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a blog by Chris Barrow

Personal leadership in the dental practice

The subject of ‘leadership’ has fascinated me for decades; what constitutes a good leader, are they born, chosen or just wired that way?

And I want to start this article with the punch line – that we are ALL leaders in some aspect of our lives, professional and/or personal. So we may as well accept that and learn some skills.

I want to explore the following questions:

  1. What is the difference between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’?

  2. Why is it that we are ALL leaders?

  3. What responsibility does that carry?

  4. How do we ‘do it’?

In particular, in the world of dentistry:

  1. is there anything special about leadership in dental practice?

  2. How can you be a leader when you are not ‘the boss’?

  3. what are the top strategies, tips and tactics that are going to make us better leaders?

So let’s begin.

For many people, the word ‘leader’ conjures up some popular images and examples:

  1. the gritty determination of the square-chinned man facing the elements; Shackleton in the Antarctic, Bond facing his villains, Ramsey in the kitchen

  2. the wisdom of experience; Churchill’s ‘V’ sign, Ferguson leading Manchester United on to the pitch, Mandela leading a nation out of bondage

  3. the woman ‘in a man’s world’; Thatcher leading her cabinet, Senator Clinton telling America to wake up, ‘M’ telling Bond where to go next

  4. the woman ‘in a woman’s world’; the matron or Mother Superior, Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, Mother Theresa in Calcutta, Dian Fossey saving gorillas.

Notice that, in the first three examples, what we are describing is a ‘dominant male’ with undertones of physicality, battle, war, victory, adventure. The ‘hero’.

In the latter example, women are stereo-typed as ‘Super-Mothers’, caring for children, men, the sick, the disabled, the less fortunate.

And yet – whenever I ask at conferences for the names of the most famous contemporary (almost) business leaders – one male, one female – whose names do I hear?

1. Sir Richard Branson

2. Dame Anita Roddick

Pretty well every time.

So what is it about these two characters that has made them synonymous with the brand of ‘leader’?

Physical prowess? Nope.

Superior intellect? Nope.

Rugged good looks? Nope.

Maternal excellence? Nope.

What’s the secret of their success in holding the reputation of leadership skills?

I truly believe that we all have a ‘leadership gene’ inside us, that most people have that gene dormant for their whole lives – but that some of us are ‘called’ to leadership by events.

When, as I do, you read biographies of great leaders in all walks of life, the common thread is that they have suffered great adversity or have been thrown into desperate situations – and that they have risen to the occasion, most often unwillingly, unskilled and without a clear idea of their solutions or direction.

They have evolved their skills, vision and ‘leadership’ talents AS A CONSEQUENCE of events.

So my proposition is that many of you reading this article will never be fortunate (?) enough to be ‘called’ – but some will – and the beauty of the human condition is that we have NO IDEA who will be chosen.

How scary is that? How exciting?

Now I need to give you some information on what to do if you are ‘called’ – especially in a dental practice – and I promise to do that in this series of articles.

But for now, I want to give you a Chris Barrow definition of ‘leadership’ to start the ball rolling.

A leader in dentistry can be recognised by the following:

  1. a very clear vision of her desired future

  2. ask a leader where she or the practice will be in 3 years time – and you WILL get an answer;

  3. a leader understands that it doesn’t matter if the vision changes frequently – its having one that counts;

  4. a leader will paint pictures with words, describing not just the facts about the future but also how that will feel;

  5. a leader will create excitement around that vision;

  6. a leader understands that ‘the horizon’ is a mental construct that we imagine to create perspective and that constantly moving towards the horizon (and seeing it change) is OK;

  7. a good example of personal behaviour

  8. a leader ‘gets it’ that everything she says and does is a metaphor for her beliefs;

  9. that the look on her face sets the tone for everyone else’s day;

  10. that whatever behaviours she demonstrates, she gives permission for all the team to behave the same way;

  11. that emotional intelligence is as important as clinical governance;

  12. the ability to ‘let go’ of management

  13. a leader delegates with confidence;

  14. a leader doesn’t have homework at the end of a meeting;

  15. a leader creates an environment in which their colleagues WANT to do the homework.

So, if you are ‘called’ will you be ready?

And who would want this perhaps heavy responsibility? What’s in it for you?

I’m going to use this opportunity to develop my ideas on this subject – stick with me and I’ll share with you the secrets of some fantastic ‘leaders’ I have met in dentistry.

You know what’s great about them?

They are not fashion icons, X-Men or mental athletes, they are not great public speakers.

They are my favourite kind of leader.

The quiet ones….

I’m going to share with you how they did it.

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