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President’s Message: AAE Leadership Development: An Investment in Our Future

By Linda G. Levin, D.D.S., Ph.D.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
– President John Quincy Adams

LevinLindaIn a year when we are bombarded by news of candidates vying for the presidency of the United States, it seems appropriate to consider the meaning of leadership and what constitutes a great leader. It is a topic of great relevance and import to our Association since our future as a viable organization depends on our ability to identify and develop leaders today. Your Board of Directors has made leadership development a priority. I was interested to find that the subject has undergone extensive research both in the social and hard sciences. This is understandable since effective leadership is a global concern for businesses and organizations. After all, your leaders can take your group to stunning heights or bring you to a standstill!

So what makes a good leader? A recent article in Business News Daily featured insights from influential business leaders on the attributes of a good leader.1 The following list summarizes their feedback:

  • Good leaders get the best out of people. They push them from their comfort zones to perform at their full potential. They instill a sense of purpose in those around them. They canvass for and enlist strong talent to work with them and they look for other strong leaders to further the organization’s mission.
  • Good leaders focus on giving and serving. They give unselfishly of their time and talents and view doing so as their duty.
  • Good leaders are ambitious. Ambition creates an “unconditional desire to achieve” as well as “contagious energy.” Good leaders have a strong sense of their mission.
  • Good leaders have a good attitude. A good, positive attitude buoys team morale. Good leaders have a “can-do” mindset and strong interpersonal skills.
  • Good leaders stay in touch with their people. They know their team members and understand what motivates them. They are good communicators.
  • Good leaders set the right example. They set goals, motivate, innovate and establish trust. They understand a “top-down” philosophy when it comes to being a leading example.
  • Good leaders do not stand alone. They work with other leaders to form strong coalitions to achieve a mission.

How does the AAE develop and engage people with these attributes and inspire them to invest in our mission? While the role of U.S. president always attracts interest, for nonprofits it is not always a given that someone will be willing and ready to spring from the ranks and lead their association into the future. In the AAE, our leaders are volunteers, which means they also must be altruistic and willing to devote their time and resources with little payback, other than the satisfaction of growing the specialty. We are fortunate that so many of our members have stepped up to serve on the Boards of the AAE, American Board of Endodontics and Foundation for Endodontics, as well as numerous standing and special committees. That said, we must ensure that there is a constant lineage of new leaders in the pipeline to fill these roles in the future.

So where do leaders come from? Are they born as leaders or can leadership be cultivated? Scientists studying this sort of behavior use a measure called “leadership role occupancy,” which is defined as whether or not a subject holds an office with leadership functions. Data from twin studies suggest a heritability of leadership role occupancy.2 It appears that a specific gene (rs4950, a single polymorphism on the neuronal acetylcholine receptor gene CHRNB3, for all of us science nerds) can be associated with 30% of leadership role occupancy. So the expression “she is a born leader” has scientific support. But what about the other 70% of leaders? Currentdatasuggests that leaders are “mostly made” or cultivated; best estimates break it down to “one-third born and two-thirds made.”3, 4, 5 This is good news since genetically engineering our leaders is not an option, and even if it were, it would take too long. Cultivation of leadership is not accidental though – it must be a deliberate, orchestrated venture for our organization.

We are fortunate in the AAE to have a great deal of talent in our organization and a Board of Directors committed to developing these talented individuals into our leaders of tomorrow. After much planning, the AAE is excited to present the first AAE Leadership Development Program to take place in Chicago on March 3-4, 2017. The program is open to AAE members in the U.S. who are 10 years or less out of residency, and fourteen individuals will be selected to participate, two from each of the AAE’s seven districts. Participants will receive hands-on communications training, take part in strategic discussions about the specialty and trends in dentistry with current AAE Board members, and learn about different paths to leadership. The online application process is now open and will close June 30. Learn more about the LDP in this issue of the Communiqué or visit

We are excited to offer this program and look forward to inspiring new generations of AAE leaders. So for the one-third of you who are born leaders, consider customizing your skill set for the AAE. For the remaining two-thirds, the AAE Leadership Development Program is a great place to start.