High Engagement Leadership…The Ripple Effect 

December 9, 2019 Dennis Stiles DDS

After my presentation on High Engagement Leadership at the September 2019 Pankey Annual Meeting, a few people asked me about a term that I used in the presentation, VUCA. The acronym VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—the challenges that we face in today’s world. The term originated in the late 1980s from a thought leader named Warren Bennis. Bennis was known for shaping the concept of authentic leadership, which at its center is the value of being true to one’s self.  

VUCA = Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity 

Complexity in our culture and rapid change are our challenges as leaders. How shall we use all our creative gifts and talents to develop as leaders and influencers in a world that thrives on VUCA? 

The answer might be to start by deepening the trust we have in ourselves. Our ability to navigate through the noise and distractions of today requires high trust in self and a willingness to believe that others will follow us. 

In his recent book ‘Deep Work‘, Cal Newport describes the value of quiet focus in a formula defined by Adam Grant:  

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) X (Intensity of Focus) 

Slowing things down and eliminating the distractions around us can increase our productivity exponentially. As with exercising, when we commit to uninterrupted focus time, we tend to develop a resilience muscle that is strong when times are complex and distracting. When we are more focused and stay calm in our role as leaders, others appreciate this gift we bring to them—and there is likely to be another ripple effect, development of trust in ourselves.  

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About Author

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Dennis Stiles DDS

Dr. Dennis Stiles, a native of Amherst, MA, has called upper Montgomery County home since 1986. Dr. Stiles is currently a member of the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, the Maryland Society of Sleep Medicine, the American Academy of Implant Dentistry and has received fellowship in the the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists and the Academy of General Dentistry. In 2017 he received Diplomate status in the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM). He also served as past president of the American Prosthodontic Society (2006) and currently is serving the president of the APS Foundation. In 2009 Dr. Stiles was appointed to serve as a dean's faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. In 2016 Dr. Stiles was elected to serve a three year term as a board member of the LD Pankey Institute through 2019.




Happiness Is a Warm Puppy

August 30, 2019 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

When dentists are asked to use their imaginations to create a vision of the future, they usually see themselves as achieving their dreams, becoming successful and living the happy American dream. Using our imagination gives us a sense of control over our lives. I myself used the term “master of my own destiny” as my battle cry to create my practice philosophy. Was I accurate? Well, not to the degree I thought I would be. The old saying, “Man plans, and God laughs,” applies.

At the start of my career, I didn’t realize the effect that technology, the economy, advertising, and insurance would have on my plans. My definition of success at the start included words like accomplishment and achievement of a worthy goal. I learned the sense of well-being was to become an integral part of this.

Over four decades of practice, I learned that in order to live a life well-lived, certain components would be required. I could not have survived forty years if I had to go to work every day without the ingredients of a happy life.

The Ingredients of a Happy Life

The positive psychologists tell us that our well-being is dependent on five components. Dr. Martin Seligman, from the University of Pennsylvania, uses the acronym PERMA to describe these five.

P – Positive Emotion. For us to experience well-being, we need positive emotion in our lives. Any positive emotion such as peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity, or love falls into this category – and the message is that it’s really important to enjoy yourself in the here and now as long as the other elements of PERMA are in place.

E – Engagement. When we’re truly engaged in a situation, task, or project, we experience a state of flow. Time seems to stop, we lose our sense of self, and we concentrate intensely on the present. This feels really good! The more we experience this type of engagement, the more likely we are to experience well-being.

R – Positive Relations. As humans, we are “social beings,” and good relationships are core to our well-being. Time and again, we see that people who have meaningful, positive relationships with others are happier than those who do not. Relationships really do matter!

M – Meaning. Meaning comes from serving a cause bigger than ourselves. We all need meaning in our lives to have a sense of well-being. We need to create our own meaning with a sense of intent and purposefully design our own lives and practices accordingly.

A – Accomplishment/Achievement. Many of us strive to better ourselves in some way, whether we’re seeking to master a skill, achieve a valuable goal, or win in some competitive event. Flourishing in this way adds to the sense of wellness.

Happiness Is Subjective

All of the components together can be measured and hold the key to our well-being. Happiness, however, is about semantics. It’s about a subjective feeling.

Aristotle said it is “an expression of the soul in considered actions.” He called those actions virtues and said one could only measure the degree of happiness in a person’s life at the end of one’s life.

Freud said happiness can be found in lieben und arbiten—to love and to work.

And, Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” In truth, we cannot completely describe happiness, but we all know when we are happy.

Because the state of happiness is a present tense phenomenon, I have chosen what will make us happy in the future by what makes us happy now. That is why I have chosen Martin Seligman’s definition of well-being as defined by PERMA as a guide to a sustainable career and a life well lived. All of the PERMA components of well-being — positive emotions, engaging work, positive relationships, meaningful work and achievement, can be built into our practices.

Why Is Happiness Like a Warm Puppy?

Having an experience or two a day of true connection with patients can make all the difference in being satisfied at work. This simple definition of happiness is a good way to measure how you are feeling about your chosen career and practice life, because, if in the present of your everyday practice life, you feel moments of warmth (like holding a warm puppy), you will hold up well against the difficult moments, and you will have a rewarding career in dentistry.

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).




Building a Culture of Agreement

July 10, 2019 Denison E. Byrne, DDS, MAGD

Enabling Your Team to Bring Their Best to Collaborative Problem Solving

One day, several years ago, our dental practice was facing an imminent snowstorm. We could see that the storm would play havoc with our professional and personal schedules. Decisions had to be made about our response. Should our plan be the same as the last time the office had been closed by weather? People were beginning to get nervous about how this was going to play out. A clear decision and well thought out plan were called for, but there was no one right answer. We needed to quickly make a collaborative plan (an agreement) to distribute power and communicate with our patients.

Planning for Contingencies

As in the case of the imminent snowstorm, I believe there are frequently practice decisions to be made for which there is no one right answer – no one strict plan that we can establish ahead of time and not expect to modify. Many variables need to be considered each time as the circumstances of owners, team members and patients change.

Collaborative planning takes “high engagement,” insight and practice. If you have preplanned team agreement on how to handle special events, you are ahead of the curve, but you will find it helpful to visit these agreements periodically, and you can anticipate you may need to collaborate “on your feet” when contingencies arise.


Last year, at “Inspired Team Facilitation” with Joan Unterschuetz, we did role-playing that helped the team develop a collaborative plan for which every member of the team had buy-in and agreement. Role-playing has helped our team huddle in an emergency to clarify what needs to be done, who can best take the lead on each task, and acknowledge the compelling reasons why we are doing this as a team. It also has been helpful to prepare each department leader to motivate team members who will help them make sure we effectively communicate with patients, assure patients, and shut down if we need to do this swiftly; then in reverse, open up the practice and zero in on what needs to be done to open the schedule and reschedule patients as priority dictates.

Agreeing to Agree

From the earliest time possible, work on building a culture of agreement around:

  • Team meetings with high-engagement of all stakeholders
  • Understanding problems to be solved and why they must be solved
  • Respecting all team members who would be affected by giving them a voice in the planning
  • Understanding that department team leaders will be accountable for execution
  • Coming to joint agreement and celebrating that fact at the time the agreement is made

The goal of these “coming to agreement” exercises (even about the small stuff) is to set a standard of collaboration that is in alignment with your practice philosophy. When an emergency arises, the team knows from experience that they can quickly collaborate and come to agreement on a plan of action…even when there is no one right answer and you need to kick start action immediately. If your collaborative meeting goes off track, the dentist as practice leader needs to remind everyone of the compelling reasons why they need to come to agreement now.

Can’t Involve Everyone?

Sometimes involving everyone is not possible in a crisis, but the goal is still the same. The goal is to be on the same page and united in decisions. All team members need to be informed of decisions, so if you and your department leads need to quickly create an agreement, the leaders will report back to other team members for implementation and keep them in the loop. Keeping everyone in the loop honors them and combats the human response of making false assumptions and experiencing energy-consuming emotions. In a culture of agreement, there is less opportunity for negative energy to accumulate—less “drama.”

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Denison E. Byrne, DDS, MAGD

Dr. “Denny” Byrne graduated from the University of Maryland Dental School and has been in restorative practice in Baltimore for 40 years. He is a member of the Pankey Faculty and Co-Director of Pankey Learning Groups. In addition to being the husband of a dentist, father of a dentist, and grandfather, he is keenly interested in facilitating small group learning, golfing and sailing. He enjoys cooking and is a fan of C.S. Lewis.