What is leadership?

Multiple definitions of leadership exist. A common thread amongst all definitions is that leadership is the act of directing or motivating people to accomplish a task or goal. Leadership differs from management in that it focuses on the people as well as the desired end state whereas management tends to focus only on the accomplishment of a goal. It is this focus on the people that sets apart great leaders from great managers.

Significant attention to leadership development and leadership styles in the medical field has occurred over the last several decades. No longer is the desired end state to be an autocratic ruler in the operating room or on the wards with no input from the remainder of the team. Instead, the focus is on understanding and employing emotional intelligence and team building practices along with multiple leadership styles to obtain buy in and interaction amongst team members ultimately resulting in the best quality outcomes for patients.

Why does leadership matter for pediatric surgeons?

Physicians are typically placed in positions of leadership at all stages of their careers. From the first day on the ward as an intern, a physician may have medical students assigned to them to complete the daily tasks. While much of this work will be accomplished through the management of individuals to complete tasks, it is here that rudimentary leadership skills can be attained and practiced. As physicians progress through the ranks they attain greater responsibility and leadership tasks. These tasks become more diverse and involve leading a team during a trauma resuscitation, in an operating room during a complex procedure, leading residents as the chief resident at a large academic medical center or serving as an attending physician leading a team of residents and ancillary staff caring for patients in both the in- and outpatient settings. These leadership opportunities may also venture from the clinical realm to hospital administration as a division head or through membership on a local hospital committee. Ultimately physicians may be called upon to serve as leaders of a division, department, institution or national organization [1][2].

Most of the training that surgeons receive regarding leadership is on the job. This training is, for the most part, experiential through lessons learned by the physician themselves or through witnessing the leadership styles, both good and bad, of other colleagues or mentors. Further knowledge may be obtained through self education or reading of books on leadership. Very few physicians have received any formal training in leadership skills or leadership theory - especially as it relates to medical practice. These basic fundamentals of leadership can be instrumental as a physician takes on new roles or new leadership opportunities and can improve the chances of success as they move from a pure manager to a true leader [3][4]. The goal of this topic is to provide the user with a cornerstone of leadership fundamentals from which to build a larger understanding of leadership and how it relates to medical practice. The selected readings at the end of the chapter are an opportunity to further education opportunities.

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Last updated: November 2, 2020