Emerging leadership

Aug. 1, 2003
My favorite definition of a leader was shaped by a three-day workshop on situational leadership back in the early 1970s.

By Richard A. Green

My favorite definition of a leader was shaped by a three-day workshop on situational leadership back in the early 1970s. The workshop was led by the then unknown — but soon to be well-recognized — Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, popular author of The One Minute Manager. Dr. Paul Hersey teamed with Dr. Blanchard to facilitate this exciting experiential event. Twenty people, all from different industries, listened as the speakers defined the term "leader" as a person who is willing and able to influence behavior. The operational words here are "willing" and "able." Willing has to do with attitude, and able relates to skill.

Believing that you cannot take another person where you have not been, I modified that definition. My definition is, "A leader is a person who is willing and able to influence behavior — his or her own and others."

Dentists who are leaders shape their attitudes and see leadership as a part of their job. Once the attitude has been adopted, skill develops through experiences and reflection on these experiences along life's journey.

One example of leadership is the dentist who holds out for what is best for the patient, even in the face of resistance. Another example is the dentist practicing patient-centered behaviors, rather than doctor-centered behaviors. In both circumstances, the leader intentionally behaves after asking such questions as:

1.Is this in the patient's best interest ... or in mine?

2.Am I understanding and perceiving this patient as a unique individual?

3.Am I flexibly customizing my operations to best serve and influence this patient?

How might you adapt your present new-patient experience, the co-discovery examination and diagnosis, creation of a treatment sequence, estimating the fee, appointment-scheduling, and making financial arrangements to best lead (influence) each unique patient you see?

Being patient-centered is more than a matter of social style. It requires a foundational philosophy of providing uniquely individualized, relationship-based care in a values-driven dental practice, where helping the patient accept and receive optimal care is the goal.

Attempting to be a leader without being rooted in a patient-centered philosophy results in confusion when you make management decisions. On the other hand, when you commit to know yourself and your patient at the "feeling" level of intimacy and care deeply about each patient as a person, then you naturally and flexibly lead without being relativistic. You are convincing without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and persuasive without being manipulative. With the emergence of customized, flexible leadership, you will see growth in five areas:

Case acceptance
Patient and staff satisfaction
Patient and staff loyalty
The impact you make on others

Leaders aren't born. They emerge from doing and thinking ... and intentionally doing and thinking some more! Start with a positive attitude. Discern the health values that drive you and your practice. Help your patients discover the health values that drive their decisions.

What attitudes or values would you like to change? How would you go about influencing that change? Behave intentionally to act in the best interest of the patient. That requires understanding the patient's individual circumstances. Reaching that understanding requires the development of intimacy. Once you are there, your care and the benefits of being patient-centered should follow. Practice being thoughtful, and your leadership will grow.

Richard A. Green, DDS, FAGD, MBA, is the director of business systems development of The Pankey Institute and is responsible for developing the business systems and financial management portion of the Institute's curriculum. You may contact Dr. Green by phone at (305) 428-5547 or by email at [email protected].

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