Peter Drucker Quote

Great leaders are rarely found in managed dental groups. Why? Because great leaders are not only committed to doing “well,” they are also unconditionally committed to doing “good.” Great leaders are moral exemplars.

According to Wikipedia, a moral exemplar is someone who serves as a model or example, someone who possesses a moral core and consistently expresses an authentic moral core. It was cited by Confucius, Mohammad, Mohandas Gandhi and other important philosophers and theologians as the prime duty of a leader to be a moral exemplar. Moral exemplars see areas that do not operate at the highest ethics, see where the integrity is missing, and are committed to correcting the problem.

Today, it’s common that most leaders of managed group dental practices only focus on higher multiples, profitability, cash flow, and increasing growth. None of these are bad, but they hold no virtue. They take no higher ground. They don’t really make a difference except for the enterprise itself. They are not unethical; they simply don’t have an honorable intent. There is no higher moral commitment.

What Makes a Moral Exemplar?

Leaders who create huge followings are moral exemplars. The moral exemplar’s behavior is anchored first on good character, recognizing and reflecting on ethical issues then translating into ethical actions. Second, moral exemplars are passionate about making a contribution to the greater good and being ready to sacrifice for this purpose.

Moral exemplars successfully integrate moral attitudes and beliefs into their core identity. Going against these attitudes and beliefs for moral exemplars is tantamount to acting against oneself. Acting in accordance with them becomes their self-expression: that’s who they are.

Moral exemplars often achieve their aims with the support of “support groups.” In fact, moral exemplars are often particularly adept at drawing support from surrounding individuals, groups and communities. This goes against the notion that exemplars are isolated individuals who push against the current. Not all exemplars need be the kind of heroes of Ayn Rand novels.

Moral exemplars often do not go through periods of intensive and prolonged deliberation to take the correct action. They have cultivated moral habits that allow them to do good as part of their nature. They have found ways to integrate moral reasoning with emotion and motive, which enables them to focus on moral relevance.

Recognizing Great Leadership

When I speak to great leaders in the group practice space, I hear in their rhetoric their moral imperative. “I want to make life better for my doctors and staff and give them opportunities they did not have before.” “I want to increase access to more patients in my community so we can provide better health.” Too often I only hear, “How do I get my multiple to double digits.”

When you look at great leaders, you see a virtuous high-ground, a purpose beyond themselves, a call to make a difference. It isn’t fake. It isn’t made up. It’s authentic.

When I look at the recruitment and retention of staff and associates; when I look at patient referrals, at staff satisfaction or brand recognition, it is evident that those leaders who are moral exemplars are far ahead of other leaders in the industry.

People want their leaders to be morally virtuous, to have integrity and to speak as their word, to be committed to something that will make a difference. People want to make a difference with their work and their lives, and a leader who is a moral exemplar is someone who gives them that opportunity.

Take a look at leaders that you honor, both past and present, including selected examples from history, science, and entertainment. A few come to mind right now: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, Jimmy Stewart, Billy Graham, Pope Francis. In dentistry, there’s John Kois, Frank Spears, Gordon Christensen, Omar Reed. In DSOs, there’s Rick Workman and Stephen Thorne. All of these people are moral exemplars in their own right.

The thing that we know about our humanness is that moral exemplars have triumph and tragedy, just like you and me. Take Mother Teresa for instance —  she struggled with prayer all the time. The difference for our moral exemplars is that they remain in constant contact with something outside of themselves for guidance, and they strive to do the next right thing based upon their fundamental beliefs.

If you and your enterprise have a higher moral mission — and it is truly authentic, consistently expressed in your culture, comes out of your lips when you speak to people — you have the ultimate booster that will increase performance, enhance relationships, increase loyalty and potentiate the brand. It’s straightforward; great leaders are moral exemplars.

Below is a wonderful video by my colleague Steve Schwartz on wisdom and moral exemplars — strongly recommended.


— Marc