The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

Leadership Starts with You

  By: Dr. Laura Brenner

Ever wonder why some organizations run like well-oiled machines, and others face problem after problem?

At times you may have felt it’s impossible to find good help, or employees are unreliable. Maybe as an associate, you feel no one respects you because you’re not signing their paychecks. And, in any role in the office, it can feel as if no one listens to your ideas for improvement.

These common challenges have haunted many of us at some point in our careers. If you find yourself experiencing any of these problems, they are likely real. Not everyone is the right fit for you or your practice.

However, what if these common daily challenges are a result of your leadership, no matter which role you have in the office?

Though it’s sometimes hard to admit, office dynamics all come down to one thing: leadership.

I invite you to pause and ask yourself how your leadership might be creating an environment where team members don’t feel valued or inspired? What if your energy or attitude is why others aren’t living up to your standards?

We often think leadership is how we motivate and inspire others, but there is more to it. Leadership is also how we motivate and inspire ourselves. In fact, all leadership begins with us.

The idea of leading yourself sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? The truth is, how you lead others is always a reflection of how you lead yourself.

When you look at your office, whether you’re an owner, an associate, a hygienist, an assistant or an administrator, you have the opportunity to show up as a leader in different ways. It can be hard to turn the mirror on yourself and ask what your role is in any given situation, but it can also be an opportunity. Evaluating yourself objectively and taking responsibility for your role creates the opportunity to be proactive about creating solutions.

If you want to be the best leader for others, start with managing how you lead yourself.

I recently had a conversation with a very successful dentist who used to struggle with her leadership. Her employees thought she was mean, she had a lot of staff turnover, and she felt angry most of the time. People were quitting and leaving her high and dry, creating massive stress in her life. She was very unhappy in practice.

Then something opened her eyes, and she realized the problem was… her.

She couldn’t control her team, but with leadership coaching, she was able to change the way she was leading everyone, starting with herself. Now she has a loyal team, and she knows her own boundaries. Recognizing her stressors allows her to draw boundaries, so she can set herself and her working relationships up for success.

What kind of leader do you want to be to yourself? Let’s look in that mirror and take stock.

How do you motivate yourself to get into action, be productive, and achieve successful results?

Based on our life experiences, we all see the world through different lenses. These lenses determine how we interpret things. Do you bully yourself into getting things done through sheer grit, or do you inspire yourself with the excitement of opportunities and possibilities that you can create? There is no right or wrong way to lead yourself but notice how those around you are getting the job done. You might be surprised to see that some of the qualities you dislike the most are the same qualities you see in yourself. This is a great opportunity to assess which path you are on while practicing an alternate one.

Life is about the balancing act. If you’re a pushover with yourself, maybe you want to add some more sheer will to your repertoire. If you’re all dictator and no compassion, filling that void would add the warm fuzzies that some team members might need.

Notice how you treat yourself when you make a mistake.

It’s easy to go home at the end of the day and berate yourself for imperfect actions or outcomes. There is a fine line between responsibility and blame. If you blame and punish yourself with negative self-talk, it’s hard to feel excited and inspired about your work. You’ll create an environment for yourself that is unforgiving. Instead, practice taking responsibility and practicing self-compassion. This will allow you to own it, assess the situation more objectively and move on to creating solutions. You can then model this for others, teaching them to take more responsibility while having more compassion for others.

Get curious.

We often judge ourselves for being human. While we try to do perfect dentistry, we also often want to have perfect thoughts, feelings and behaviors. If you notice you don’t like something you thought, felt, or did, try not to judge yourself. Judging never solves the problem. It only creates more shame. To get a sense of how much you judge yourself and others, try writing a judgment journal. In the journal, list all the judgments made throughout the day. When you see it on paper, you’ll be amazed by how much we judge everything. This practice can give you an opportunity to be conscious about each judgment and question the validity of your judgments. Extending this curiosity to your team will prevent a lot of frustration when you don’t understand their actions.

Be your own cheerleader.

It’s okay– no one will accuse you of being arrogant. Celebrating our wins creates a habit of acknowledging successes instead of always noticing when we fail. It helps us appreciate the good things we do, so we don’t only focus on the negative. Start with yourself then create a daily practice where the whole team gets to celebrate individual and collective wins.

Reconnect with your why.

Dentistry is stressful. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine and live life on autopilot. Reconnecting with the meaning in your work will get you more engaged and inspired to show up. Be real with yourself. If you are so burnt out that you can’t connect with your why, work with a coach or, in some cases, a therapist. Facing the problem head-on will help you solve it. You’ll stop taking everything out on yourself and those around you. It will impact the energy of the entire office.

No matter what, the energy of an organization always comes from the leadership.

If you’re at the top of any organization, know that it all comes down to you. If you want positive, supportive, leaders in your organization, give them the chance. Let go and allow them to spread their leadership wings. If you’re in any other position in the organization, know that how you inspire and motivate yourself to lead matters. If you can come together, and intentionally step up to the leadership plate, then you’ll get to work in a well-oiled machine.


Dr. Laura Brenner graduated from Baylor College of Dentistry in 2001 and moved to Denver to establish her dental roots. She worked in private practice for 10 years until she left clinical dentistry behind for good. As the author of the Lolabees blog and “10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too,” she began connecting with other dentists from around the world who wanted more from their careers. This work inspired her to become a Certified Professional Coach who is passionate about helping dentists find joy in their careers again.