ADEA Leadership Institute Commencement

Mar 1, 2002 | AAL in the News | 0 comments

Hyatt Regency, San Diego, California

Arthur A. Dugoni, DDS, MSD, Dean

Dr. Valachovic, Dr. Haden, distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Congratulations on your significant accomplishments and the completion of your American Dental Education Association leadership program.

I would like to express my appreciation to Executive Director Richard Valachovic and Dr. Karl Haden for the invitation to participate in the commencement activities.  In preparation for this address, I completed several surveys.  On my first survey, I tried to find out the choices for the speaker this evening and, as I understand it, in order they were Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, and Colin Powell.  Pretty distinguished company — I really do not feel bad that the $50,000 honorarium required by the other three individuals made them unavailable.

I also surveyed a group of dental faculty to find out if any of them could remember the name of any commencement speaker and, more important, what the individual said.  I want you to know that, to date, I have been unable to find anyone who could remember the name of their commencement speaker or anything that the person said.  For the record, I would like to emphasize that my name is Arturo Alberto Paulo Dugoni!

After September 11, we have all reevaluated our lives, the directions that we would like to go with our lives, the value of life as it is, and the importance of our obligations as related to our families and the essence of living.  In that spirit, I think it is also important for us to laugh and remember to laugh at ourselves.  Recently, I heard a speaker who provided us with some laughter with respect to things that happen “only in America,” and I would like to share them with you.

“Laughter is very often the best medicine and it is important that we be able to laugh at ourselves, so I would like to share with you now some very unique things that occur only in this land we call America:

  • Only in America can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance
  • Only in America do we have disabled parking places in front of a public skating rink
  • Only in America do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries and a diet Coke
  • Only in America do we leave automobiles worth tens of thousands of dollars unlocked in our driveways while  boxes of useless junk are safe and sound in our locked garages
  • Only in America do banks leave their vault doors open and then chain those little plastic pens to the counter
  • And finally, Only in America do we have answering machines to screen our calls and then have call waiting so we won’t miss a call from someone we didn’t want to talk to in the first place.”

Winston Churchill, a favorite of mine and I am sure of yours, wrote that, “To every man there comes in his life that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered that chance to do a very special thing, unique to him, and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for that work.”  Your future will be filled with special moments and you are prepared and qualified to lead.  It would be my hope that when you are tapped on the shoulder for that special moment of exceptional leadership that you will grab that moment and that you will take on the challenges, take some risks, and bring the status quo to its knees.

From the dawn of civilization, leadership has been important.  Few would dispute that Aristotle, Gandhi, Truman, Jesus, Pope John XXIII, Charles Manson, Mohammed, Caesar, Machiavelli, Cromwell, Jimmy Jones, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, George Patton, and Douglas MacArthur were important leaders — leaders who had a profound influence on the thoughts, values, beliefs, and in some cases deaths of their willing or unwilling followers.

Leadership matters.  It has been one of the most authored and studied phenomena of the twentieth century.  Hundreds of books and thousands of papers on the subject of leaders and leadership have been written.  There are many themes and theories.  What one author calls leadership, another refers to as power; another may refer to the same concept as authority, supervision, control, or something else entirely.

So we have invented an endless proliferation of terms to deal with it, and still the concept is not sufficiently defined.  After 54 years in the profession and reading hundreds of books and articles, I could find no single best definition of leadership or description of leadership, and I am not going to try, but I do have some beliefs and observations.  I really feel a great deal like Liz Taylor at this moment on the night of her seventh wedding celebration.

“I think I know what to do – but I am not sure I can make it interesting.”

I have had the opportunity over my career to meet many different types of leaders; some from the dental world and state, national, and international organizations; others from specialty organizations; the deans of dental schools, corporate, and business world leaders, legislators, and government officials.

Let me share with you some of the positive traits that the best have in common from my experience:

Energy – They transmit enthusiasm, confidence, and have a high level of energy

They have a high feeling of self-worth and this they project.  Do you think this starts in dental school?

Extraordinary stamina

Usually physically fit

Able to communicate – charisma, panache, and karma.  They also have great listening skills – I am still working on that one.  It is amazing what you can learn when you just listen.  Sometimes as you listen, people solve their own problems, they provide you with an insight into directions or solutions that you might never have thought of.  It also gives you the opportunity to think as they speak and to develop appropriate solutions to the dilemmas that are being presented.

Facilitators – high consensus building skills

They look at the big picture

Their word is their bond – they are trusted because of their integrity

They are able to define situations; analyze situations; develop alternatives; make decisions, and take action

They are optimistic about the future – in difficult times people too often lose the ability to face the future optimistically

I am a strong believer that leaders must demonstrate integrity, fairness, trust, drive, enthusiasm, and optimism.  Optimism is extremely important.  Let me give you an example.  One day early in my career as dean, after a difficult budget evaluation meeting, and serious concerns for our economic stability – I know that every leader in the room, and especially every dean, has been confronted with this moment.  As I left my office and walked out into the hallway, I met a faculty member in front of the elevator.  As usual, the faculty member said, “Good morning, Art.  How are you?”  I responded less than optimistic, with body language revealing serious concern, rounded shoulders, head facing down, looking at the ground, and made some inarticulate statement such as, “There are some problems I am dealing with.”  This startled the young faculty member, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who said, “What is the matter, Art?  Is the school going to close?  Am I going to lose my job?”  I realized at that moment that a leader must demonstrate at all times an optimistic front, as it were, a look into the future and provide a sense of stability and security for all of those involved in the operation of the dental school.  Faculty and staff look to their leader for that optimism and projection of confidence.

Leaders must be seen to be UP – UPfront – UP to date – UP to their jobs – and UP early in the morning.

All too often on the long road up, young leaders become servants of “what is” rather than the shapers of “what might be.”  In the long process of learning how the system works, they are rewarded for playing within the intricate structure of existing rules, and by the time they reach the top, they are likely to be trained prisoners of the structure.  One of the great historical examples of the leader/renewer is Pope John XXIII who was elected Pope at the age of 76.  But in spite of his long years of rising through the ranks of the church hierarchy, the spark of imagination and creativity remained undimmed and when he reached the top, he became the greatest force for renewal the Catholic church has known in the 20th century.

Potential leaders who have been schooled to believe that all elements of a problem are rationale and technical, reducible to words and numbers, and solvable by computers are unequipped to move into an area where intuition, empathy, and listening are very powerful aids in leadership, and especially problem solving.

Leadership is not tidy.  It is complex, but it is not rocket science either.  Decisions are made and sometimes revised or reversed, misunderstandings are frequent, and inconsistency is inevitable.  Achieving a goal may simply make the next goal more urgent – inside every solution are the seeds of new problems.  No leader enjoys that reality but every leader knows it.  Just ask Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard as she struggles with her recommendations to expand Hewlett-Packard and to merge with Compaq.

Management and leadership are messy today due to the rate and complexity of change.  There is a centrifuge of change.  We must realize that this is our world today.  All organizations are caught up in it, and in many instances, you just make it up as you go along.  In this cauldron of change and messy white water, more and more “seat of the pants” actions by CEO’s at every level are occurring.  We have entered a time of continually surprising, novel, messy events that are impossible to ignore and they will not go away.   So often, Murphy’s Law prevails!  The way I look at it, I am in year one of a five-year plan every year.

One of the leader’s important roles is decision making.  Some of my rules are:

  1. I do not take myself too seriously — I try to find humor in every day’s activities and also, in many instances, to turn the humor and its reaction on something that I have done or not done.
  2. I never assume a responsibility I can delegate, but once I have delegated the responsibility, I have the responsibility to monitor, evaluate, and make sure that the delegation is on course and that there are no barriers to accomplishing the goals that were agreed upon.  Failure to monitor a delegation is abdication.
  3. I never make a decision that I can put off until tomorrow unless it is earth shaking or will result in some serious problems for the dental school or the university.  I like the term “artful procrastination.”  It provides the opportunity to reflect, to think, to seek wise counsel and collaboration before making a decision that perhaps influences an event or someone’s life.
  4. I have tried to develop listening skills to their highest – as I mentioned earlier, I am still working on this, but wow, it is amazing what you learn if you just listen.
  5. I believe that leaders should grow people — At Pacific, I take every opportunity to do that and I like to say often that our mission very simply is to grow people and along the way we make them doctors.
  6. I firmly believe that a leader must be fair, must be kind and, of course, leaders have to demonstrate vision and take the initiative in providing those dreams that help define the future of the institution.  Dreams can create the future but the only way to predict the future is to have the power to shape the future.

Some examples of leaders and their lack of vision include:

Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

“I think there’s a world market for about five computers.” — Currently, I have at least five computers in every room!

Businessweek, 1958

“With over 54 cars already on sale, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” — Tell that to Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Lexus, and Acura.

Darryl F. Zanuck, Head of 20th Century Fox, 1946

“TV won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months.  People will get tired of staring into a plywood box.”

Henry Loos, Founder and Publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, 1956

“By 1980 all power – electric, atomic, and solar – is likely to be virtually costless.” — California should be so lucky — it may cost Governor Gray Davis his job.

Jimmy Hoffa, 1975 — Teamster boss

“I don’t need bodyguards.” — They are still looking for his body parts

The wake-up call in this decade for higher education places an equally heavy burden on the shoulders of the men and women in dental education.  It will require rethinking our assumptions and reinventing some of the ways of doing business.  There are too many for me to discuss tonight, but let us try a few.

I believe we have totally failed as dental educators if we have not changed our students during their four years with us as individuals who will look at community issues and national concerns beyond the narrow confines of a gold margin, a root canal, or a cusp-fossa relationship.  We should not concentrate so exclusively on teaching our students how to succeed in an increasingly complex technology-driven profession that we neglect to teach them how to live in the society around them.  We should not concentrate so exclusively on teaching our students how to succeed in an increasingly complex, technologically driven profession that we neglect to teach them how to live in the society around them.  I firmly believe that dental education and dental leaders’ short, medium, and long-term vision should be to build people and to place a premium on the development of humanistic educational models, which emphasize the importance of each individual and their views and concerns.

Years after graduation, when graduates are asked about their lives as students, they nearly always tell us about only a very few special teachers who made a difference in their intellectual and personal development.  An experience of this kind depends upon close relationships between faculty and their students __ relationships that transcend traditional teaching roles.  Yet the faculty of some of our most distinguished universities of higher education have moved away from, rather than toward, this kind of engagement.  Today, we have an even greater challenge as we try to determine how our students should learn and how we should teach in the face of exploding technology.  In my view, we must not move away from the development of close relationships between our students and faculty.  Every student needs to have an experience with that distinguished professor.  It is appalling to me how often I read letters of recommendations from professors in specific disciplines who say, “the student performed very well and got an “A” in my class and this grade represents the top 5 percent of students who I have taught in this discipline, but because of the size of my class and the inability for me to have personal contact, I cannot offer anything significant with respect to the qualities of this individual.”  Wow, what a tragedy, both for the professor and the student.  Each missed something very special.  In my mind, if students cannot say, “wow, that was the best experience of my life – motivating, inspiring, challenging,” we have failed.

As we move through this exciting decade of promise and change, I would like to encourage educators to take on some challenges, to take some risks, and to challenge “the status quo.”  I would like you to consider the following challenges as you assume leadership positions:

  • Inspire teachers to teach with a passion (even that 1:00 p.m. lecture in pathology can come to life!).  Teach so that your students will want to maintain their inquisitive and searching minds and their quest for excellence, and be lifelong learners.  If they do, dentistry will never be work for them or for you.
  • Inspire teachers to educate students with a social conscience – Your graduates will be the best educated and most respected individuals in their communities; also, I might add the most affluent.  The positions they will take as professionals about health care reform and access to care, about the homeless, about the under served, about violence and assault rifles, and compromised educational systems will be a reflection of your efforts, ideals, values, and modeling.  They will emulate you and what you feel is important, not only in your professional life, in your community, but also in your personal life.
  • Set the example for your students in community involvements at every level.  Will your graduates be the leaders that will mount a broad-based effort to help the underclass?  The real question is whether we can afford not to.
  • On the personal side, always laugh at yourself first. As Yogi Berra put it – “We make too many wrong mistakes!”  Everybody has a ridiculous side, and the whole world loves to laugh at somebody else.  If you laugh at yourself first, the laughter of others falls off harmlessly as if you were in golden armor.  Let me illustrate with several stories:

My granddaughter, in her sixth grade class project, was asked to write about her heroes.  I was flattered to find out she had chosen me.  When I asked Chrissy “why she picked me?”  She responded, “Grandpa, I couldn’t spell Arnold Schwarzeneggar!”

One day while traveling, I decided to call one of my sons and his four-year-old son, Paul, answered the phone.  Naturally, I thought he recognized my voice – all in all, I was his grandfather.  I started out with, “Hi Paul, how are you?  Have you been a good boy?  How is your school work?  Have you been helping your mother?  Have you been behaving and doing what your dad tells you?”  Then I heard in the background the voice of his mother, “Paul, who is that?”  And his answer, “I don’t know – I think it is the police.”

  • Don’t sweat the little things –  What are the little things?  You’re born –  you die –  everything in between are the little things.

One thing and one thing above all else, please take custody of your own life.  As you try to sort out all of these responsibilities of leadership and you attempt to bring balance into your life, please remember to do the following:

  • Take time to smell the salt water on a breeze
  • Watch a red tailed hawk circleWatch a baby struggle to pick up a Cheerios between her finger and her thumb
  • Get a life
  • Do not be a loaner
  • Send an e-mail
  • Write a letter
  • Find people who love and love you
  • Love the journey and not the destination
  • Remember that life is not a dress rehearsal

Think of life as a terminal illness.  This past year has made me take a second look at some challenges in my own family and in my own personal life.  If you do, you will live life with joy and passion.  Eat more ice cream, climb more mountains, know the color of your kids’ eyes.  How about the color of your administrative assistant’s eyes?  The security guard?  Your dinner companion at the table tonight?

Art Dugoni’s ten Pieces of Advice — Some people call them the Ten Commandments.  Please know that Charlton Heston and I were really not at Mt. Sinai together when the Ten Commandments were provided to Moses.

Some of these pieces of advice I stole from others and I have since forgotten their names.

  1. The first came from a Chicago writer – Wear sunscreen – if I could offer only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.  Why?  The long-term benefits have been proven by science whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable then my own meandering experiences.  I will dispense that advice now.
  2. Never eat the last cookie!
  3. Floss – at least the teeth you want to keep.
  4. Read the directions – even if you do not follow them.
  5. There is nothing wrong with underachieving – it just does not pay very well.
  6. Get to know your parents – you never know when they will be gone.
  7. Always do what is right – it will please some people and it will astonish the rest.
  8. Take care of your body – if you do not, where else are you going to live?
  9. Do not smoke too much, drink too much, eat too much, or work too much – we are all on the road to the grave, but there is no reason to be in the passing lane.
  10. Accept these certain truths – prices will rise.  Politicians will philander.  You, too, will get old; and then you will fantasize that, when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, children respected their elders, and you were a great athlete.

But trust me – trust me on the sunscreen.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these thoughts and observations.  May your future be filled with many wonderful moments of accomplishment and happiness, and until we meet again, “May God hold you in the palm of his hands.”

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