BYLory Laughter, RDH, BS
So much has changed for me in the last year. The time has been filled with loss, learning, and reflection - all of which impacted my career in some fashion. Friends, family, and colleagues are a good resource during times of change, but the Internet proves to be a buffet of information as well.
It has been a year since my mother's passing, and my reflection has focused on her example of volunteering and service. From my earliest memories, my mother was always on some board or service organization. Her drive to be involved is something I only recently learned to appreciate.
What I failed to realize from her example is the fact she was not only a volunteer; my mother often became the leader. My mother never just filled a role; when she saw the need for a change in direction or leadership, she stepped up without hesitation. You can probably blame her for my outspoken nature.
CompareBusinessProducts.com lists their 10 top qualities for a leader.1 Several of these traits are especially true for volunteer leaders and exemplified well by my mother. Although I may differ from the experts, the top quality of a good volunteer leader in my opinion is openness.
Compare Business Products defines openness as "being able to listen to new ideas, even if they do not conform to the usual way of thinking." A leader needs to withhold judgment while listening to ideas and be accepting of new ways to address a concern or issue. Fairness is also required in a good leader. One must treat all parities equally and consistently to gain and hold the trust of a group. This also means fact checking before reaching a conclusion and hear all sides of an argument before making a judgment.
The article also points out a sense of humor is a top quality in leadership. I think this is especially true in volunteer service situations. The concerns facing the group are often tense and relevant to the purpose of the members. It becomes helpful to keep a sense of lightness when possible to decrease tension and foster creativity. The article points out, "Humor is a form of power that provides some control over the work environment. And simply put, humor fosters good camaraderie."
Two experts on leadership who have become my go-to source since reading their book in graduate school are Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. In addition to their books and articles, their website2 provides many tips and insights for becoming an effective leader (something they believe is in everyone and not just a select few). The Leadership Challenge points out that leadership is not about personality. It is about behavior. We all have the capacity to control and even change our behavior to become leaders in those areas where we find passion. Behavior on the website is not defined as good or bad but rather an observable set of skills and abilities.
In order to be an effective leader, we need to honor our commitments. It is nearly impossible to guide others in a direction you are not going. An article on The Leadership Challenge page3 tells you how to make your commitments stick. Go public with your plan, and share your priorities and reasons for holding them with others. Research shows you are more likely to keep your commitments if you share them with others.
The learning aspect of my year came in many forms, the most tangible of which is continuing my education in the master's program at University of California San Francisco. Not an online program, but rather an actual in-the-classroom learning experience, the fit is great for my learning style.4
My first attempt at completing my master's came immediately after graduation with a bachelor's at Idaho State University. Life took over and changes in location caused me to put my goal on hold for 20 years. Over the years, I started an MBA online and a master's in nutrition, but the fit was never right, and I lacked the passion to complete the goal. Shortly before her death, my mom expressed her dismay at what appeared to be "giving up" on my part, and none of my best excuses would sway her opinion that I needed to further my education.
When the opportunity at UCSF came into play, it was a great fit and good timing. Learning has never been more fun (and more work).
Reflecting on leadership and learning caused me to turn my thoughts to my profession and career. Admitting to myself things were not completely acceptable at the status quo and having the desire for change facilitated the beginning of a new organization for dental hygienists. It is never easy to confront the accepted norm and even harder to question long-held facts surrounding why our profession is not where we want it to be.
But I have not regretted taking the action. The Dental Hygienists' Alliance is currently a Facebook page, and all dental hygienists are welcome to join. In this forum, we openly discuss needed changes without fear of the barriers preventing forward progress. All opinions are welcome, and all voices are heard. We have no elected positions and every member gets to vote on issues we address and concerns we tackle. Is my goal presenting a pie-in-the-sky attitude? Maybe it is, but when you look at the problems without blinders and without fear, the solutions come rolling in.
My hope is for 2015 to be a year of learning, leadership, and reflection for all RDHs. Change is created when voices are heard and passions are valued. One of my wonderful mentors, Kirsten Jarvi, RDH, MS, spent years attempting to teach me to bring the positive into every situation, and I am not afraid to admit she is right. Approach your reflection and action with a positive attitude, ignore the walls in your way for a time and just imagine a better space, a better profession and ultimately the best possible life. RDH
Websites referenced in this column
Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She can be contacted at [email protected].