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Inside Dental Technology
December 2014
Volume 5, Issue 12

Developing Leadership Skills with Meaningful Relationships

Identifying leaders throughout organization is crucial

By Deborah Curson-Vieira

Any organization in a rapidly changing industry, such as the dental laboratory industry, needs all employees to show leadership in order to solve problems and move quickly to meet customer needs. The old leadership model of one leader at the top of the organization, with many followers at the bottom, is no longer workable. You need many leaders working together to adapt to changes and grow the business.

Many organizations have the desire to develop leadership skills in their employees; however, they tend to fall short. Two of the biggest pitfalls are failing to identify leaders and failing to create a sustainable development program.

Who is a Leader?

Leadership comes in many forms. When we think about whom to develop as leaders, it is easy to buy into leadership myths and overlook people who don’t fit the stereotypical image. You don’t have to be on the laboratory’s executive team to have leadership skills. In his book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” John C. Maxwell discusses the myths that surround leadership.1 For example, Position Myth states that leadership is not based on rank or title. It is based on action, performance, ability, effectiveness, and influence.

You may have overlooked the soft-spoken technician for a formal leadership role because he tends to stay in the background. However, his team regularly seeks his advice on tough cases and respects his opinion. While he may not have a leadership title, that technician is a leader for his department. Your role as a leader in your laboratory is to help those individuals with leadership potential further develop those skills. Author and management expert Tom Peters says, “Leaders don’t create more followers; they create more leaders.”

Another common myth about leadership is that it is an innate skill—you either have it or you don’t. While not everyone is willing to take on a leadership role, it is an “observable, learnable set of practices,” according to The Leadership Challenge, by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.2 “The belief that leadership can’t be learned is a powerful deterrent to leadership development."

Developing Leaders Through Mentoring

Developing those observable, learnable sets of practices is an ongoing and consistent process. According to author Steve Coats, “To ensure that people grow and develop as effective leaders, there must be an intentional, purposeful, and sustained effort that is a key organizational strategy.”3

While outside training programs can be effective and should be a part of your overall development plan, they tend to lack follow through. Coats says, “[Leadership development] has to be more than an annual self-development objective to read a book or attend a workshop on the subject. It has to be something [for] which people are held accountable every single day.” An effective way to create accountability and focus on leadership development is through mentoring programs.

Mentoring hones the leadership skills of both the mentor and the mentee through a trusted relationship. Different from coaching, mentoring focuses on the individual’s goals, both personal and professional. Coaching develops specific skills for a task or challenge. Generally a coach has a set agenda to reinforce or change skills and behaviors. Conversely, a mentor is a facilitator or teacher who allows the mentee to discover his or her own direction and gain confidence in his or her decisions.

Mentors are individuals who are able, willing, and available to share their knowledge, skills, and experience. There is nothing in this definition that denotes that the mentor must be older, a supervisor, or a manager. As you seek out mentors in your organization, look for people who are truly passionate about being mentors and see the value in developing others in your organizations.

The same is true as you identify mentees. Don’t just announce the program and wait for people to join. Look for individuals who have a passion to learn and show leadership potential. Reach out through managers and mentors and nominate individuals to the program.

Deborah K. Zmorenski, MBA, from Leader’s Strategic Advantage, describes characteristics of a good mentoring relationship4:

The mentee should not be a direct-line report to the mentor. If the mentor is a supervisor, the mentee may be uncomfortable sharing uncertainties about his or her abilities, blocking free-flowing, open communication.

The mentor/mentee relationship is mutually satisfying. The mentor gets the satisfaction of watching someone grow who values his or her insights. The mentee gains a feeling of being valued, receiving direction and attention from someone whom he or she respects and admires.

An effective mentor actively listens, and the mentee feels comfortable speaking on issues that may be sensitive. Once this trust is developed, the mentor can give advice, constructive criticism, or assistance with tough recommendations.

The obligation to continue is two-sided. When the mentor feels he or she has value to add and the mentee is getting something from the relationship, the mentoring may go on indefinitely, or either side can end it without justification.

Mentoring programs are about guidance and facilitation rather than formal training.

While it might seem difficult to take a step back from the day-to-day, taking the time to focus on ongoing leadership development may be the key to growing your laboratory and meeting the changing needs of the customer.


1. Maxwell J. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1998.

2. Kouzes J and Posner B. The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2012.

3. Coats S. Fatal Flaws in Developing Leaders. The Leadership Challenge. Accessed October 20, 2014.

4. Zmorenski D. Develop Leadership Skills by Mentoring. Reliable Plant. Accessed October 20, 2014.

Deborah Curson-Vieira is the marketing and communications manager for Dental Prosthetic Services.

Read "The Building Blocks of Sales Success" by Deborah Curson-Vieira at

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