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Courage: A leader's most important virtue

Aug. 10, 2022
There are many attributes that describe a great leader, but if the past two years have taught us anything, it's that success in trying times always comes back to courage.

Think about how challenging the past two years have been and the courage we’ve had to muster due to these challenges. We’ve faced struggles related to personal health, finances, work, and family. We’ve faced fires, storms, and floods. We’ve faced a worldwide pandemic, an attack on our capitol, and ongoing attack on Ukraine. All of these things have affected us in some way. These have been the most challenging years for many of us. But, think about this … we are still standing, healing, re-evaluating, building back our lives and helping each other all because we had the courage.

We need courage and leadership to succeed and push through those challenges in our lives.

What is courage?

We know that every day is a gift and we need to strive to live our best life. That in itself is a responsibility which requires courage and leadership.

No matter what you do or who you are, you are a leader. It doesn’t matter what your title is.

As dental professionals, we went to work. We did this because we felt a strong responsibility to safely care for our patients, teams, and doctors. It didn’t mean we weren’t afraid. It meant we had courage.

“Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” - Maya Angelou

I started to think about virtues that might require courage and how all these virtues apply to being leaders in our dental practices. For instance, honesty, respect, integrity, resilience, accountability, and loyalty, as well as compassion, self-control, and forgiveness. I didn’t forget the importance of gratitude. So many more come to mind. All these virtues make up who we are—our character, our attitude, our core values. Here are just a few examples of how we as leaders show courage.

Honesty. This is at the top of my list, and I’m pretty sure yours as well. We expect it from our patients, teams and our doctors. If we know the truth, whatever it is, we will find a way to handle it. This takes courage. As leaders we must be honest with ourselves. If we want the respect and loyalty of our teams and patients, we can’t be afraid to let them know we’re not perfect. No one is. We can all learn from our mistakes and grow to be better leaders.  

Respect. Smile, say good morning, and of course don’t forget to say thank you. Let your team members and patients know you care and appreciate them. Respect within a team must be mutual. I can think of just a few instances in my years of managing our dental practice when I have heard a member of our team saying something disrespectful about another team member. This was addressed immediately and, in some cases, they were fired on the spot. I believe by acting quickly that the importance of loyalty is reinforced. There are also times in our practices when we may have to dismiss a patient—respect must go both ways. If we believe we have integrity, we must do the right thing no matter the cost. When we see something happening and it’s wrong, we stand up and do the right thing. This takes courage.

Compassion. When we let team members know we really care about them as humans, more respect, trust, honesty, and loyalty builds. They aren’t afraid to come to us for help. I feel it’s equally important that as leaders we show our human side. By that I mean we should be open enough and allow the team we have trusted to be there for us as well. As humans, we are here to support and lift each other up. It makes for a happier, stronger, cohesive team. However, there are times that call for us to have difficult conversations. Having compassion doesn’t mean that we don’t expect accountability; it means we really listen, think, analyze, and strive to understand. Then speak. This takes courage.

Self-control.  We have to practice ways of managing our stress, whether it comes from being overwhelmed, exhausted, fearful, or frustrated. We must hold ourselves accountable. When facing difficult situations, stop, breathe, think. Don’t react. Doing this will allow us the ability to think clearly and gather the facts, so we can evaluate a situation carefully before acting too quickly or harshly. This requires practice, patience, and self-control. Of course there will be those days when even the most patient of us gets frustrated and even angry. We must forgive ourselves and move on so we can lead. Doing that will help us handle those difficult times with grace, thoughtfulness, respect, and self-control. This takes courage.

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Gratitude. I feel so much gratitude for those who stood with us during these past two years when there was so much fear and uncertainty. It gave us hope for our profession. Our team felt more like family than any other time. It’s easy to show gratitude to a team who truly cares about the patients, each other, and the health of the practice. This doesn’t just happen, though. As a practice leader, if we want to have a team that we feel truly grateful for, we must let them know how much we appreciate them. We have to provide an environment where they feel safe, respected, and cared for. Pay a fair wage and let them know they are important. Thank them for a job well done. Notice the good things they do, and overlook the little thing that weren’t “just right”. No one’s perfect. This takes courage.

Resilience. I’ve seen the resilience of so many dental professionals who came together and supported each other. Our team members who didn’t run in the face of the unknown. The ones who stayed with us to face the unimaginable challenges head-on. This takes courage.

We were never alone, because we had our dental community. Together, we not only recovered, we became closer and stronger. I personally am so thankful for AADOM’s leadership and the people I call my AADOM Tribe. We all had courage!