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During the recent VDA strategic planning/goal setting meeting last November, leadership development was chosen as one of the five goals for the VDA. The ultimate goal of the group ‘will be to identify, cultivate and grow new leaders for the VDA’.
During this turbulent time in our profession, it is vital to our long term success and relevance that we identify and train the leaders for the future. At no time in our history has the profession of dentistry, as we know it, been under such radical and rapid change as we are experiencing now. Not only are we seeing great changes inside the profession but, increasingly, we are seeing outside forces creating dramatic challenges to the traditional model of dentistry as we know it. History has shown us repeatedly that the once mighty can fail and fall. Think about Kodak, Border’s Book stores, Montgomery Ward, Blockbuster, People Airlines, Nintendo, Saab, Nokia and Motorola, to name a few. Predictions for those to fall in the future might include such familiar names as Blackberry, Sears, Sony, Sun Microsystems, Toys”R”Us and Yahoo. Now think of the ones that stumbled but recreated themselves to manage their changing world and its expectations- such as Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, Pepsi and Tata.
Now, you might ask ‘what does that have to do with the profession of dentistry?’ How can we know if we are on the path of decline? How can we know which list we will be on in 5-15 years? If some of the world’s once great companies can fail, why couldn’t we fail also? What do we have to learn from the ones that fell and the ones who stumbled but survived and thrived? We are living in a time of great change, whether we like it or not, and the profession of dentistry is not exempt. Now, our choices of responding to this ‘threat’ are few. We can either accept that change will be part of our professional lives from now on and learn to manage it in such a way as to still be successful, or, simply ignore it and bury our heads in the sand and hope things will return to ‘normal’ soon. The latter option ignores the fact that we simply can’t go back to the future and we are certainly not immune to the forces of change. We must become diagnosticians of our own organizational health as we, as an association, may look fine on the outside, but be ‘sick’ on the inside and by the time the ‘disease’ manifests itself, it is too late to save the ‘patient’, organized dentistry.
Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last and How the Mighty Fall), one of the great authors and observers of the success or failure of businesses, states that there are 5 stages of decline in companies (and associations, I would think). The one that strikes me as so relevant for us is number 3. He states “Stage 3: Denial of risk and peril. In Stage 3, internal warning signs begin to mount, yet external results remain strong enough to explain away disturbing data or to suggest that the difficulties are temporary, cyclic, or not that bad, and nothing is fundamentally wrong. In Stage 3, leaders discount negative data, amplify positive data, and put a positive spin on ambiguous data. Those in power start to blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility. The vigorous, fact-based dialogue that characterizes high-performance teams dwindles or disappears altogether. When those in power begin to imperil the enterprise by taking outsize risks and acting in a way that denies the consequences of those risks, they are headed for Stage 4.’
A sobering view of our potential path to irrelevancy, it seems to me. Let me now ask you to think about the statements and questions below and let me know your thoughts on them. Next month’s column will continue the conversation with data from the ADA’s Health Policy shop that hopefully will get you to think in a different way about the profession’s future and answer the question ‘Why defining leadership for the future is so critical’ for our profession and our practices.