Every year at the end of January, ACR and ARP volunteers gather in Atlanta to learn more about a subject we seldom are taught in any formal way in our professional training: leadership.
The 2019 Leadership Development Conference took place on Saturday, Jan. 26 and offered participants a unique opportunity to step away from their everyday work as clinicians or researchers and focus on some questions that most of us rarely have much time to think about: What does it take to become an effective leader? What do we need to do to make good decisions in critical situations? And how do we cultivate some of the basic competencies of leadership within ourselves so we may excel in what we do, both at work and in our daily lives?
Our program this year featured Michael A. Roberto, DBA, trustee professor of management and director of the Center for Program Innovation at Bryant University College of Business, Smithfield, R.I., who spoke to us about the art of critical decision making. Dr.Roberto, who earned his doctorate from Harvard Business School, draws on lessons from history to illustrate how effective leaders think, collaborate and act—even in difficult situations when crucial decisions must be made quickly and with ambiguous information. Sound familiar? We have all been in these high-pressure situations.
According to Dr. Roberto, a leader is not just someone who makes the decisions on behalf of the team. A leader listens to the needs, ideas and concerns of everyone in that system to make informed decisions built on a foundation of trust and shared ideals. Problem solving, critical decision making and listening are essential skills for every effective leader to have, and they are skills that need to be refined and nourished throughout our careers. We face decisions all the time as rheumatologists, and each decision we make incorporates complex factors. Participants at the conference not only learned about the practical skills needed for effective leadership, but were also invited to embrace the idea that leadership is truly an art and not just a display of strength or outward confidence.
Dr. Roberto pointed out that leaders do not just lead the way, but they rely on their teams to help them make critical decisions in crunch situations and marshal the collective intellect and experience around them to make wise choices. Dr. Roberto talked about classic traps in decision making that can cause leaders to struggle. We may succumb to “group think” or try to please everyone in our organization. Or we may fail to share information effectively with all of our team members. Leaders who perceive themselves as the ultimate experts on a certain topic may become dogmatic, and these individuals cling to conventional wisdom (“that’s the way it has always been done”) despite contradictory evidence or clear signs of a changing environment.
Dr. Roberto asked the audience: How can we, no matter what our roles, overcome these traps and make wise, informed decisions at critical moments for our team, our organization and our profession? He advised the group that leaders build a climate of candor; leaders cultivate constructive conflict; and leaders invite debate to enhance the quality of the critical decisions they make. Leaders do not hide information that may be unpleasant or that may call their own opinion into question from the group.
It is important for leaders to “decide how to decide,” Dr. Roberto explained. Leaders must think proactively in decision-making situations. They consider which team members to ask for advice or information. They think about how to create a collaborative and candid climate within their team or organizational structure. They also stimulate robust dialogue among team members and encourage dissenting views to be heard.
Finally, they decide what their role will be as the leader in the team’s discussions and debates before the decision is made.
By deciding how to decide, leaders cultivate an environment in which their teams achieve success, because they put each team member in a position to succeed. Most importantly, by encouraging candid, but respectful, exchange of ideas and information, they enhance the probability that they will make the right decision, and protect themselves from decision-making traps. Dr.Roberto concluded his talk by pointing out that effective leaders need to be creative thinkers too, especially at a time when many organizations stifle creativity and out-of-the-box ideas. Learning how to effectively implement creative new ideas within different organizational settings has become an increasingly important area of focus in business and leadership development.
Following the conference, each participant received a copy of Dr. Roberto’s new book, Unlocking Creativity, which explores creativity in organizations, plus a reading list to serve as a starting point for further learning on aspects of effective leadership.
The ACR Cultivates Leaders
Our goal at the ACR, both with this conference and with our other educational offerings, is to enable us all to grow and evolve as professionals and as individuals. As physicians, we often struggle when we find ourselves in a leadership position: Our professional training does not include a primer on how to lead or courses in management science or strategy.
However, much of our hard wiring as physicians and rheumatology professionals may be fertile substrate for the nourishment and growth of our latent leadership abilities. We are, by nature and by virtue of our scientific background, individuals who are essentially “data-driven” in our work. We are also all dedicated to a life of service—to our patients, to our students, to our professional colleagues. These are our customers, if you will. And finally, we all strive for excellence, or being best in class at what we do. It may just be a matter of tapping each of these fundamental and deeply rooted characteristics (that is—being data driven, customer centric, best in class) and exploiting them in ways that will support and sustain us as we travel along our paths to becoming effective leaders.
The ACR as a Leader
Dr. Roberto’s lecture energized and inspired us. At the ACR, we are striving as an organization to be truly data driven in our approach, highly customer centric in our priorities and unsurpassed for best-in-class service to our members. With Dr. Roberto’s lessons in mind, the ACR will work to make the best decisions we can—decisions that will enable us all to excel in our specialty despite a rapidly changing and constantly challenging healthcare landscape.
None of us can know exactly what the future of medical practice or research will be or how we may have to adapt to deliver excellent patient care or advance scientific discovery. We clearly need to develop effective leaders in our field and must figure out the best ways to do that.
I like to think we can take advantage of our basic hardwiring and couple it with a commitment to lifelong learning and the development of leadership competencies that teach us to listen to each other, debate and deliberate, and make timely, collaborative decisions focused on achieving excellence in our performance and the outcomes for which we are accountable.
Paula Marchetta, MD, MBA, is a rheumatologist in New York City and the CEO and managing partner of Concorde Medical Group, a multispecialty private group practice affiliated with NYU Langone Health. She teaches at NYU School of Medicine, where she is clinical professor. Dr. Marchetta is the 82nd president of the ACR.