Quite the Time to Lead

headshot of president
Leigh Jacopetti-Kondraski, DMD

We have all served in a leadership position in some capacity at some point in our lives. As you know, there are always challenges to being a leader, but the challenges inevitably help us to grow and shape us as people and providers. Whether you are the leader of an organization, your office, your church, or so forth, this has been quite the time to lead. With so many uncertainties in our lives and offices, it has left many of us longing for the control that we just do not have at this time.

Being the PAGD President during a pandemic has at times given me the same feeling that I remember having as I stood in front of my first extraction patient in dental school. As I stood on the right side of that number 29 decayed down to the gumline, after reviewing my patient’s medical history and finding out among many other things that she was deaf and blind, I thought to myself, “I am not qualified for this.” Our ability to communicate and control aspects of a situation is quite often how we navigate through many things in life and in dentistry. Being that I could not speak or sign to my patient to explain anything to her and clearly never extracted a tooth before, I felt helpless. But at the end of that appointment, as I looked at what was left of number 29 on the tray table, I realized that if you are passionate, determined, and certainly patient, you can get through anything.

That has been the story of the start of my eventful presidency. I do not feel qualified for this as the position comes with no rulebook, and undoubtedly, there is no rulebook for how to lead during a pandemic. (I promise I would have read it if there was.) I remember sharing with Rick Knowlton when presented with the opportunity to become the president that I did not feel qualified for the position. He told me, “You care enough to figure it out, and that is all that matters.” So here I am, exhausted after more meetings than I can count, frustrated like all of you by the vague guidance we Pennsylvania dentists have been given, and often feeling helpless with the little control that I have, but still committed nonetheless to figuring it out one step at a time and hopefully making Rick proud in Heaven.

I appreciate the patience and grace that all of our members have given me, Steve, and the Board as we make our way through this challenging time in dentistry. I constantly wish I had control over so much more than I do. I can assure you that I always have the best interest of our members and fellow dentists in mind when leading this organization.

Speaking of the control I find myself wishing I had, at the beginning of every year, our team chooses one word that we want to focus our attention on improving about ourselves or our lives during the year ahead. Ironically, my word for this year was “control.” This principle of choosing one word stems from a book called, One Word that Will Change Your Life, by Jon Gordon. My reason for choosing this word was to encourage myself to control the things which I am able and to give up the desire for control when matters are out of my hands. My constant need and desire for control has admittedly left me feeling disappointed more than once in my life. I have realized my need to give up control at times and while in my heart I always believe Thy will be done, I still wrestle with the idea of not being able to manage all aspects of my life. I think many dentists share the same sentiments. Yet by nature of our career choice and dealing with humans and their teeth, I recognize that I am pushed beyond my comfort zone time and time again as the situation is not always perfect nor do I always have the level of control I desire. I am so grateful for the growth that dentistry, my leadership positions in my past and present, and certainly this presidency have brought me. There is nothing quite like a pandemic to teach you that you do not always have control.

I will continue to work on my one word for 2020 as we pioneer through this COVID-19 recovery and any other challenges we may face as a profession and organization going forward. I will also continue to serve the members of the PAGD to the best of my ability throughout my presidency and in the future. I look forward to better times ahead, including catching up with many of you at our next PEAK meeting since this year’s PAGD Annual Meeting was one of the many events cancelled due to COVID-19.

I once heard, “A smooth sea never made for a skilled sailor.” I try to remember this as I fumble through leading an organization, a team, and any other elements of life where I may be in a position with some, but definitely not total control. I encourage you all to do the same, with one last reminder that if your grace does not extend to yourself, it is incomplete. Together, we will get through this and will regain the control where possible in our lives and offices that we once enjoyed. Best wishes to all and God bless.