Leadership in a dental wholarchy: A mindful management fosters creative solutions

Oct. 18, 2016
Dorothy Garlough, RDH, continues her exploration of dental benefits from wholarchy management.

By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

Wholarchy, or person-centered teams, may seem more idealistic than realistic, but it is my conjecture that it is not only achievable; it is the new metric in management. Long gone are the days of command and control management in dental offices. A hierarchical system leaves staff members feeling powerless and not heard, often separating them from the challenges.

Achieving a democracy where team members have equal value and equal say and are recognized as whole persons (mind, body, and spirit) makes everyone feel valued and raises engagement of the team while increasing commitment to the office. In a safe environment, team members feel free to voice their ideas, questions, concerns, and opinions. The natural outcome of staff bringing their all to the workplace is reflected in the overall success of the office.

Wholarchy constitution was discussed in the August issue of RDH. Along with a constitution, a democratic model has a leader who directs the organization toward upholding the model aspired to under the constitution. The leader is like a conductor, helping direct the multiple components into a harmonious and beautiful state. In a person-centered wholarchy, the leadership is mindful.

Volumes of data exist on leadership, and its definitions are as varied as the number of instruments that a hygienist uses for preventive periodontal maintenance. Yet, in my research, I've seen an underlying thread of what it means to be a good leader. Leadership is about bringing out the best in others, tapping into others' inherent skills and abilities, and developing those skills. Astute leaders recognize that they do not have the wherewithal to be everything to everyone. They know they do not have all the answers. They understand there are others who are better equipped in particular areas who can effectively add to the whole.

Some people think the best leaders are charismatic, with the ability to influence and sway others to their way of thinking. Yet, according to a study done by Harvard University,1 the best leaders are often the quiet ones who have learned to listen to their staff. They have a philosophy of servitude and believe they are there to aid the stakeholders, team, and patients. They offer their team autonomy in the moment and lead by coaching, mentoring, and guidance. This philosophy is embodied in mindful leadership, which is the foundation of leading a wholarchical office.

Your background, past experiences, and beliefs create filters through which you see the world. Too often, premature judgments are made that shut people and progress down. Mindfulness allows you to see your own biases by watching your thoughts. It offers a training of the mind whereby you pay attention to the moment.

Mindfulness trains the mind to pay attention. How often do doctors really want to give their full attention to an issue, only to find their mind wandering? The mind is not where the body is! Awareness and intention equal mindfulness.

In today's fast-paced world, we flit about, jumping from one activity to the other, thinking that we are multitasking when in fact science tells us that we do not multitask.2 Our brains are wired to work on one task at a time, and when we multitask, we simply shift our attention to another focus. This takes only a few seconds but we lose productivity, concentration, and flow. Errors are made and these errors can have a negative impact on both the health of patients and the success of the practice.

Mindfulness training in the wholarchical model sees new neural pathways being developed and oxytocin being produced in your brain. These pathways enable healthy habits of slowing down the mind, creating muscle memory, and learning to be in the moment with your full mind and body present. With mindful attention paid to your breath, or the surrounding sounds, or maybe even brushing your teeth, you focus your mind. In effect, you weightlift your attention, making it more present.

Intentionally stepping away from judgment and reactions and using observation allows you to see the bigger picture in all you do. The result enables you to make intelligent choices, be socially responsible, and have healthy relationships with others by nurturing emotional intelligence. Giving thought to your purpose allows you to reach your full potential. It also supports connectedness to others through collaboration, cooperation, and compassion.3 When you are cognizant of your environment, greater efficiency is reached, leading to greater productivity.

I am writing this article in Bali, an island in Indonesia. The culture here is one of mindfulness, with temples in every home for all the members of the household (multiple generations) to practice meditation. This simple practice is inherent within the culture, promoting calmness in all activities. The Balinese people perform their tasks with purpose and intention. The atmosphere is relaxed and safe, and the culture is nonviolent. Each person believes that they are responsible for their actions and that they will reap what they sow. This gentle island seems to support Thomas Carlyle's quote, "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves."

Leadership presence is felt in mindful management.4 By disrupting autopilot responses, the astute leader steps away from old patterns and is open to new experiences-meeting the present moment with kindness and without reaction. Practicing contemplative leadership leads to living with purpose and engaging the mind to strengthen and enhance traditional leadership business practices. In addition, it allows for creative space from which solutions to problems spring.

With mindfulness institutions opening up all over the world, there is a movement to incorporate customary business practices with mindful practices. One such institute, led by General Mills vice president Janice Marturano, offers research on the benefits of mindful leadership from a four-day retreat with 80 business leaders from 12 different organizations. After this training, 93% of the participants said it had a positive impact on their ability to create space for innovation, 89% said the program enhanced their ability to listen to themselves and others, and 70% said the training made a positive difference in their ability to think strategically.5

Person-centered teams thrive with the creation of leaders who not only understand themselves but who are not afraid to create a democracy in their offices. Aspiring to be open-hearted and exercising ethical choices while establishing a calm, attentive focus will result in clarity. The resulting environment is one where all team members can bring their creativity and compassion to the team.

Your challenges are not insurmountable, but they do require a new kind of leadership. By building new neural pathways, you will find that you're not only present in your life but that your influence is expanded to your team and others in your life. Adding mindful leadership to your practices will help create a new model of person-centered teams while fashioning a better world. RDH

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.


1 Roberto MA. Transformational Leadership: How Leaders Change Teams, Companies, and Organizations; The Great Courses, disk 3.

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_multitasking

3 http://themindfulnessinstitute.com/our-methods/

4 http://hospitals.jefferson.edu/departments-and-services/mindfulness-institute/

5 https://instituteformindfulleadership.org