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.
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.