Recently a colleague referred to me as being a voice for the non-technical side of our profession. I don’t know how to take that. Through my forty years of practice I certainly worked hard to learn and apply the technical skills. It’s just that the soft skills came more naturally to me and I really had to struggle with becoming a better technical dentist. Through it all I came to realize that there aren’t two separate parts. The technical and non-technical aspects of dentistry are joined at the hip. The competent dentist must be skilled in both areas in order to succeed.
Sociologist Max Weber described charisma as a gift that few people truly possess. Think Bill Clinton…quite a charismatic guy, wouldn’t you agree. Weber defined charismatic authority as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person. But what are the traits of charisma?
Olivia Fox Cabane in her bestseller The Charisma Myth tells us that charisma consists of two distinct traits…warmth and presence. Sort of like Bill Clinton. It has been said that when he greets people in a crowd, he makes them feel like they are the only one in the room. And what about his presence? Powerful, or what?
Charisma is certainly a trait any leader would covet. That is why Max Weber called it a gift.
But warmth and presence sounds a lot like soft and hard…the same blend of skills and traits I feel make up the successful dentist. Kind of like the ying and the yang of dentistry.
All of that is quite easy to digest…harder to apply but certainly easy to understand.
And while we’re talking about parallel traits, how about Stephen Covey’s description of trust as being a blend of care and competence. Now all of these elements can work together but many of us are predisposed to one or the other. A trustworthy, charismatic leader would probably get a lot of “likes” on Facebook.
But there is a problem with all of these elements says Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, “people view warmth and competence as inversely related.”
In simple terms it means if you are very nice you’re probably not as smart as your colleague. Cuddy tells us that’s not very good for female executives who are culturally trained to be, extremely warm.
In a study of Wall Street law firms, “technical competence was more heavily weighted in men’s numerical weightings as compared to interpersonal warmth for the female attorneys.” And these technical skills were coveted more when it came time for promotions.
So what does all of this tell us? Well, that the complete dentist is a blend of both types of skills, the soft and hard, the warm and technical, the caring and the competent. But our culture views these traits as competitive (but they are not). That being said, our culture favors one over the other many times. I feel that dentistry, and dental schools have always weighted the technical over the softer interpersonal skills. Maybe because we have been a male dominated profession for so long.
If you are the charismatic dentist…you probably are doing well. If not, you will have to fill in your weak areas. In the future the dentists who focused solely on technical skills will probably be working in a corporate environment where the warm and soft stuff will be handled by staff. And those dentists who are only good at the soft stuff…well, they always had a tough time competing.
This isn’t a secret in dentistry. Dr. L.D. Pankey, on his famous Cross of Dentistry held a place for Know Your Work. A closer look shows an appendage off of that arm which further describes work as technical and behavioral. That was Pankey’s way of describing the hard and soft skills, the warmth and the presence and the ying and the yang. But the profession only saw the technical.
Dental schools, continuing education programs and consultants must teach dentists to become more charismatic. Look where paternalism has taken the profession. By not training dentists in interpersonal skills we have left a giant void in the profession.