Exceptional doctors and medical professionals often rise quickly through the ranks into positions of leadership in their organizations. But what should you do if you discover your medical prowess doesn’t translate into the inspirational leadership presence you desire? Medical schools are often criticized for training great medical professionals, without nurturing and refining leadership skills. While there are certain individuals who are “born leaders,” they are the exceptions, not the rule. Very few people are born with these skills.
Leadership isn’t something that happens — it’s a skill set you cultivate and develop.
You don’t have to be in a position of power to lead. Great leadership happens at all levels of life and with all kinds of people. Leadership is a daily practice and eventually, over time and careful self-examination, you continually improve.
Check out this sound advice from Adam Toren and Entrepreneur. These are eight of the most important concepts related to cultivating your leadership skills and they will help you become an exceptional physician leader.
1. When in command, command.
These famous words are attributed to Adm. Chester Nimitz during the battle of Midway in World War II. One thing about leadership is you have to step up and actually take control when you’re in the top position.
Learn to give directions clearly and to communicate your command directly. It’s far better to know where you stand and what the marching orders are than to be entangled in a quagmire of hearsay and confusion. Being a good leader means stepping into command when the time calls for it and being clear, direct and precise.
2. The whole before the individual.
Jane Wyman said, “The opportunity for brotherhood presents itself every time you meet a human being.” Brotherhood isn’t about gender — it’s about uniting yourself with those you’ve been entrusted to lead. When you become a leader you enter a brotherhood requiring you to put the good of the whole above those of the individual. It might mean making unpopular decisions because they are what is best for the team.
Sometimes you might have personal affinities for individuals, but if those persons aren’t pulling their weight, they simply can’t be a part of the team’s chain. You have to think outside your personal bias, your individual preferences and your own prejudices as a leader to do what is best for the team, even if it means difficult discussions or actions with certain individuals. The team is counting on you to lead.
3. Loose lips sink ships.
This slogan from the 1940s is just as true today when it comes to leadership. As the head of your team, group or community, you have to watch what you say. You set the tone for what is acceptable and what isn’t and what you say will go.
If you complain, if you gossip, if you speak ill of anyone, then the whole team will think it’s OK. Leadership becomes particularly difficult when you’re put in a position where executive decisions aren’t easy or popular, but it’s still up to you to keep the right message going with your team. You can’t afford to complain or gossip.
4. The team before self.
This is similar to the concept of the whole before the individual, but in this case, this means putting your team ahead of yourself personally. As a leader you must learn to put the good of the group ahead of your own self-interest. This often means working harder and being more positive than anyone else on the team.
Leaders don’t have the luxury of bad days or emotional outbreaks, the better you can keep your composure and set the tone for your team above your own emotions, the better you’ll be as a leader.
5. First in, last out.
It’s the slogan associated with the Marines but it applies to good leaders, too. Set the standard for the team and make everyone stick to it. It’s not about staying until all hours of the night, but if something needs to get done, you need to stay with the team to ensure you help get the mission accomplished.
Never ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. It doesn’t mean you’ll do everything yourself, but your team will innately understand whether your requests are things you would do yourself. If you’re skipping out early as often as possible but asking them to tackle big projects with long hours, they’ll sense the insincerity of your leadership. You set the example and your team will perform to your standards.
6. Never, ever complain.
A leader simply doesn’t complain. They don’t complain about decisions, they don’t complain about conditions, they don’t complain about others — they just don’t complain.
7. Vision should be shared.
Good leaders communicate the mission with their team. When everyone knows the context of what the group is moving toward, they have their own ability to tap into the bigger picture when times get tough.
There’s an old fable about three masons employed to lay bricks. The first is only told he’s building a wall and finds the work tiring and tedious. The second is told a little more information: he’s building a structure and so he finds the work productive as he creates something useful. The third is told the full vision, he’s laying the bricks to build a cathedral, and he finds his work inspiring and meaningful.
Giving people the full context of the vision will change their perspective and attitude. It can mean the difference between laying bricks and building a cathedral.
8. Communication is critical.
Most dysfunction in our lives comes from bad communication. Whether it’s in business or our personal lives, it’s universally true. Learning to be an effective communicator, both in terms of your verbal skills, your listening skills and your body language, will set you apart as a leader. You can only benefit and your team, too, from improving your communication.
Make a deliberate effort to apply these concepts in your day-to-day activities, and you will begin to see a difference in your ability to be a leader.
We Can Help
For additional help developing leadership skills, VITAL WorkLife offers a unique Employee Assistance Program (EAP) designed specifically for physicians. Our Physician Well Being Resources provide free coaching and consultation services for members. Our extensive network of peer coaches, executive coaches, counselors and mentors can work with you to accomplish many different objectives, including leadership development to support career goals, well being and lifestyle changes, and stress and burnout management.
Members of Physician/Provider Well Being Resources call 877.731.3949 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App.