This article originally appeared in the January/2019 issue of the Academy of General Dentistry’s AGD Impact magazine.
When most people consider the concept of vulnerability, they automatically associate it with weakness. The truth is, the ability to demonstrate vulnerability is an effective leadership strategy. If you’re proud of your ability to keep a stiff upper lip and a straight face with your team member and patients, you might want to rethink your strategy, otherwise, you might find yourself losing good people to others who are brave enough to be vulnerable.
What it Means to Be Vulnerable
When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you send very clear messages to those you let in:
- You don’t have all the answers.
- You are fallible — just like them.
- You trust them with your concerns and feelings.
What does this have to do with dentistry? When you’re able to let down your guard with your team members and patients, you form a bond and create loyalty. Instead of being intimidated by your stoic facade, these people feel like they’ve become part of your inner circle and part of the solution.
Ways to Be Vulnerable
Nobody wants to be around someone who is constantly venting or oversharing personal business. It is possible to be vulnerable without being unprofessional. How? Here are some ideas:
- Listen, then share. Your patients want to feel that they’re being heard. Whenever you have an opportunity to do so, listen to what your patients say. When you’ve given them time to share, it’s your turn. Let them in on a personal experience that they can identify with. Not only will this show your patients that you understand where they’re coming from, it humanizes you, making their overall experience with you more positive.
- Let others feel like part of the solution. This is particularly helpful when it comes to retaining your team members. You may be the boss of your practice, but your team is there to help. When you have team meetings, show vulnerability by asking for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, be brave enough to say so. When someone offers a solution to a problem, be grateful. Just like your patients, your team members want to be heard. Letting them brainstorm with you conveys trust and builds loyalty.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Think about what it feels like to be your employee, to perhaps feel inadequate when compared to you. Think about what it feels like to be a patient, forced in a prone position with someone’s hands in their mouth. Every day your office is open, others allow themselves to be vulnerable in front of you. The least you can do is return the favor, thereby putting them at ease and letting them see your authentic self, not just a cold professional in a scary white coat.
Here are some ways you can be more authentic in our marketing and how you can incorporate it easily at your practice. The first step is probably the most obvious, and that’s just being yourself. You don’t have to be dry and void of all personality when you’re marketing your practice or even speaking with new and existing patients. New and existing patients are much more likely to relate to you when you’re being yourself and showing your true personality. For that reason, it’s important you show your unique personality all of your marketing: website, social media posts, emails and in your ads, whether they be online or offline.
This doesn’t just mean the doctor. It’s equally important that the team be themselves and show their true personalities when interacting with patients, too. Just being yourself may sound pretty obvious, but there are some good ways to make sure you’re including your unique personality in your marketing. First, use as many photos and videos that include you and your team and show you interacting with patients as much as possible. When choosing photos make sure you choose ones that really highlight, or even accentuate your personality. If you’re always smiling, laughing, and having fun you don’t want to use photos that show otherwise. Secondly, make sure the tonality of all the text found on your website, social media posts, email and blogs truly match your personality. If your practice is more light-hearted and has a laid-back, casual atmosphere you don’t want your website, social media posts, blogs and emails to be terribly cold, boring and serious.
When You’re Vulnerable, You’re Winning
The best business leaders — from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — embrace vulnerability. When Starbucks was dangerously close to shutting down, Schultz let his employees in, creating the kind of loyalty that now allows his company to thrive. When Facebook experienced a security breach, Zuckerberg sat in front of congress and owned up to his role in the problem. These are just two examples of how business giants gain from leaders who show vulnerability. While you may not be the next Schultz or Zuckerberg, you can create an atmosphere of trust and loyalty by allowing others to see the vulnerable human behind the white coat.