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Inside Dentistry
February 2020
Volume 16, Issue 2

Embrace the Challenge

Leadership in dentistry in 2020 and beyond

Elizabeth M. Bakeman, DDS

 I can vividly recall when the "new" millennium seemed so far off in the future, and the promise of advancements yet to come were contemplated by forward-thinking visionaries throughout the dental profession. Today, as we begin navigating the third decade of the 21st century, opportunities abound-and so do the challenges that we face as oral healthcare providers, treatment innovators, and collaborative colleagues. In the coming years, fearless and empowering leadership throughout all segments of the dental profession and industry will be a significant factor in our collective abilities to succeed and advance dentistry.

The history of our profession is punctuated by countless examples of dynamic and dedicated individuals who, in the face of adversity and difficulties, shoulder responsibility rather than place blame. They leverage their own success to benefit others, formulate clear objectives, establish a sense of direction, and value, weigh, and appreciate thoughtful input and ideas. Leaders are attentive and sensitive to others, as well as to the impact that action plans and changes may have on them, while also encouraging growth at the same time.

Understandably, it's not uncommon for those in leadership positions to feel the crunch of time and the stretch from being pulled in multiple directions by professional or personal demands and pursuits. Leaders become comfortable with, or at least accepting of, the constant pull on their resources and the feeling that there is always more that can be done. To adapt, they set boundaries that help them be their best and do their best in the different areas of their lives.

With valuable and limited time, leaders throughout dentistry exercise uncompromising trust in the capabilities of others, choosing to delegate and involve rather than micromanage and withhold. Many leaders of dental organizations also lead their practices as the business owner, main producer, and human resource manager, underscoring the significance of their contributions to our profession and the importance of their reliance on others to potentiate their vision.

Leaders often comment about the tremendous professional and personal satisfaction that they experience from directly and indirectly helping others achieve what they did not think was possible. Continuing to positively affect the lives of colleagues, patients, friends, and future generations of professionals in dentistry is a meaningful legacy for individuals who are passionate about and committed to something greater than themselves-one that provides the reward of a higher level of fulfillment.

What is rewarding for me is witnessing the next generation actively engage with their chosen profession and transform into good leaders. The caveat is that no one can make a difference unless he or she becomes involved and a part of the change. There is no better feeling than the excitement and anticipation that comes from thinking about where young, energetic, and passionate minds will take dentistry next. Teaching young dentists to excel in their chosen craft and encouraging and mentoring them to become skilled leaders provides me with great satisfaction.

Fortunately, our profession is replete with opportunities to lead by example, empower others to do and be their best, encourage independent and collaborative problem-solving, and share in the satisfaction that results from turning a vision into reality. Those who wish to move dentistry forward focus not only on nurturing their own expertise and success but also on generously offering their time and talent by joining organizations, building relationships with peers, and guiding and mentoring others who are eager to do the same. In addition to consistent enthusiasm-and of course, time-all that is needed is an open mind, a willingness to listen and communicate, and a commitment to serve.

Without question, the challenges facing dentistry in 2020 and beyond are wide-ranging, but so too is our collective capacity for changing, innovating, and improving. However, our profession needs intuitive, approachable, and most importantly, passionate new dentists who are willing to not only navigate the waters ahead but also chart dentistry's course through them. Embracing such a leadership challenge will enable all of us-clinicians, educators, product researchers, and manufacturers-to improve the quality of oral healthcare.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Bakeman, DDS, an accredited fellow and president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, is an adjunct faculty member at the Kois Center and maintains a private practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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