It's Lonely at the Top
You hold an advanced professional degree. You are the owner of a dental office, with six or even seven figure gross revenues. You are responsible for patients and employees. You possess knowledge and talent that most people do not. People’s lives are in your hands. You are at the pinnacle of the career ladder. Most would say you are very accomplished and should be happy.
But maybe things are different on the inside. You may have more self-doubt than you’d care to admit. Perhaps you feel like an imposter, wondering when someone is going to discover that you aren’t as bright or competent as it appears. As a high achiever you might secretly realize that there is so much you don’t know!
You’re not alone. It is lonely at the top. When people reach the peak of their profession it’s natural to think you should know it all. When you get to the top of your field, you also start to guard yourself and often put too much responsibility on your own shoulders. It’s logical to assume that you’re as prepared as anyone could be to take on the role of “Doctor.”
To say it’s lonely at the top doesn’t mean you are a lonely person. However, everyone needs to think out loud sometimes and there just aren’t many folks to whom you can speak candidly. I’ve talked with a lot of corporate and dental leaders, and they often feel compromised. Friends or former friends as the case may be, have tried to use their relationship for their own benefit. They can’t put their feet up on the desk. They can’t say, “I don’t know.” They worry that their employees aren’t telling them the truth.
Maybe you talk with your spouse. Certainly that person wants to give you good advice but let’s face it; your spouse isn’t objective. Although some dental spouses work in the practice, many aren’t around the office all the time. They might not know or be interested in business. And in the long run, talking with your spouse about office issues puts the relationship at risk. Oh sure they’ll listen for a while but then you’re likely to hear, “Can’t we talk about something other than your work!”
Success can be isolating. Some dental leaders think that seeking support via a professional coach or learning about leadership with a coach is akin to therapy or worse, personality deconstruction. Not true! Instead, it’s like personalized continuing education. You didn’t learn how to perform dentistry on your own, did you? How can you expect to learn other essential skills on your own? In my experience of working with dental and corporate leaders, the foremost sensitive topics are personnel issues.
Truth be told, whether you’re a champion athlete, artistic virtuoso, corporate CEO or dental leader, the pressure to keep learning continues…especially if you want to stay at the top. What’s more, the need for support, objective feedback and candid dialogue with trusted advisors is crucial.
As an example, shortly after Barack Obama became President, he called the four living U.S. presidents to a White House meeting. Why? Because only they could really comprehend the pressures and the responsibilities that were now on his shoulders. He understood the value of learning from others’ knowledge and experience.
OK, you’re not the leader of the free world but running a dental business is complex. Competition, diverse employees, and demanding patients are just a few of the worries that can keep you up at night. And when you are the leader just who can you bounce ideas off? There’s no other boss to help you structure your work, supervise your learning, direct you to resources. It’s all up to you!
Coaching can be the answer for the learning and support you need. Research has shown that leaders who remain successful continuously strive to expand their tool kit and their perspectives. They learn skills that enable them to adapt to change and be effective in different situations.
Getting through an arduous academic training program took a lot of resiliency, and you had to do it on your own. However, the very things you learned about being a good dentist may not be the things you need to know about running a business or leading employees. Now you are both a dentist and CEO! Business leaders, entrepreneurs, and self-employed professionals often find themselves stretched outside of their experience range, frequently with no one to talk to about important issues. A coach, an outsider with no political investment in your practice, is free to address challenging issues in a constructive manner. Could you use someone like that in your life?
Dr. Haller is the Leadership Coach at McKenzie Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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