately, this leaves little time for your team to process everything coming at them. If you want to ensure that you and your team are on the same page, decide what you want to communicate, keep it short, and ask if anyone has any questions. When Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, made the decision to shut everything down, he communicated it with three very simple phrases. He didn’t spend hours explaining it and it was clear to everyone.

4. Keep on top of key performance indicators

Unlike in normal operations, there are only eight key performance indicators (KPI’s) that you need to know during your recovery, but you need to know them every single day. KPI’s that you must know include production, revenue, cash, expenses, number of new patients seen, number of starts, number of active patients, and number of overdue debonds. In a business turnaround, you cannot wait a month to find out how the practice is performing. You must know these key KPI’s every day and instruct team members to keep on top of them as well. If your KPI’s are on track, your recovery is very likely to be successful. 

Anyone can step up as a leader during a crisis—but understanding the basics of crisis leadership communication is key. OP

[Read More: The 7 C’s of Orthodontic Practice Recovery]

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on orthodontic practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and over 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the U.S. and around the world. To contact Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit or email