The 9 Values of Servant Leadership

James V. Anderson, DMD, Founder and CEO
James V. Anderson, DMD, Founder and CEO
eAssist Dental Solutions

As dental providers, we encourage our patients daily to achieve the best health possible by offering solutions to care. Building relationships with your patients involves thinking of them long-term, and each encounter builds on that relationship. What are their goals for health five years from now? Where does the practice fit into this picture? Changing your mindset of being the boss/commander in chief to be a servant to those who work with you and those you provide care to, can be a huge shift in how you live your life and view your role. 

The concept of “Servant Leadership” was introduced to the business community in the 1970’s in Robert Greenleaf’s landmark work “The Servant Leader”. Many wildly successful companies have built their success by using this management philosophy – namely Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom and Walmart (to name a few).

Do you want to build a thriving dental practice? It's time for us to be servant leaders. Think of your dental team as being with you long-term. What can you do to foster building these relationships, just as you would your patient relationships? Patients are always comforted to know there is a committed team helping them. Flip your organization structure upside down. Recognize that your patients, and not the dentist, are on top of the pyramid.

The Servant Leadership Institute defines servant leadership as: A set of behaviors and practices that turn the traditional "power leadership" model upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader actually exists to serve the people. As a result, the practice is centered on a desire to serve and emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. Its primary goal is to enhance individual growth, teamwork and overall employee involvement and satisfaction.

This timeless philosophy was recorded in biblical accounts in both the Old and New Testaments and as early as 570 BCE – 490 BCE in the writings of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. Proponents of this inspirational leadership style have unlocked purpose and ingenuity in those around them through encouragement and support. They have also enabled subordinates to unlock their innermost potential, which has resulted in overall higher performance and more engaged, fulfilled employees.

As servant leaders, we focus on the growth and well-being of people and their communities and our main purpose is to inspire and equip all those we influence.

Employees or subordinates look to the boss for approval of all that is done and look to their leaders for inspiration – often stifling creative innovation. Servant leadership doesn’t work for all businesses or all organizations when there is a hierarchy or authoritarian style of management in place. A shift in thinking from the CEO and all managers is required to understand they are there to serve assistants and hygienists, so these incredibly important people succeed with your patients. 
An excellent real-world example of a servant leadership organization is Nordstrom, Inc. “Leaders” are at the bottom of the organization, lifting, inspiring, and helping those above them succeed. If only dentists would understand how important this concept is to the success of their practices! 

Before introducing servant leadership, define your values first. After defining your values, think of those that can be improved or enhanced and then live by your values.

The nine values of a servant leader are:
1.  Values diverse opinions (not looking for “yes men”)
2. Cultivates a culture of trust (build on the positive)
3. Develops other leaders (lets go of ego for the good of all)
4. Helps people with life issues (engages in active listening)
5. Encourages people (show trust in their abilities)
6. Sells instead of tells (persuades not commands)
7. Thinks you, not me (focus on needs of others)
8. Thinks long-term (for growth of people and business)
9. Acts with humility (doesn’t help people for personal gain or to diminish others’ efforts)

A servant leader in dentistry takes the time to actively listen to patients AND their staff.  For patients to agree on having dental care, there must be trust in the providers. For staff to follow their leader, they also must trust in the same way. Trust by patients AND staff is built on ethical treatment, serving, keeping your word and being transparent in all that you do. 

If you would like additional help, email Dr. Anderson at