What makes a leader?


Fam Pract Manag. 2004 Feb;11(2):17.

To the Editor:

In regard to Dr. Robert B. Taylor’s article “Leadership Is a Learned Skill” [October 2003, page 43], I think you’ve missed the mark. As a certified physician executive (CPE), fellow of the American College of Physician Executives and consultant for the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I have dealt with medical and nonmedical leaders alike on a national basis. Holding an executive position does not make you a leader; it merely gives you an opportunity to exercise leadership activities. There is no question that training and practice are important in improving effectiveness, but virtually all of the real leaders I have encountered were such because of their personality and character. These people possess an innate set of characteristics that allows a group of their peers to consciously or unconsciously identify them as leaders. A good analogy to leadership is athletics. We can all learn and train to be more skillful, but the real athletes are naturals. Average folks simply can’t function in that way. Now that the demand for organizational leaders exceeds the supply, we must do the best we can to find the naturals.

Author’s response:

I appreciate Dr. Brown’s reply, even though he disagrees with the premise that leadership skills can be taught and learned. There are attributes that give one a head start in the leadership derby – a commanding presence, powerful voice, personal wealth and a Harvard MBA. I wish we had many such gifted leaders. We could use them to lead committees, task forces and state chapters in medical organizations. Most of us don’t have these characteristics; however, as we assume leadership roles, we can acquire needed abilities through study and practice. We may not become executives, but self-taught leaders serve our colleagues at many levels in organized medicine. So, while I don’t totally disagree with Dr. Brown’s comments, I no longer believe the “sword in the stone” myth that only the noble, pure, chosen one can be my leader.


Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact fpmserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


May-Jun 2022

Access the latest issue
of FPM journal

Read the Issue

FPM E-Newsletter

Sign up to receive FPM's free, weekly e-newsletter, "Quick Tips & Insights."

Sign Up Now



Measuring What Matters in Primary Care: Implementing the Person-Centered Primary Care Measure

Learn how family physicians are using the person-centered primary care measure and get tips for how to implement it in your practice.

Improving Adult Immunization Rates Within Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities

Part one of this two-part supplement series highlights QI processes to reduce vaccine disparities, identifies recommended adult vaccines, and discusses their importance among racial and ethnic minority communities.