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Monday Apr 15, 2019

You Don't Need a Title to Lead

The amount of research, writing and energy spent on leadership development in this country is staggering. U.S. organizations invested more than $15 billion in leadership development(www.prnewswire.com) in 2013 alone.

[california afp nccl delegation]

Here I am (front row, center) with the California AFP delegation at the AAFP Leadership Conference, which includes the National Conference of Constituency Leaders and the Annual Chapter Leader Forum. This year's meetings are scheduled for April 25-27 in Kansas City, Mo.

Ranging from advanced educational degrees to leadership conferences and publications, the amount of information and resources available on the topic can be overwhelming. This is especially true for physicians, who often have little to no formal leadership training but often find themselves in leadership positions in medicine and our communities.

Physicians spend at least a decade completing their education and training, yet you might be hard-pressed to find a formal course or traditional leadership training session offered in many medical schools or residency programs. There are many components of leadership built into medical education, but they often are disguised or hidden and are almost never called "leadership training." Although many physicians don't see themselves as leaders, we are often thrust into leadership roles by the nature of our work.

In an effort to obtain some formal leadership training, as well as health policy education, I attended the AAFP's National Conference of Constituency Leaders (NCCL) in Kansas City, Mo., after residency. I was amazed at all the incredible leaders in family medicine. Furthermore, I was amazed at the range of skills and leadership qualities discussed -- such as effective communication, organization and continuous improvement -- that physicians practice again and again throughout our careers.

When I finished fellowship and started working full time in my organization and clinic, I felt that maybe I should just keep my head down and work. If I spoke up too much or advocated for what I thought, it might cause a stir or be off-putting to my more experienced colleagues. However, I wanted to contribute to the organization in some way, and there was an opening for a primary care imaging champion to help improve evidence-based practices for ordering radiology throughout our organization. After my first few meetings with the imaging committee, I found myself speaking up and sharing my perspective, and I tried to do it in a productive and positive way. After one meeting, the assistant area medical director asked to speak with me. I worried that I had crossed a line or been too outspoken. Instead, he asked me to take over as chair of the committee. I now chair a committee responsible, in part, for nearly a $1 million budget in just my second year with the organization.

So how do you know when to take the reins? Attending NCCL helped broaden my perspective and further remove the mystique surrounding leadership. I distinctly remember the words of Sarah Nosal, M.D., who encouraged attendees to "lead from where you are." This struck me as a simple concept, but it made so much sense and empowered me to start sharing my perspective without waiting for a title or position.

Leadership is about sharing your wisdom and passion for a topic and building relationships to make a difference. Another leadership pearl I learned from NCCL is a simple definition: Leadership = Vision + Relationships + Task. Often leaders deal with the mundane tasks associated with the daily operations that simply keep an organization running. Those without a formal title or position are free to focus on vision and relationships, which is where the magic of leadership really happens.

As physicians, we all have vision -- be it personal or professional -- for ourselves, our patients and the health care system. Leadership is articulating that vision and developing relationships with others to work toward its realization. It does not have to be broad or earth-shattering. It can even happen in small incremental steps. Simply showing up to a meeting or attending a conference can make a difference and allow you to make your voice heard. Be part of the discussion.

Those of us who are more junior in our careers or new to an organization may feel it is not our role or responsibility to speak up. Some may feel they should wait to be asked to take on leadership responsibilities. However, leadership is far more than a title or a top-down approach. It comes in many different forms and requires many individuals with varied skill sets working collaboratively. Often those of us who are junior in our careers or new to an organization can offer unique perspectives that may be extremely valuable. A fresh perspective and youthful energy may be just what your community, organization or clinic needs.

As young physicians, we possess many of the foundational components of excellent leadership. We just need to practice and apply them in a real-world context. One of the best ways I found to do this is at NCCL, where our peers will decide who will fill several leadership positions within the AAFP -- including new physician alternate delegates to the AAFP Congress of Delegates and new physician member of the Board of Directors -- during the April 25-27 meeting in Kansas City. The event is held in conjunction with the Academy's Annual Chapter Leader Forum, offering attendees an opportunity to network with chapter leaders.

I have met amazing leaders, mentors and colleagues at NCCL who want to help young physicians along our leadership paths. Look around you, find a topic you are passionate about and start finding where your unique skill set fits in. There are opportunities to lead everywhere.

Alex Mroszczyk-McDonald, M.D., practices comprehensive family medicine and sports medicine in Southern California, with a focus on health policy, physical activity and advocacy. You can follow him on Twitter @alexmmtri.(twitter.com)

Read other posts by this blogger.

Posted at 11:57AM Apr 15, 2019 by Alex Mroszczyk-McDonald, M.D.

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