3 Fears in Modern Day Leadership

During my college career, I was involved in the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) as both a member and a leader. Throughout my time there, I had grown immensely as a leader through both observation of others and executing what I learned into action. Much of what I learned is applicable to any leader, but my own (sort of) unique experience as an Asian American leader has added another layer of complexity. Below are 3 fears that I and many leaders often struggle with.

#1: Fear of Innovation

Leaders fear the unknown, avoid uncertainty, and their organizations suffer as a result. We often repeat events, taking the safe route to ensure that nothing goes wrong. Failure to innovate makes our events stale and growth stagnates. We become complacent, lose our member base, our community influence, and then wonder where it all went wrong.

With the Asian clubs, I often wonder if our fears carry over from our heritage. I am not speaking for all Asian Americans, but most would agree that as Asian Americans, the children of immigrants, we push ourselves to fulfill our parents’ wishes to perfect educational success. Our families sacrifice a lot for us to be here, and subconsciously, we feel that failure is unacceptable. I am sure my experience is not unique and is not just limited to Asian-Americans either. I believe this mindset seeps into our everyday lives and can negatively impact our leadership abilities. It took me a long time to be comfortable messing up, but I realized that failure is the ONLY way to grow. As a VSA leader, I actively encouraged my team to try “throwing things at the wall” and refining them so that they eventually stuck. I always told myself that our team culture is that “we have no culture;” that we are always willing to try new things.

#2: Fear of Conflict

How often has someone told you that your club is “cliquey?” What have you done to address this issue? Did you actually address the issue or did you again take the safe route and ignore this complaint? Have any of your officers brought concerns about the team dynamic to you? Did you deal with the issue immediately and fairly, or brush it under the rug, allowing these problems to fester and negatively impact your team?

The fear of conflict is poisonous for any team. It kinda sounds counterintuitive right? You might think that avoiding conflict is best for the team and while that might be true in the short term, addressing the issue with all parties is best long term. I’ve seen teams try to push this conversation to “a later time,” only to have it completely blow up in their faces (usually right before a big event since everyone is stressed x1000). No one should ENJOY conflict, but it’s important to understand that conflict is a vital component to building a strong team.

Bringing it back to an Asian-American perspective, communication is an issue even at home. I was never able to talk to my parents about issues due to a generational, cultural, and language barrier. I found it difficult to even try “bothering” my parents after they both had come home from an extremely long day at work. In Asian cultures, they believe in showing their love rather than saying it. Our emotional struggles seem menial compared to that, and maybe that mindset also seeps into our leadership styles.

#3: Fear of True Accountability

I’ve only met a few leaders who know how to properly apologize. It’s difficult to do and is still something I’m working on myself, but it is crucial to maintaining a healthy team dynamic. The difference between “I’m sorry you feel that way,” VS “I’m sorry I did that to you, I won’t do it again” is astronomical, yet is only one of many examples where a leader subconsciously avoids taking responsibility for their actions.

But why is it so hard for us to apologize? Once again, this might be a manifestation of the subconscious pressures we put on ourselves to always be perfect. Many view apologies as a sign of weakness, rather than an opportunity to grow. In my past, as someone who rarely apologized, always thought that others knew I wasn’t malicious and that I could make it up through action, but I’ve learned that even a simple apology can mean a lot. Nothing is WORSE than working with someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their shortcomings, especially when they’re quick to jump on others for their mistakes. Apologizing helps set the tone that the team is… a team and not a boss with their workers.

What’s Next?

To my fellow growing leaders, I hope you were able to find my advice relatable in one aspect or another. I challenge you to change your mind set on failure, to take hold of your ambitions as well as your greatest fears. I challenge you to venture into the unknown by bringing new ideas to the table, so that your impact lingers beyond your years. Ask yourself, at what point do I stop going through the motions of my predecessors and make this organization my own? The best thing anyone can do for their organization is to leave behind an even more ambitious successor. What better way to do this than by example?

To my fellow Asian American leaders, be aware of how your background can impact your leadership abilities and be open to addressing these issues in yourself. Our parents took the biggest risks by coming to a country where they don’t speak the native language; they are the true leaders that we must emulate. Taking risks is in our blood - we only need to look beyond our pressures in order to seize it.


About the Writer - Johnny Le


Johnny Le is currently a second year dental student who participated in various leadership organizations in undergrad. He is the current Pre-Dental chair for UW ASDA.

Leading Leaders

John Maxwell defines a leader as an individual who blends extreme personal ability with intense professional will. He says that, “Leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.”

My classmates chose to elect me as a leader in our first year of dental school. I gained the privilege to serve as class president for the remainder of our education at the UWSOD. One of the largest challenges my position presents is being a leader of leaders. Dentists and dental students are natural leaders and commonly exude confidence. We work extremely hard to get into school and have so much personal drive that it creates a strange paradigm when you put 72 of us into a room together. Everyone thinks they know what is best and everyone has an opinion. Being placed into this situation has given me many opportunities to grow. I quickly learned at the beginning of the year that I had plenty of strengths, but also many weaknesses.

I find that one of the best ways to lead a group of leaders is to often assume the role as a follower. However, this strategy is dangerous because assuming that role for too long can lead to too much conversation about what steps to take next or what ideas to implement. I have learned to find a good balance between leading and following. I am learning that a leader should be in control but not be overbearing.

A leader, imperatively, must be humble above all else. Ego and pride will only get in your way when trying to lead. If you think you always have the best idea then you will never get to hear the “million dollar” idea from your team. If you are always outspoken and boastful, then you will never hear the wisdom waiting to come from your soft-spoken classmate. Take a step back and realize that you do not have all the answers. Act when needed, but do not be afraid to look to others for help.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the ASDA District 10 Leadership Conference, where we talked about how a good leader looks through a window to give credit but into a mirror to place blame. This concept is in the forefront of every good leader’s mind but is something that I have struggled with in the past. It is easy to blame your team when things do not work out. But in the end, your team looks to you as their leader and without a good influence from you the team is doomed to failure.

In order to keep your team from failing, you must be a great leader. To achieve great leadership, you must first be competent enough to lead yourself. Commit yourself to a higher standard and be honest about your shortcomings. Do your best every day and always continue to educate yourself. Find a mentor who can speak into your life about your leadership and make sure they are comfortable being honest with you. Sometimes the truth hurts but it is necessary to promote personal growth. Recognize that nobody is perfect but strive to be anyway. Proceed as if success is inevitable.

Applying these ideas and principles has enabled me to follow the path to becoming a great leader. I am thankful that serving as class president has presented me with so many opportunities for growth. I am thankful that my classmates have shown patience when I fall short and helped by offering me advice on how to grow further. I am thankful for the faculty and staff who have spoken into my life during my time at the UWSOD and I look forward to finishing the second half of my education.

We should all be striving to become great leaders while in dental school. As future dentists, we will need to lead our staff and our patients – this influence will make or break our businesses. It is important to be practicing leadership now to set yourself up for a successful future.


About the Writer - Micah Bovenkamp





Micah is a current third year student in the class of 2020 at the UWSOD. He serves as Class President and represents his class on Student Council. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, playing frisbee, and finding great places to eat in Seattle.


Fit 'n Flossy

It started with…

A little into my encounter with fitness and how it became part of my life.

For the majority of us in dental school, we have been living and breathing academics for most of our lives and the ambition to pursue more has become engrained in us. I grew up with the mentality of putting in my 110% into anything I set my mind to, and it taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance. Blah blah blah. Haven’t we all heard about that since our parents first sat down with us at the table to help us with our homework? I don’t mean to dilute this life lesson because I mean, it paid off. I worked hard, got into college, then dental school. In my mind I was an all-star academic athlete! (HUGE nerd alert)


It wasn’t until I entered college when fitness became a big part of my life because at the end of my freshman year, you guessed it… I had gained the infamous freshman fifteen. This was the first time I felt what it was like to “listen to your body.” Not only had I gained a couple more soft spots, I was lethargic, irritable, and emotionally drained all the time and blamed it on the stress of school. I had to make a change to my lifestyle in order to feel better and enjoy life more, and luckily found exercise as my outlet. While I had a lot of practice pushing my body mentally, pushing my body physically was something I was not used to doing and something I didn’t realize had so much overlap. It frustrated me at the beginning but when I began to see results in my body and how it translated into my lifestyle, I realized I created a powerful mind–body connection that I could control. Working out was a way for me to channel my stress and anxiety from school into something that could produce positive tangible results. Overcoming a physical challenge prepared me to face academic challenges in school with a fresh perspective.


As I entered dental school, I kept fitness as a priority because it is how I choose to “self-care.” We all go through the same challenges and frustrations in dental school each year, but to me, the important thing is how we choose to face those challenges. Fitness has been an outlet for me to direct my frustrations with dental school, but it has also taught me to view these obstacles as learning experiences and opportunities for growth. While my passion for dentistry is what drives me to work hard and become the best provider for my patients, I do not want my career to solely define who I am. Rather, I want to work so I can live, and live an abundant and diverse life that keeps me growing and learning in all aspects. Fitness has challenged me to find lessons and growth in other things in life outside of academics and has made me realize I am capable of a lot more.


About the Writer - Jessie Zou





Jessie is currently a D3 student and candidate with the class of 2020. When not in clinic, she enjoys going to concerts and trying new places to eat.

Instagram: @fitnflossy - check it out!

Welcome to UW ASDA's Blog!

Hello, and welcome to the start of the University of Washington’s American Student Dental Association Blog (aka Dawgs of UWSOD)! As our spring quarter morphs into a hectic beast, we want to make sure you dental-minded individuals are familiar with this new blog.

Our goal of the blog is to grant the opportunity to learn more about our classmates and share unique stories with one another. We hope to inspire dental students, prospective dental students, and other individuals reading this, as well as share with our community UWSOD's diversity and highlight our accomplishments.

Moreover, please check out our new website! It’s filled with fun events that ASDA members have been a part of and future events that we have scheduled. Plus, you can join ASDA and receive numerous benefits! 

We will update our blog multiple times throughout the week.

If you would like to be featured and write for our fabulous blog, please email the one and only Christine Yeh at cjy5@uw.edu.


About the Writer James Son

james son.JPG



James is currently a D1 student and part of the cohort class of 2021. When he is not studying, he enjoys playing with his dog, BB-8. In the near future, he wants to open a private practice and provide for his community.