As a student and teacher of leadership (and a bona fide woman), I have always kept an eye on the “Mars vs Venus” trends when it comes to women in dentistry. Since the 1980s, there has been a dramatic shift in the traditional business world when it comes to effective leadership skills and traits. The shift is the result of the emergence of technology and “dot com” companies that flattened lines of communication and accountability and empowerment. Of course, our profession usually lags a little behind the business world trends; however, all you have to do is look at the percentage of women dentists graduating today to know times have definitely caught up!
Now thankfully, it is a widely accepted business truth that the people who should naturally lead the change processes and systems of an organization are those closest to the customer. In today’s competitive marketplace, the self-directed work team is the only true model for small business success (which, by the way, is the perfect model for dentistry!).
The self-directed team doesn’t want to be told what to do, when to do it and how it should be done. As a result, the new type of leadership that has come out of the old school “command and control” model has led to the feminization of leadership. The feminization of leadership is based on the need for the characteristics and traits required to inspire from the bottom up versus the top down, which fall under the heading of the softer, more intangible skills traditionally attributed to the female. So whether you are male or female, if you are in a management position in your dental practice, this is the only type of leadership that is needed to inspire high performers.
Just what are those traits that are normally attributed to women that will be most useful in the running of a dental office? Studies have shown:
- Women leaders are more likely to consult with others: We all know the story of a man never wanting to stop for directions. In a dental office, that can lead to misfires on financial management, staff management, patient management and clinical and technology management, because it would close the old-fashioned leader off to new information and a paradigm shift.
- Women leaders have a greater natural tendency to deal comfortably with multitasking. That always reminds me of the old song: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan …” Women dentists are more likely to step out of the comfort of the operatory and deal with all the other administrative, management and leadership tasks required to be a successful small business owner, because that has been the life expectation of professional, wife, mother, etc.
- Women leaders have fewer competitive tendencies and often seek a more collaborative approach. Although I am a huge sports fan myself, the sheer amount of sports analogies that are quoted in staff meetings diminish to the degree that women are in charge of those meetings.
- Women leaders stress relationship building as well as fact-gathering. Yes, it is easy to see per the time clock that your appointment coordinator was seven minutes late on Wednesday and ten minutes late on Thursday, those are the facts. But curiosity about why she’s late as well as collaboratively attempting to negotiate a solution that can work for both is a more likely confrontation scenario for a female leader than a male leader.
The secret to leading teams to new levels of continuous improvement absolutely lies in exhibiting these softer skills! Whether it’s bolstering the confidence in a new hire, inspiring your employees to work as a team, or simply building relationships, the traits most commonly expected in females, are what “gets the job done”. It doesn’t mean that men can’t do it; it means that just like women had to learn to be competitive, controlling and exhibit position power, men will have to learn to be collaborative, inspiring and willing to be in relationships with others. So, calling all women in dentistry, it’s time to rock!