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Part 1 Mindset: Self Leadership Tip #2

Your Role

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Tip 2: Establish Your Role

Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright's pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace.
- Maya Angelou

I would love to go to work and be able to just do dentistry, then I would love to go home and just be a father and a husband. Ah, if life were so simple. There are so many tasks that need to get done during the course of a day that the
average dentist is changing hats more than Lady Gaga changes outfits. On any given day dentists can be called upon to fix equipment, balance a checkbook, check hygiene patients, go to the bank, plan a retreat, and much more in addition to just doing dentistry. Many years ago, after listening to one of my mentors, I adopted a phrase: "I'm just the dentist." That may sound a bit harsh, but over the years it has helped me develop my role in my practice and in my life. When I leave the office, I am no longer a dentist.

It takes time to develop and master a role, but if you never start you will never achieve any level of success. Like so many dentists you will continue being unable to switch off between dentist, manager, leader, accountant and repairman. Days will be spent putting out fires, never being able to focus on what really matters—only paying attention to the urgent over the important…The Priority Principle. By not clearly defining your role you never take control over your time, and as I said in Tip 1, a lack of time control will lead to a loss of autonomy and hence never allow you the dentist to achieve his vision.

In the classic book The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, Ken Blanchard and William Oncken, Jr. clearly discuss the advantages of being able to make sure people don't accept "monkeys" that don't belong to them. Essentially it's a book about delegation. Dentists are notoriously poor delegators. Before the dentist can delegate he or she must build the systems in the practice that define whose responsibility every job in the practice belongs to. Delegation and systems are just two ways to free up the dentist so he can concentrate on his role. I will discuss these two topics in depth a bit later. For now let's define what role you would like to play in the practice.

Defining your role can mean making subtle distinctions.

For example, if I asked you to define your role as a mother or a father or spouse, you would contemplate variations of the ideal definition. Not all mothers, fathers and spouses are the same, are they? Well that is also true of dentists.

Now is your chance to define your role.

Now that we have established that just being a dentist gives us the freedom and control to create our lives and practices, it is up to us to make sure that the role we create will satisfy our need to provide engaging and
meaningful work. This is different for every dentist.

Making a distinction about the type of dentistry you want to do can make a big difference in your ultimate well-being. And, that is what is at stake here—your well-being. For years, I was convinced that my role was to provide the very best dentistry for my patients…complete and comprehensive care for all patients. I began my practice at a time when getting acceptance to complete dentistry was easier than it is today. Since then, the cost of healthcare has risen in general, the recession of 2008 never seems to go away, and competition has increased due to the anything goes free market we live in.

I used to refer to my dentistry as comprehensive relationship-based dentistry. Today I put more of an emphasis on the relationship-based portion. I define my role as defined by Harvard professor and economist Ted Levitt's definition of marketing: the creation and maintenance of good relationships. Hopefully you can see how making that subtle distinction can make all the difference. My role is defined by how my patients see me—as a trusted advisor, rather than a great technician or a salesman.

Tom Leonard, the late founder of Coach University, tells an interesting story about how he changed his role from a financial advisor for his clients into becoming a coach, or trusted advisor. One day a couple came to see him for planning. When they arrived, instead of talking about money issues, they told him they were going to buy a new Corvette Stingray. They asked him what color he thought they should get. He thought the question was strange…even inappropriate for them to ask, but he thought about it and said, "Red."

Leonard realized that his relationship with this couple had grown so strong that they were now seeking advice from him for things outside of his expertise. He had become their coach. People are always seeking advice from people they respect—leaders, teachers and coaches. His role had expanded.

When I first entered dental school in 1969, many dentists considered themselves mechanics of the mouth. I tell this story in detail in my book, The Art of the Examination. This is not a very dignified view of the profession. I am sure there are many dentists around today who still see themselves as mechanics. A popular phrase back then was "amalgam jockeys" but that has changed with the change to more modern materials.

Dr. Peter Dawson advised dentists to see themselves as "physicians of the oral cavity." That certainly made a big difference in my career. Today, I would advise dentists to expand the definition of physician of the oral cavity to one of a teacher, coach and trusted advisor. In the end, these relationships will last a lifetime and truly help to sustain a practice.

The dentists who spend time developing an understanding of the nature of building relationships through some of the tips you will read about in this book, will distinguish themselves from the vast number of dentists who are unwilling to build relationships. Defining your role is mostly about your own well-being. It is the heart and soul of what I referred to in the introduction as PERMA. Roles are where life happens. It's where we build relationships, where all the activities that make us human go on.

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