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Why I Got Vulnerable With 60 Female Dentists

The afternoon sun is high in the sky, shimmering off the shoreline of Orange County, California. The resort is set right on the coast, and it could not be a more beautiful setting, yet my stomach is twisting in knots like kneaded bread, and the pain between my shoulders is like someone has shoved an iron rod between my shoulder blades. 

I got invited to speak on leadership to a group of 60 Mommy Dentists in Business (MDIBS). Dr. Grace Yum formed this group of female dentists to scratch a deep itch missing in their professional community. A place for women to gather and to work on the business of being dentists and leveraging a robust professional network of other female dentists. 

So, Ed, why are you there? You are not a female, and you are not a dentist. Right on both accounts, but I am married to a female dentist that owns a business. She faces countless business decisions and financial decisions to make. Given my business, personal finance and therapy background, I have been the informal consultant to her business for years. 

As my talk approached my body was signaling that talking about leadership, to this group of 60 mommy dentists would be dangerous and threatening. At least, that’s what my body wanted me to think. It was as if I was going before the great white sharks of the pacific ocean. At the same time my rational brain knew these women were there to learn. I had been invited there to speak, and I have yet to have a group of professionals attack me for what I am presenting. 

The shark music playing in the back ground comes from my anxious attachment style. Even though I had shared the rough outline of the presentation with Dr. Yum,  my relational anxiety ran high. This happened even after Dr. Yum told me how much she enjoyed and appreciated my book The Healthy Love and Money Way, which opened her eyes to new ways of understanding herself and her family. 

I knew my presentation was no ordinary talk on leadership, it was on attachment styles and childhood trauma and how they can impact your leadership and the people you lead. 

The previous presenters were fantastic and so insightful, and I knew my talk would take these women in a different direction. I opened the session by having the women stand and form a circle in the room. As they heard the instructions, you could feel the energy rise in the room as they formed a circle, some women instinctively joining hands. 

As the circle formed, I asked how many of them saw themselves as the CEO of their dental practice. A few raised their hands. Many had a look of confusion and even shock on their face. So I asked them what words are associated with being a CEO, they slowly responded, leader, strong, confident. Then I normalized that we can have negative associations with words like CEO, and so I asked what negative associations are connected with CEO. The words came flying out from the group, rude, dismissive, greedy, uncaring, etc. I am blown away and not surprised by the negative associations. Lastly, I ask what attributes they would like to associate with being a CEO and the women freely came up with words like thoughtful, caring, compassionate, leader, and empathic. Yet a whole different set of adjectives. After the exercise you could feel the shift in energy for these women to step more fully into being a CEO of their dental practice. 

The circle time sets the tone for the rest of the talk. I share about the pathway to leading from the last set of adjectives and how they connect with a secure attachment style. For many in this audience, this was the first time they had learned about attachment styles and how they shape our relational expectations. I then introduced them to the science and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score and how those experiences are often linked to insecure attachment styles of being preoccupied, dismissing, and fearful. 

Ultimately each attachment style will have a different approach to leadership. 

While sharing this information, I shared my journey of initially rejecting the idea of attachment styles and bonding. I didn’t like the implications of what that would mean about me, my family, and how we had related and did not relate to each other. I went on to share that I have spent years in my own therapy working through these issues and coming out the other side more confident and securely attached. When I have times that my relational anxiety spikes I have learned how to navigate myself back to a place of relational security. 

Fortunately, once I took the stage, my body relaxed, and I recognized that it was not a room full of great white sharks I was presenting to but rather a group of women ready to learn, heal and grow as leaders. As dentists they could connect with getting to the root of the issue to lead to the best outcomes. Knowing and working with how we see ourselves and how others experience us is the root of the issue in leadership. Knowing about attachment styles and adverse childhood experiences gives us a lens for understanding and working with our sense of self and sense of others. When we work at the level of our self, it changes the way we approach the practical aspects of leadership. 

 

The Magic of Vulnerability Comes After the Talk 

What unfolded after the talk, is more impactful for me as a presenter than the talk itself. I remember having three distinct conversations about the impact of my talk, and each was so personal and reminds we of how we are all impacted by our early childhood experiences of caregiving. 

Vanessa came up and shared with me that she appreciated learning about the connection between eye contact and secure attachment. Vanessa shared that she was raised by two very busy, serious business executive parents who spent little time expressing emotional warmth or making eye contact with her. At the same time she was not shy to say her family was very committed to each other.

Vanessa said she found it odd when she and her husband first started dating how much eye contact he would want to make with her and how much physical touch he desired. Both parts of the attachment and bonding process. After our conversation it was clear that Vanessa left the talk with a desire to explore and know more about fostering a deep connection with her kids and husband through eye contact. I trust this will spill over into her leadership as a dentist as she explores the impact of eye contact in all of her different relationships. 

Maddison caught me a little later after the talk and shared that the circle exercise had been significant to her. She expressed that she grew up in a family where girls and women were not supposed to be leaders. She expressed that the MDIBS group helped her expand her sense of what she could do as a female dentist that owns her own practice.  As Maddison shared her story a cold chill went through my heart as I heard a very small slice of what her childhood was like. At the same time a sense of awe and wonder for the power of an affirming group was so deeply impressed on me by Maddison. 

Varni found me as the leadership conference ended for the day. I asked her what stood out to her most about my presentation. She said without hesitation, “Ed, your vulnerability.”. I was initially a bit shocked and then profoundly appreciative as she shared. Varni went on to explain that in her experience with men, she was not used to them being vulnerable or even talking about vulnerability. I am not sure I even understand fully what this means or represents to her, but I know it represents something significant to both of us. 

 

Seeing The Human Behind The Great White Shark

As it turns out, both genders can see the other as the great white sharks of the pacific ocean, and yet it is when we can share our full humanness that we can realize that we do not need to fear each other. We can lead each other and be led by each other. The experience of secure attachment transcends the many stated and unstated gender norms we all internalize about how we are “supposed” to relate and lead each other. 

 

What This Means For Your Healthy Love and Money Journey

The truth as I see it. We are all leaders. No matter your gender. When we support and show that all people have an opportunity to be leaders we create far more opportunities for growing and loving ourselves, others and the communities we are a part of. 

 

Leadership is part of financial well-being and financial intimacy. Leadership based in secure attachment means we can set the direction of our lives and collaborate and coordinate with others that we are in relationship with to achieve desired outcomes together. There is synergy when couples share the responsibilities of financial leadership with each other. 

 

Question to ask your partner.

What messages did you get about yourself as a leader from your childhood? 

 

Remember to listen actively and with empathy to your partner. 

How much leadership training in your marriage and intimate relationships have you had? How much training have you had in financial leadership in your intimate relationships? 

If you want support developing secure attachment leadership in your intimate relationship and financial life then Therapy Informed Financial Planning is for you. Schedule a 30-minute discovery call to learn more. 

Ed Coambs

Ed Coambs

Therapy Informed Financial Planner at Healthy Love and Money

Working with many women who have only had part of the financial picture but not the whole family’s financial picture, I have seen and heard about the stress that it creates for them. Including panic attacks, depression, anxiety, anger, and missed opportunities to participate in what matters to them most.

Empowering women to see, know, and understand the whole financial picture of their lives transforms the way they show up in the world. Allowing them to enjoy themselves, their friendships, their relationships with their kids, and their intimate partners.

When women feel confident that they can partner with their intimate partner and be seen as equal, it restores intimacy and connection in their most meaningful relationships and models for the next generation of women what is possible.