I used to hate going to the dentist. I recall childhood dentists who grinned as they fired up drills like they were chainsaws.
That is until I met Dr. Tony Knight.
Seems every time I go to my dentists I learn something valuable about leadership. His is a special story.
To begin with, he’s no ordinary dentist, because he’s no ordinary man.
Dr. Knight was born and raised in Johannesburg South Africa. His parents taught him to love what you do, and as a youngster of 5, he knew that he wanted to help people. He lived in London England and then moved to Calgary and established a dental practice with his father – an occupational passion that ran in the family. In 1991 they sold the practice and Dr. Knight and his young family embarked on a 5 year adventure – visiting fifty countries as they sailed around the world. Throughout the 55,000 km journey, the family faced lightning strikes, sharks, broken rudders, injury, and illness.
Despite these challenges, Dr. Knight did the extraordinary for others. Like sailing 600 miles off course in response to a radio call for help – to ease the pain of residents struggling with toothaches on Bora Bora.
Theirs is a remarkable story about dreams, courage, strength and love. So much so that it was made into an Outdoor Life network series called, Ocean Wanderer.
Fast forward ten years, and here I am sitting in my dentist’s chair.
From the moment I enter the office I notice small things – warm greetings, colorful fish, creative space, calm. The mood is friendly and relaxed. For my first visit, I am seated comfortably in a room and asked what I want from my dental experience – never before have I been asked that by a dentist!
Later, I listen to the conversations around me and notice that they are not superficial or transactional – rather they are filled with curiosity, joy, and respect. Among the stories are those of making Christmas dinner for an extended gathering of family and friends, and the numerous volunteer projects at home and in developing countries. The staff works as a team and they enjoy it. And they also seem to have a clear sense of independence and accountability. I trust them in my mouth.
Dr. Knight says he tries to lead by example, starting each day by running up 8 flights of stairs to his office. At a morning meeting, the team discusses issues or needs, and how to support each other. And then it’s “show time” when Dr. Knight says he commits to putting in 100% every day, for every patient.
When I ask Dr. Knight about his philosophy of leadership, he humbly and simply describes it as the things he teaches his kids.
- Show people you care
- Always do your best
- Always tell the truth
Dr. Knight calls me on my birthday. Although one could cynically say it’s a slick marketing tactic – I see a different motivation – that it’s a genuine gesture, in his busy day that says he cares.
And I believe that is the essence of what makes Dr. Knight a great dentist and a great leader. He cares about his patients, his team, his family, and himself. He cares about his business, his profession and the community. He puts his money and time, where his mouth is. He is good at what he does and cultivates that excellence in others.
Like many great leaders, Dr. Knight has the vision and passion to dream of a different kind of dental practice, and the will to bring it to life. His world travels have given him appreciation for all he has, and the ability to connect with many different kinds of people. With a spirited sparkle in his eye and a sense of humor, Dr. Knight sees life as an adventure.
I like that in a dentist.
by Valerie Nishi, Consultant, The Refinery Leadership Partners