Hormones gone wild: ADHA annual session sets the tone for 'mindful' leadership

Sept. 19, 2016
ADHA annual session sets the tone for 'mindful' leadership

By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

Sometimes life presents us with an experience to both observe and learn what we teach. For the past few months, I have been writing about "wholearchy" (i.e., person-centered teams) and how we might create a framework for such a team in our dental offices. Feel-good hormones have been regularly released in my brain as I actively and purposefully create this model. In fact, I intended to write this month's article about what mindful leadership might look like under wholearchy. This subject is being delayed as the model is still "under construction." Instead, I am going to tell you about something I find amazing: I have recently witnessed effective leadership at the ADHA Annual Session and have been presented with an opportunity to further my education on how to deliver such synergy mindfully.

Having just returned from the conference in Pittsburgh, a best-kept secret, I am firing on all cylinders! My brain has been stretched every which way and it feels fantastic! Endorphins, cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin have all been released by new lessons, rich emotional connections, physical exercise,1 creativity, mindfulness practice, and a healthy level of stress. All this from one conference!

Participating in the 5 km run/walk hosted by the ADHA was a personal goal. A herd of runners and walkers joined, and I ran it in just over double the time of the winner, but was elated! Endorphins (masking pain) kicked in at about the halfway mark and I finished with a dose of dopamine from the real sense of accomplishment.2 The evening's finale was a first-rate, classy, city-view rooftop party with more dopamine. Sponsored by Colgate, Henry Schein, and Hu-Friedy, it was an event where everyone showed up in T-shirts and running shoes. Relaxed and real-my kind of party!

Learning about the future of hygiene from the students was both interesting and stimulating. Essential oils, marijuana side effects, the benefits of whey powder, and the effects of celiac disease on oral health show the variety and contrast of the interests of our profession's future leaders. Attendees' logical, linear, so-called left brains were fertilized in continuing education sessions; everyone's synergistic, artistic right brains were ignited with the opening keynote speaker.3 Dopamine pulsed through everyone's bodies in hearing Eric Wahl's clever and surprising presentation on the need for creativity in our practices. It was truly inspiring, hopeful, and affirming.

Not only did ADHA invite a keynote speaker to deliver on creativity, but this forward-looking organization also took a risk. They took a risk on a "newbie" who is actually an "oldie"-that is to say, new to presenting, but not so young! A flurry of hormones rushed through me as I delivered my presentations ... cortisol (keeping me sharp and a little fearful), dopamine, endorphins, and even oxytocin (the relational bonding hormone).4 I sure felt alive!

Preparations before speaking had me practicing yoga and setting an intention for the upcoming engagement. For the presentation about turning on your innovative brain, my intention was that those of us in the room would practice happiness (yes, happiness) and also create an environment where ideas can flourish. One step to practicing happiness, according to Shawn Achor, a professor at Harvard, is mindfulness/meditation. My personal 40-year yogic experience has made me a believer in mindfulness. Additionally, I know that mindfulness improves creativity, so I took a chance. We practiced mindfulness in my session! I, for one, loved it and found it energizing, and along with everyone else in the room, our oxytocin was spiked. Good stuff! Spending just a few minutes focusing on the breath, we were able to reboot our brains with a feed of rich oxygenated blood, enabling us to problem solve with fresh minds.

Those of us attending ADHA couldn't help but observe how organized and well-run the conference was. From the perspective of a speaker, it seemed to go off without a hitch. No doubt, there were glitches (there always are), but the team pulled together to make it flow. The leadership and the army of volunteers were in sync and everything came together artfully. Seeing this success on such a large scale made me realize that doing it on a smaller scale within our offices is certainly achievable.

This brings me back to wholearchy and mindful leadership. This path that I have been on to build person-centered teams has been evolving for a while now. Ideas and examples are coming furiously and meaningfully. Creating a new model is amazing and I am producing dopamine on a regular basis. Creating is the best high there is!

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, wonders if ideas exist outside of us all. She says that maybe ideas are looking for hosts to give them birth and when we are open to an idea, it takes up residence. I seem to have taken on the idea of developing wholearchy and learning about mindful leadership.

Since these recent experiences have kept me so receptive to learning, I am not surprised that I've been presented with even more opportunities to learn. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is unfolding for me to spend three weeks in Bali at my niece's place. Yes, Bali is exotic, but more than that, it is a vortex of a mindful society. Yoga is intrinsically entwined into its Hindu culture and mindfulness is practiced by the masses. To be immersed in a yogic culture after 40 years of trying (and mostly failing) to quiet my mind, will be life altering. The lessons I learn there will no doubt influence and hopefully enlighten wholearchy's model of mindful leadership. I look forward to what the fertile creative field will produce. In the meantime, my hormones are still going wild! RDH


1. Wolf N. Vagina: A New Biography. London: Little Brown Book Group; 2012.
2. Endorphins. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins. Accessed July 26, 2016.
3. Underwood R. Using Neuroscience to Boost Creativity. Inc. magazine website. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201402/ryan-underwood/creativity-boosters-neuroscience.html. Published February 2014. Accessed July 26, 2016.
4. Ware D. Activate the Calming Hormone "Oxytocin." http://www.dailyshoring.com/activate-the-calming-hormone-oxytocin/. Accessed July 26, 2016.

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] or visit engagingteams.com.