Gootee Lecture - Max Williams

Max Williams
Robert G. Gootee Endowed Lectureship
in Leadership & Professionalism
January 4, 2013


President Robertson, Dean Chiodo, trustees, honored guests, faculty and students - Good afternoon and thank you for the kind introduction.  I am honored to have been asked to deliver the 2013 Robert G. Gootee lecture in Leadership and Professionalism.

I must tell you - the last time I was formally at the School of Dentistry – was in the late 1980s.  I was in law school at the time – and a dear friend of mine was a dental student here.  I was his “patient” during one of his board exams.  I admit freely to having a little “dental anxiety” so it was true friendship that got me to sit in his chair.  I never had my wisdom teeth removed as a young man, maybe because I had such a big mouth - so I remember being a minor celebrity once that was discovered – and I recall having everyone referring to me as having my “thirds.”  Over the course of the next couple of hours I must have had a dozen people’s hands and fingers in my mouth not just inspecting his work – but looking at my wisdom teeth!  Now – that is true friendship!  To make the story complete – a few years ago I began having some trouble with one of those “thirds” – around the time I was leaving on an extended trip out of the country - and it was this same friend who on a Saturday – met me at his office in Salem – and took it out!  

I guess the moral to that story is really one about friendship, paying off old debts – and professionalism. As you already know, you are forging both the relationships and reputations that you will carry with you throughout your professional career as you are doing your work here at the Dental School.
Leadership, Philanthropy and Community

I would like to talk to you today about three specific, and I think interrelated topics today – and hopefully share some insights and encourage some discussion.    They are LEADERSHIP, PHILANTHROPY and COMMUNITY.      

1.    Leadership – and the Trust Principal

I am pleased to be able to share some thoughts with you on leadership.   This subject has been of great interest to me for much of my life.  What defines great leadership – that people will follow?  What makes for terrible leadership?  This is a subject that occupies shelves in every bookstore and is the focus of entire schools and programs at colleges and universities.  There are scores of definitions and approaches to leadership.  Most are worthy of study and reflection.  I consider myself a bit of an amateur historian – and most recently have enjoyed watching the resurgence of interest in Abraham Lincoln.  I’m sure a number of you have seen the recent Spielberg film depicting Lincoln’s role in the passage of the 13th amendment.  It’s a great movie – and depicts something we seem to be missing these days in politics in my opinion – a strong dose of courage and honorable compromise.

The film was primarily taken from Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” about the Lincoln presidency and his very diverse and challenging cabinet.  But as I read it – I was reaffirmed in my own belief that the “Secret Sauce” of leadership – comes down to one word:  TRUST.  Ultimately, Lincoln was able to get his cabinet to “trust” him – and he convinced a majority of Americans at that critical time to trust him – and his actions.  Because he was able to develop that trust – Lincoln was able to emancipate the slaves, abolish slavery in perpetuity by amending the constitution and ultimately he saved the union.

Now leadership is a complex principle, but I believe that ultimately effective leadership comes down to building and maintaining trust.  Understanding this principle as you begin your professional career can help you in your work, in your studies, in your practice management, in your personal and family relationships and in the role you will play in building your community. 

If you think about other leaders that have both been effective and admired – over the long term –– I believe you would find this principle of Trust at the root of their success.  I say over the long-term, because in the short-term leaders can sometimes achieve results through force, fear, manipulation and even dishonesty.  But these approaches don’t last – and neither do the results.  Eventually the bill comes due.  History is littered with examples of these kind of “leaders” – whether in politics, business or athletics.  Jack Welch, the former head of GE and management guru said it this way:
Any jerk can have short-term earnings. You squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, and the company sinks five years later.

Stephen RM Covey, the author of the book The Speed of Trust defines this character kind of trust as having two key components.  Character – and Competence.  Often, when asked whether we “trust” someone we immediately jump to the character analysis.  Does this person have appropriate motives, intent - are they honest?  If you think about a leader that you admire, you are doing this calculus about their character all the time.  Motive and intent are key- why is the leader doing what they are doing and how does their actions and objectives align with my own?  Leaders who can align their motives and intent with those they are leading – are building trust and are increasing their effectiveness.

I have had the very unique opportunity in my career to take over the leadership role of two organizations – coming into both of those organizations as an  outsider.  Not only as an outsider to the organization – but really as outsider to the entire field. One was when I took over the role as the Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections – and the other was just a year ago when I became the President and CEO of The Oregon Community Foundation.  Both of these have provided great learning experiences for me about leadership – and how to build trust relationships that increased my ability to lead.  Being able to clearly demonstrate motive and intent – and show that they are aligned with those whom you are serving has been essential for me.  It is something I work at every day and a model that has been taught to me by the example of good leaders. 

This means being honest and humble enough to tell those you are leading that they might know more than you do about the subject matter than you do.  It means being able to demonstrate a real commitment to the mission of the organization and to have a shared vision for what you are going to accomplish – that aligns with those you are leading.  You can’t fake it – at least not for long.  
I didn’t build that trust at DOC overnight.  It took time and effort.  I listened, I spent time talking with staff and inmates all over the state – I walked the tiers and sat in the dining halls and I made myself accessible.

The second component of trust – is competence.  This is sometimes less obvious, but again, thinking about leaders who you admire and “trust” – I suspect part of what supports that trust is sense that they are actually competent in their area.  They can in effect – do their job well.  They get it - they have sufficient knowledge, experience, training, skills, and have a record of results that produces that sense of trust.  

In making this point on competence, I often use the examples of two of my friends.  One is the aforementioned dentist – the other is friend who runs a very successful plumbing business.  Both of these men have impeccable character.  I would trust them alone with my wife, my daughters and my checkbook.  I know that they are perfect gentlemen.  But I would not have allowed the plumber to do my dental work nor the dentist to do our recent bathroom remodel!  This is where the role of competence comes into play.  

Your professional role will bring you into contact with a variety of people who will, undoubtedly put their trust in you at a time of personal crisis or concern.  They will expect that you have adopted standards of professionalism and achieved sufficient levels of competence to be awarded the privilege of practicing dentistry.  So – with that degree and license – you start out ahead.  But it will not take long for the people you serve – to know – what kind of leader you really are.  Whether it’s the way you treat your practice staff, the manner and engagement you have with patients, the interactions with insurance and regulatory organizations, or the role (or lack thereof) you play in your community – all those things will begin to define whether you are “trusted”.

Approaching it mathematically, trust operates like a hidden variable – if effective leadership is strategy multiplied by execution produces results – then trust is a hidden variable.  If trust is a negative number – then your results are diminished. If trust, however, is a positive number – it has a multiplier effect that will improve performance.  Things get easier, faster, more effective and cheaper – when you lead with trust.

There are many ways to build trust – but a few key ones are:  “keep commitments” “talk straight” “demonstrate respect” “deliver results” “create transparency” “right wrongs” – to name just a few.  These behaviors – if practiced - will extend the trust others will have in you.  What I have found most interesting in understanding this principle of trust - is that it applies to personal relationships, to work relationships, to units within a complex organization, and to entire organizations.  I’m sure you can think of an organization, perhaps during our latest financial crisis, which is no longer a trusted brand – because they did not practice these principles and were ultimately not led by those who operated from a principal of trust.  I saw this often both when serving in the legislature – and representing one of the largest state agencies before the legislature.  Organizational trust matters and it is defined by its leaders.  Organizations that lose trust suffer.  Everything is harder, takes longer and is more expensive.

At the risk of some personal embarrassment, I will share a brief story on myself to illustrate this point.  A number of years ago, while moving a boat in a friend’s truck, I was pulled over for speeding.  I have, over my lifetime, collected the occasional speeding ticket, much to the consternation of my wife who is the COO/CFO in our family.  On this occasion, I thought I might save her the frustration (think motive here) of my mistake, so I chose to “handle” the ticket on my own.  I appeared in court, took my punishment, paid the ticket (in cash) and assumed I had saved us both – mostly me – an uncomfortable exchange.  

What I did not know at the time – was my wife was in the middle of doing a complete reshuffle of all our insurance packages – for our home, liability and auto insurance.  It was a lengthy and complicated transaction and she had invested some significant time in working with our broker on the details.  The day before the transaction was to be complete – the broker called and said – “you can’t make the shift, your husband has a recent speeding ticket.”  She of course, said “that can’t be right – he hasn’t said anything to me about a ticket.”  Oops!  Needless to say, I had damaged the trust relationship by not “talking straight” and by not “being transparent.”  As a result, everything became harder, took longer, and was more expensive – and I’m not talking about our insurance!

To show that I’ve learned from that mistake, a few years later I was pulled over again – for what I assumed was another speeding ticket.  Before the officer had gotten to the car window, I had called my wife and said “Hey, just wanted you to know that I think I’m getting a speeding ticket right now.  I’ll call you in a minute and let you know how bad it is.”  It is possible to work yourself out of a low trust relationship – it isn’t easy – but you can do it by practicing trust building behaviors.  By the way, I’ve also tried to slow down since then!

You might now be wondering how any of this relates to you.  At some point in your life and career, you will all be leaders – some of you are leading already – whether in your families, in your practice, in volunteer capacities, in your profession or in your community.  Understanding that trust is the “secret sauce” to effective leadership might help you understand how to be more successful  – or when you are trying to figure out how to begin to move a group or an organization in a meaningful direction that you need them to go.  This principal of trust as a foundation to leadership can apply to all aspects of your life – whether it’s interpersonal relationships – running a Dental practice – running a University or major corporation.  

2.     Philanthropy

The second topic I would like to explore with you today is “philanthropy.”   Just in the last year, in my new role as the president of the state’s largest foundation, I have gained a better appreciation of what philanthropy really means.   The word philanthropy comes from the Greek, meaning, “love of man 

Too often we translate it to mean “gifts of money.”  This unquestionably, is one important aspect of philanthropy.  It is important – and both the Oregon Community Foundation – and the OHSU Foundation – remain dependent and reliant on this form of philanthropy.  The dollars given by generous individuals to build their community – or to support this incredible school cannot be overstated.  It helps fund research, construction, and for some of you, scholarships to make this opportunity accessible and affordable.  

But I have to take this moment to comment that Oregon – is a remarkable place given its size and its resources.  We, as a people in this state, give more charitably than a majority of other states – despite the fact that we have lower-than-average incomes by that same comparison.   It is the one thing that makes me optimistic for Oregon’s future.  We have an inherent sense of civic pride that I think drives this sense of philanthropy and it is part of our culture and heritage.

But as I said, Philanthropy is not defined solely by money.  Since I’ve been at The Oregon Community Foundation – I have had the chance to meet with a number of incredibly generous Oregonians who are giving or planning to give away substantial portions of their fortunes to the important causes about which they care.  I always ask what motivates them to take these actions.  Let me tell you a brief exchange with one of these individuals.

He told me that he was raised on the east side of Portland – with parents who were hard working, but didn’t have much.  He worked for a pharmacist as boy delivering prescriptions and decided he would someday own real estate.  Although his parents couldn’t give money away – they both gave of their time and talents - and were involved in their church, in their school and in their community.  They helped take care of the poor and less fortunate by doing what they could do.   They gave of what they had – and the sacrifice was real.  

He went on to say – that he believes society too often only recognize those who write the checks – and fails to recognize those who are giving of their time and talents.

We are also lucky that Oregonians are generous not only with dollars – but also with their time.  Oregon ranks 14th in the nation for those who volunteer.  A full third of all Oregonians are volunteering their time to some issue, cause or organization that they believe in – and that is making a difference for others.  The value of those volunteer hours is the equivalent of more than $1.5 billion dollars!  

As I was preparing my remarks for this lecture – I spoke to another dentist friend of mine who is now retired – and asked him about his experience with philanthropy among dentists.  He talked about the obvious organized work that the state and national associations are involved in – but went on to say that most dentists he knew were equally involved in giving of their time and talents.  He shared an example from his own practice.  He grew up in a disadvantaged home and was witness to his mother’s physical abuse.  Once he had his own practice he adopted  a local battered women’s shelter, where they did both emergency and cosmetic work on the teeth of the women who were living in the shelter at no cost.  This is a great example of what philanthropy really means.

Allow me to share another relevant example happening in several areas around the state.  A few years ago The Oregon Community Foundation – after reaching more than a billion dollars in assets – kicked off a program where our regions were each given a million dollars to work on a regional/community problem of their choosing.  After much discussion, meetings, committees and research – two of the regions chose to dedicate their efforts to improving children’s oral health in their areas.  What they found would likely be of no surprise to you – given Oregon’s poor performance on oral health for kids – but it surprised these communities – and soon action plans were forming, involving professionals, school leaders, service clubs and volunteers.  Walls and bureaucracy were broken down – resources were gathered – coordinators organized and children began getting dental care – checkups, treatment, sealants, toothbrushes, toothpaste, education and urgent care where needed.  

The “Ready to Smile” program has been a cooperative effort between The Oregon Community Foundation, the school systems and the Coos and Curry County Health Departments.  Those leading the effort weren’t dentists, but they knew that what they had to offer was just as important: raising funds, finding more volunteers, talking with schools about the best way to provide services and – yes – recruiting dentists and hygienists to volunteer.  Ready to Smile is now screening 72% of the enrolled students in targeted grades, making sure they have fluoride, toothbrushes and appropriate follow-up care.

The entire community has kicked in with donations – from individuals, rotary clubs, soroptimist clubs, and other charitable foundations.  And OCF was recently honored for the program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with an award honoring community foundations for innovative public-philanthropic collaborations. 

Similar focused efforts by OCF, volunteers, professionals and community leaders have improved children’s oral health, access and opportunity in Southern Oregon and the Southern Willamette Valley.  What made it work?  Well, certainly the money helped.  But in reality – it was the time and talents of committed community leaders, professionals and volunteers that made the real work happen.

This issue of Children’s Oral Health has been an important educational opportunity for us at OCF.  Just last November OCF’s board voted to make improving Children’s Oral Health in Oregon – a strategic priority for the Foundation.  For us –this means dedicated dollars, resources, convening, gathering partners and working collaboratively with government, professional associations, other foundations, volunteers, and hopefully with all of you,  -- with a mission to move the needle on this important problem in the next 5 years.  What the solution looks like remains to be seen – but it is because of philanthropy that the need was better identified – and I believe it will be philanthropy that will help build the solution to this very solvable problem.

I know from my own experience in both the public and private sector – that philanthropy can and does play a crucial role in developing innovative solutions for solving some of our most vexing and challenging problems.  Government today is unfortunately risk-adverse – and the private sector’s obligation to profit and the bottom line – can sometimes impact its risk tolerance and focus as well.  As a result – it falls to philanthropy – relying on the willingness and generosity of others – to take that risk that pays for that study, organizes that gathering, pulls people together in a way that neither the private nor public sector can do in the current environment in which we live.  That is the power of philanthropy – fueling the engine of innovation and change.  

What is important for me that you take away from this part of our discussion – is an acknowledgement that you will be in a place in the not too distant future, maybe even now when you will be more able to participate in philanthropy – by giving of your time, talents and as hard as it is to imagine – your financial resources.  
3.        Community

The last topic I’d like to discuss with you is the concept of community.  Statistically, slightly more than half of you will stay in Oregon and practice dentistry.  How lucky for us to have one of the few dental schools in the west located here.  It is a tremendous asset.  There are some of you who are life-long Oregonians, others who have or will adopt Oregon as your home – and others who are passing through on your academic journey.  Regardless – I want to talk about the importance of community.

You recall that the Chinese curse says:  May you live in interesting times.   We do live in interesting times.  I was pondering the other day on my own experience.  On Christmas morning I was skyping with my son who is currently living in Brazil – and then because of the season, I was thinking about my grandfather who was born in 1889 and lived almost his entire 97 years in a small Idaho farming community.  Before he passed he shared stories with me about his trips on horseback as a boy, train travel, community barn raising, the first time he saw a car, the first world war, and the stock market crash of 1929 when he was 40 years old and had a family.  What change in the world he saw.

I have seen the world become much smaller even in my lifetime. Everything now is interconnected – from our environments, to our media, to our economies.  Change and innovation are happening at so many levels – and so quickly – that disruptive technologies are knocking the “kings of the hill” off the top of the hill before they can even get their feet planted.  Social media of all sorts and types has redefined “community” in many ways, and while this comes with advantages – it also comes with challenges.  Never before in the history of mankind has so much information – about so many things – been so readily available to the common man.  No longer is the summation of human knowledge, music, art, literature, science, research, history and language locked up in libraries and accessible only to the wealthy or the academic elite.

And yet, in the face of this informational and technological miracle, people starve and die of treatable diseases.  The gap between the wealthy and the poor grows, despots still hold power around the world, 19th century education delivery models are failing and the outcomes on efforts to reform them appear modest at best.  We can’t even get children’s dental health right.  Civic engagement – that sense of “ownership” of where we live - is generally on the decline as people sour on a brand of electoral politics that has assumed a “winner take all” approach – as both sides dance on the edge of various cliffs in what looks to the rest of us - like a game of political chicken.  

We are no longer obligated to interact as a geographical community – we can select our “brand” of media – that reminds us that we are right and doesn’t challenge our thinking, we can post our rants anonymously on the web, we can un-friend those that we disagree with, and in the act of total avoidance of all of society’s challenges we can watch re-runs of “Honey-Boo-Boo” and the “Kardashians.”  

Reweaving the Social Fabric

In his national best-seller Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam argues that America’s social institutions are on the verge of collapsing.  He claims that we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and our democratic institutions, impoverishing our lives and our communities.
Putnam draws on evidence over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet together, we know our neighbors less, we meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize in person with our families less often.

I would suggest that this lack of “real” social connections makes it more difficult for communities to come together to find common values that we can all agree on – and therefore, more difficult to find solutions to pressing community problems.  I’d also like to think that we are trying to “buck that trend” in Oregon in a variety of ways – but I’m not sure we are winning.

So what do we do?  After writing the book, Putnam was asked just that question: What can bring us together again?  So he went out on the road, visiting places around the country to find examples of individuals and groups who are engaged in various meaningful ways in their communities. In his book, Better Together, Putnam and co-author Lewis Feldstein describe individual and organizations that are helping re-weave the social fabric of our country.  These include youth mentoring programs bringing together boomers – and young people, a reemergence of community centers that are trying to create public spaces for people of all ages to gather and organizations that are still motivated by civic pride and are now expanding engagement to the new citizens that are coming to many communities with different backgrounds and cultures and changing the face of America.

At OCF, we have many examples of projects that are striving to bring communities together in new – and effective – ways. They notice the “gap” that exists and look at ways to fill it with whatever resources they can muster.  The “Ready to Smile” effort I mentioned earlier on the South Coast is just one example of such an effort, and there are many more. 

OCF’s Role as Community Leader

For 38 years, OCF has pursued a mission to improve life in Oregon and promote philanthropy. And we’ve done this pretty well – through changing times and needs.  But these past few years have challenged all of us.  Oregon’s structural weaknesses are more evident than ever and Oregonians are divided about the path we should take to strengthen them.

You will all, by the very nature of your profession, have some opportunity to strengthen the communities in which you live and practice.  As I have read, the economics and technology of dentistry are changing – like virtually all professions – and I’m sure there will be many time consuming challenges ahead of you.  Too often today we are typically willing to sit back and let others define “community” – or allow the small, active, opinionated vocal minority to define the problems and the solutions.  This weakens our sense of community and ultimately apathy begets apathy.

Not long ago, I was having dinner with a group of friends – and inevitably it turned into one of these “what’s wrong with the world” discussions.  After listening to a series of complaints about schools, roads, taxes, gun policy, local park issues, health care, etc. – I asked if anyone would mind taking a short poll.  They agreed and agreed to be honest as well.  The question was this:  “What have you done personally to try to address or fix any of these issues?”  The results are as you might have expected.

Being part of a community comes with some civic responsibility – and no matter how many Facebook friends you have – it is still the people in your neighborhood that will be defining the kind of neighborhood you live in.  I’m not saying our expanding on-line communities are all bad, in fact, in many ways they can and have assisted us in doing great things.  The crowd-sourcing of problems – and even crowd-funding of philanthropy is becoming a powerful tool in addressing challenges if used well, and with the purpose of deepening community,  these social networks might actually improve things.  Truly connecting to the people we live around, work around and play around is also essential if we want to ultimately build common-ground between us and address our community challenges.


So …. Leadership built on trust –

Philanthropy – or giving – based on caring --

Community – based on a sense of responsibility.

I posit that these are the building blocks for success both personal and professional.

President Lincoln claimed, “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down...”

Trust – caring – responsibility. 

And while it’s unlikely that any of us will lead the nation, each of us can – and should - be willing to lead in our community, in our profession or in our state.

But make no mistake. Leadership and involved citizenship have a cost. You must be willing to give up a bit of yourself: give up some of your time, give up some of the focus you have on yourself and your family -- think beyond yourself –

I hope my remarks have encouraged you to be determined to pay that cost.  Because when you do, you will unleash parts of yourself that you didn’t know were there. And our community will be a better place for it.

Thank you.