We Need to Focus on Leadership Development

Leadership development is not commonly addressed in the medical or other professional setting. In medicine, having excellent leadership is much more than just hitting the bottom line for investors and other shareholders. There are unique challenges where the quality of leadership can mean the difference between life and death. Physicians, medical students, PhDs, grad students, are all in leadership positions whether they know it or not. Because these positions lend themselves to leadership roles it is prudent to discuss the art of learning to be a leader. 

Learning to lead is something that is often ignored. Professionals in particular are just left to “learn on the fly”, which is what we are good at. We are often thrown into the fire to just pick it up as we go. I believe that we should focus on leadership education because being intentional will often yield better results than leaving it to chance. Being the best leader you can allow you to amplify your work and bring a lasting impact on a larger scale. It can truly help change peoples’ lives. Ben Horowitz, one of the most influential founders of the DotCom era cited that one of the most common reasons why employees quit their jobs is because they hated their managers coupled with the fact that they felt like they weren’t learning anything or developing in their careers. (You can check out his book in the book list.)

Leadership is Misunderstood

Leadership is often misunderstood. Having a leadership position has nothing to do with being a good leader. I would say that in many institutions the leadership position has no correlation with excellent leaders. Which is sad. People can be in a leadership position and still be a poor leader. 

The reason for this is multifactorial, but there have been some interesting studies published on how people correlate the wrong character traits with good leadership. A Harvard Business Review article, “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?” says that we have an inability to discern between confidence and competence. This article goes on to describe some of the character traits of incompetent leaders and how they focus on themselves instead of the team. It is also discussed on how women tend to be more likely to adopt effective leadership strategies. So men, stop being arrogant and know-it-alls. Maybe we’ll have to explore that topic more in a future post. It seems obvious and straightforward, though. Whenever I read articles on leadership I always think to myself, “That is common sense,” the right answers seem so obvious. Well, it is easier said than done.

Leadership is Simple and Complex

Leadership isn’t black and white though, it is a complex art and science all at the same time. The answers can seem simple, but the art form and actually implementing good leadership through words, soft skills, and having the whole package of being a great leader is much more difficult to put into practice. Why don’t more institutions like medical schools or grad schools focus on leadership education?

Leadership Can Still Be Effective Without Talent

The military is one of the few organizations that I can think of that very obviously focuses on developing leaders. They have abolished the sentiment that only people with talent can lead. This is simply not true. Sure talent might help, and there is likely a portion of leadership that comes from natural ability, but I would argue that it can be learned. Believing that leadership is worth studying and knowing that it can be learned is the first step. A second step is to focus on learning from good and bad leaders. Unfortunately, great leaders are often the exception.

Character is Key 

Like I mentioned previously, good leadership is rare and is not what is always what people think it is. The common mythical misconception is that leaders have to be loud, narcissistic, and is absolutely wrong. Many character traits that are advantageous for leaders commonly fail to impress the boss. Which is really crazy to think about. You could be an excellent, team focused, highly effective leader that enables the team to reach a new level and the boss may not recognize it. Good leaders should have excellent character, be humble, adaptable, teachable, coachable, more self-aware, and a good follower. The list goes on and on. 

To summarize, look for good and bad examples of leaders and adopt accordingly. Know that focusing on developing your own leadership potential requires focus and being intentional. Especially in the medical setting it is vital to have excellent leadership that is built on excellent character and putting people first. So, don’t accept things just the way they are for yourself and your own leadership capability. We need people to step up and realize their potential, develop their leadership capability so they can go on to make a real impact in their own life and the lives of others.

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