June 13, 2016

"Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders." — Tom Peters

Some time ago I heard someone say, "The sign of a great leader is one who finds their replacement." I wish I knew who originally said it so I could give them proper credit. I have repeated that saying many times, and each time I believe in it a little more. Somewhere along the way I modified it to say, "The sign of a great leader is one who finds their replacement, and then holds that person's hand." You could use the word mentorship to describe this relationship, but I think it goes much deeper. You may have mentored this individual along the way, but somewhere that someone began to establish his or her own goals and ideas and then you became the followers, having faith in and helping to move these new ideas forward. 

Why is it that we hesitate to give more leadership roles to younger dentists? Is it because they don't want to lead, or is it because our leadership structure is on with long pathways and multiple term positions? According to Sarah Sladek, author of The End of Membership as We Know It, the older generations will sit on a board year after year because they believe it is the right thing to do. The younger generations want to get in, roll up their sleeves, and make a difference. They do not want to sit around for years waiting their turn. If they aren't given the opportunity, they will go somewhere else. I don't believe that many younger dentists are simply not interested in organized dentistry. Rather, I think they see too few opportunities that create value for them. 

There are many people who think leadership is a quality that you either have or you don't. "Good leaders are born, not made," has often been heard, but I don't believe it's true. Excellent leadership arises from experience, as well as the careful study of role models. I don't believe that the world is made up of just a few great leaders, but rather many, each at different stages in their leadership development, waiting for an opportunity to shine. If we could just create more pathways with shorter entry points I imagine we all would win. I would give everyone a job, and then look for those who rise to the top and help them move on to the next level. We need to make way for the next leaders, but then stand by their sides, hold their hands, help them to be stronger leaders than we were before them. I know I have greatly benefited from a handful of leaders before me. They gave me opportunities and the support I needed to succeed. It is not for me to judge whether I have been a great leader, or even a good leader. But one thing is certain: I have served under much greater leaders-those who have inspired, encouraged and blazed an easy path to follow. 

Tomorrow's leaders will not be found among the 20 percent doing 80 percent of the work, but rather from the 8 percent willing to do their share. It is up to us to find a way to tap into this collective genius and lead from behind. So what I am saying is that we need to "Find our Replacements," and we need to do it today!

Submitted by:
Claude R. Stephens, Jr.,
Editor, District 15
ICD USA Section

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