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Lessons in leadership from Dori Carlson, OD, FAAO


Why optometrists should embrace leadership for a better tomorrow

After many years of being out of the education system, I decided to go back to school to get a Masters of Arts in leadership. The graduation ceremony was originally scheduled for May 2020, then pushed back to October, and finally held virtually in December. My cap, gown, and hood are hanging upstairs, waiting for something. It may be nothing more than some obligatory pictures.

Why leadership?

The most common question I have received about my education is, “Why?”. “Why would you go back to school?”My younger son proclaimed that question quite loudly. “Why would you get a Masters in leadership? You were the president of the American Optometric Association (AOA)!”

Well, there is a story, and I love telling stories. I have have had so many wonderful opportunities, especially after I finished my term with the AOA. People asked me to serve on a variety of committees and advisory boards. I gave a few lectures. Several times I spoke to groups about being an entrepreneur.

The more things I tried, the more I paid attention to what I truly enjoyed and what gave me passion. I kept coming back to one thing: Leadership. The more I was asked to speak or write on the topic, the more I felt I needed the proper credentials to speak to my colleagues. After all, my degree is no different than yours. And I consider many of my colleagues to be excellent leaders.

More by Dr. Carlson: What a practice owner would advise her younger self

A hybrid Masters

I heard about a hybrid Masters in leadership program in my home state that was a mix of online and in-person classes. So as we sent our younger son off to college, I went back to school myself. He thought I was crazy. Our older son thought it was “pretty cool.” So, for a time, our household had 3 of the 4 in college.

I spent the last 2 years writing many papers. In some courses, it was 2 or 3 papers. Others had a big assignment at the end of the term. My ethics class was extremely time-consuming in that a 10-page paper was expected every Friday based on assigned readings. My classmates and I had to complete courses on leadership, research, communication, creativity, ethics, diversity, and international business.

That last class was fascinating as we closed down in March due to a pandemic with a couple of our cohorts living in Spain and Australia.

Leadership in optometry

My first assignment was to write my personal philosophy of leadership, culminating in a 21-page paper supporting my belief that leadership is the ability to influence, nothing more. A 21-page paper will undoubtedly give you conviction. Based on that belief, everyone can be a leader because we all influence someone.

A parent influences a child. A teacher influences a student. Friends influence one another. Coworkers influence each other. It is my belief that leadership is influence, and everyone can influence someone else. By developing decision-making skills, influence, adaptability to change, and reliability, anyone can become a leader. It is just a matter of making the decision to develop those skills.

Related: Setting goals for success

So why do I care? I could have easily stepped aside to let “it” be someone else’s problem. I am a big John Maxwell fan and recently attended his Live 2 Lead virtual session. One of his comments resonated with me. “When you can afford to quit, that’s when you can’t afford to quit. The compounding interest is greatest at the end.”That comment fed to my other belief that one of the duties of being a leader is acting as a mentor by encouraging future leaders and was a significant reason for my visiting every optometry school in 2010 and 2011.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to create the leaders of the future. I am so proud to see some of those students now being recognized for their leadership skills. I would like to believe I helped inspire their journey.

Serve, inspire, motivate

We need more leaders. It is evident with watching the response to COVID-19. But, specifically, optometry needs more leaders. It starts with us. We can all be leaders in our little parts of the world by advocating for our profession and our rights as independent thinking doctors of optometry.

Over the last several years, I have been writing for different publications and websites. For a few years, I wrote a regular blog about leadership. As I take on this new challenge of writing for Optometry Times®, I hope you will join me in my journey to motivate and inspire you to lead from your little corner of the world.

Our final assignment in my first course was to write a personal mission statement. I had to search a little to find mine, and I would like to share it with you. My mission is to serve, inspire, and motivate my family, patients, and colleagues in their personal development through lifelong learning. In other words, let’s inspire each other to be better leaders.

The world could use more good ones.

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