Recently I had the honor of presenting a talk on leadership to 150 or so managers of our health system. The occasion was a half-day retreat titled “Reconnecting with Your Personal Mission to Lead.”
I was asked to share my own perceptions about leadership, gained from having risen through the ranks of an organization to a position of some responsibility.
I'm presenting some of those ideas here today because I believe that regardless of your role at UMMC, in ways large and small, you are a leader. Or you have the potential to be one.
Why do I say that?
Because I see leadership as a collection of behaviors that leaders have in common. These are actions we take in certain circumstances that define who we are. Our responses to those situations were not predetermined at birth. They are conscious choices we make and repeat again and again. They reflect what I would call an “attitude of leadership” that is accessible by anyone.
This attitude of leadership is also something that evolves over time. I remember being a first-year resident in emergency medicine. In that internship year, I was intensely focused on my patient list. My goal, very simply, was not to make a mistake that resulted in harm to any of my patients. In my second year I was still focused on MY patients, but I felt more confidence and became more aware of what was going on around me.
In my third year, I began to think about the Emergency Department - how the system of care was organized and how it might be improved. I felt confident in my clinical knowledge and found satisfaction in offering help to others who, like me in my first year, were just trying to survive.
Today I look back on those experiences and think, yep, I was on the pathway to leadership. I was choosing to be a leader.
So what are these behaviors that define an attitude of leadership? I'm not sure there's an exhaustive list that applies to every leader, but here are a few that stand out to me.
- Being a leader means carrying a sense of responsibility. Sometimes it means showing up early for work, or leaving late, or coming in on a day off. Leaders have a “whatever it takes” attitude.
- Being a leader means valuing knowledge. It often means not just knowing your job, but knowing the jobs of all those who work for you. And it means you recognize that knowledge is never static; it constantly changes, so you have to continue to acquire it throughout your life.
- Being a leader means having a keen sense of quality. You're not satisfied until the job is done, it's done right, and it's done completely. If you're a leader, it's impossible for you to do a job half-way.
- Being a leader means you may wince and get a little bit irritated when you hear, “It can't be done.” Or, “But we've always done it that way.” Or, “That's not my job.”
- Being a leader means you are a person of integrity. You don't gossip about or denigrate your employees, or your boss, or your UMMC colleagues, or your patients. You look for the best in other people and when they disappoint you, maybe you make a note of it for next time, but you forgive, forget, and move on.
- Being a leader means recognizing the leadership traits in others and cultivating the next generation of leaders.
- Being a leader means you never forget the power you have to influence the people around you. Your good attitude is contagious; spread it to others!
- Being a leader means thinking about the big picture. What does tomorrow hold? Where do we need to be as an organization? How can we get there in the most efficient way possible?
- Being a leader means valuing teamwork, and recognizing that every member of the team contributes to its success.
- In our world of health care, being a leader means putting our patients' interests above all others, including our own - every minute of every day - and modeling that behavior for everyone to see, including the learners we're privileged to teach.
- Finally, being a leader means having a willingness to embrace change and to do the hard work of building a future that is different from today.
I'm fortunate to be the vice chancellor, and yes, I wouldn't be here if I didn't demonstrate some of the leadership traits I've been talking about.
But YOU are the real leaders of our organization. You may be far along the pathway of leadership, as a director or department chair, or you may be taking your very first steps along that path. But it is because of your leadership -- the tremendous difference one person can make -- that UMMC will not only thrive and prosper, we will create A Healthier Mississippi.
P.S. If you want to see the evidence of our “attitude of leadership,” click on the video below to hear some of our employees talk about why they work at UMMC. The video was shown at the leadership retreat and is introduced by our health system CEO Kevin Cook.