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Part 1 Mindset: Self Leadership Tip #16

Think of Yourself as a Leader

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Tip 16: Think of Yourself as a Leader

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stop leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
- Colin Powell

The focus of a dental school education is on technical skills. That's probably a good thing because turning out competent dentists is their major responsibility. Just about one hundred percent of our time in dental school is devoted to becoming better at the skills needed to actually do the work. I remember my first year in the clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, being a struggle to do the work and get it approved, and do it in a reasonable amount of time. I recall a time when I called my father, very proud of completing my very first amalgam restoration. I told him I was exhausted because the patient didn't cooperate and it took me three hours. But it was approved. I will never forget his response, "How are you going to make money doing that?"

With all of the time dentists spend getting better and faster at work, I learned that the answer to his question, which eventually haunts every dentist, lies not only in becoming better technical dentists, but becoming better leaders. Dental schools do not teach leadership.

I served two years in the US Army Dental Corps. Every night I would come home and read the latest journals in an effort to get better. Those two years really helped to extend my dental education. When I left the Army I went right into private practice. For the first time I had people depending on me for guidance. I had a staff. I had patients who had more questions, mostly about money, more than about their teeth. Frustrations mounted on a daily basis. People depended on me to solve their problems. My responsibilities grew. To be honest, I didn't handle the pressure well. I burned out—not from the dentistry but from the responsibilities beyond technical dentistry.

There is a paradox…people are begging to be lead, although sometimes it doesn't look that way. People come to you for your leadership. They depend on you for your expertise and your care. We must be able to balance the push and pull of providing our best dentistry and giving people what they want. Becoming expert at technical dentistry is what is required to provide the best dentistry, but leadership skills enable the dentist to find the balance in order to do their and give people what they want.

Leadership expert Dr. John Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, says in his first law, The Law of the Lid, that "leadership ability determines a person's level of effectiveness." In other words, the lower is an individual's ability to lead, the lower is the lid on his potential. There is a old saying, "What got you here won't get you there." In other words, technical dentistry got you your license but leadership skills will get you success.

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