Servant Leadership Builds Patient Trust and Team Loyalty

By James V. Anderson, DMD

As dental providers, we encourage our patients daily to achieve the best health possible by offering solutions to care. Building relationships with your patients involves thinking of the long-term, and each encounter builds on that relationship. What are their goals for health five years from now? Where does the practice fit into this picture? Changing your mindset of being the boss/commander in chief to be a servant to those who work with you and those you provide care to, can be a massive shift in how you live your life and view your role.

The concept of “Servant Leadership” was introduced to the business community in the 1970s in Robert Greenleaf’s landmark work “The Servant Leader.” Many wildly successful companies have built their foundations by using this management philosophy – namely Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, and Walmart (to name a few).

Do you want to build a thriving dental practice? It’s time for us to be servant leaders. Think of your dental team as being with you long-term. What can you do to foster building these relationships, just as you would your patient relationships? Patients are always comforted to know there is a committed team helping them. Flip your organization structure upside down. Recognize that your patients, and not the dentist, are on top of the pyramid.

The Servant Leadership Institute defines servant leadership as A set of behaviors and practices that turn the traditional “power leadership” model upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. As a result, the practice is centered on a desire to serve and emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. Its primary goal is to enhance individual growth, teamwork, and overall employee involvement and satisfaction.

Servant leadership doesn’t work for all businesses or all organizations when there is a hierarchy or authoritarian style of management in place. All managers are required to understand they are there to serve assistants and hygienists, so these incredibly essential people succeed with your patients.

Before introducing servant leadership, define your values first. After setting your values, think of those that can be improved or enhanced and then live by your values.

The nine values of a servant leader are:

  1. Values diverse opinions (respect others viewpoint)
  2. Cultivates a culture of trust (build on the positive)
  3. Develops other leaders (lets go of ego for the good of all)
  4. Helps people with life issues (engages in active listening)
  5. Encourages people (show trust in their abilities)
  6. Sells instead of tells (persuades not commands)
  7. Thinks you, not me (focus on needs of others)
  8. Thinks long-term (for growth of people and business)
  9. Acts with humility (doesn’t help people for personal gain or to diminish others’ efforts)

A servant leader in dentistry takes the time to listen to patients AND their staff actively. For patients to agree on having dental care, there must be trust in the providers. For the team to follow their leader, they also must trust in the same way. Trust by patients AND staff is built on ethical treatment, serving, keeping your word, and being transparent in all that you do.


James Anderson, DMD was an entrepreneur before becoming a dentist. His leadership and business presentations offer dentists the essentials needed to achieve the practice and life of their dreams. His speaking programs help dentists realize their full practice potential by combining dental clinical skills with excellent business skills to create a profitable and enjoyable dental practice career.

View James’ full bio