1. Bolwell, Brian J. MD, FACP

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Earlier this year, I discussed leadership levels and that I thought I needed to spend more of my professional time teaching leadership. I felt I needed to have our physicians be more aware about the importance of the entire team, and the fact that good teams are the key to delivering results. Additionally, advanced leadership is, at least in part, about self-awareness and the quest for self-improvement.


Well, I have started to do so. I am preaching the importance of leadership and leadership development in all public forums with our physicians. I have started to publicly reference my op-eds in Oncology Times. For example, I have asked our staff to talk to people more and email less. I have discussed my belief that leadership development equates with character development, and this starts with self-reflection. I have discussed the importance of team building and treating all with respect. I have asked folks to give serious thought to self-improvement.


So How Is It Going?

Initially, it was awkward (actually, it still is). Medical people are not used to hearing about this. In some ways it is a foreign language. We are used to hearing about clinical medicine, quality and safety issues, budget challenges, and issues involving education and research. Introducing the topic of learning leadership principles was met with curiosity by most, derision by a few, and fascination by others. Hearing about leadership development is foreign territory. Subsequently, for many, curiosity has evolved to fascination and significant interest. For a minority, the feeling of derision has intensified. Fortunately, so far, nobody in this group has thrown tomatoes at me when I start to discuss leadership. I think that when emotions run the gamut from discontent to intrigue, then I'm probably on to something.


I am thrilled that there is a thirst for knowledge about leadership. Interestingly, many of the physicians who want to learn more about leadership are not section leaders by title. Yet, they connect to these concepts. I do not know why, but this fact alone is interesting and worthy of additional exploration.


Nevertheless, publicly discussing leadership is rarely, if ever, done at medical staff meetings. The novelty of it is inevitably associated with some personal insecurity. Which means that as I am speaking, there is an element of unease internally. And not infrequently, I wonder if the desire to teach leadership concepts in a public form is of true value. I think it is. It is difficult. It is unusual. But, it does give one the opportunity to self-reflect about whether it's the right thing to do.


Ok, so you want to do something that is hard, unusual, invites criticism, and generates self-doubt? If the answer is yes, the new issue becomes how to persevere. I like quotes that can inspire. I really like Shakespeare. This is one of my favorite quotes from him and worth sharing:


"Our doubts are traitors,


and make us lose the good we oft might win,


by fearing to attempt."


-Measure for Measure


Another quote that buoys me is from Teddy Roosevelt and is recognizable as it is often quoted by athletes after losing a big game:


"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."


To be clear, I am not comparing what I am doing in our cancer center to some poor guy getting beat up in a ring. I am simply saying that trying something new can be filled with doubt and anxiety. The key to putting such doubt away, at least for me, is a few things.


First, you need to believe that the new idea is the right thing to do. I am not sure how we develop a sense for what the right thing to do actually is, but most of us simply know it. Second, you need to be committed to the concept. In this case, I have thought about leadership development a great deal over the past few years. Having the privilege of writing this column has strengthened my own personal desire for self-improvement, and to learn as much as I possibly can about leadership. I have come to believe that one of my responsibilities is to elevate the conversation in our cancer center about this topic. I believe it is the right thing for me to do. So, as imperfect or flawed as my tactics may be, I am going to continue to do it.


But most importantly, you need to be OK with trying something new and being criticized for your efforts. You cannot let your doubts overwhelm your ability to make the attempt-at whatever you are trying to achieve. You cannot let critics rule the day. Sometimes you need to be the person in the ring, succeeding or failing, but at least giving it a go.


You need to be comfortable in your own skin. You need to be ok with people thinking you are different. Indeed, you need to be different. Being different in a society that seems to value conformity is difficult. But, if you want to do something novel, you need to be OK with being a bit of an oddball-being different. You need to embrace the difference.


For me, it's an exploration into the unknown. I will continue to provide follow-up about teaching leadership principles and the progress, or lack thereof, in my quest. I am learning as I go. But the theme for the day is that if you truly believe that whatever you are doing is the right thing to do, you are probably correct. Try not to allow self-doubt to get in the way of making the attempt. Just remember that as Shakespeare reminds us, "our doubts are traitors."


BRIAN J. BOLWELL, MD, FACP, is Chairman of the Taussig Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine. Cleveland Clinic is a top 10 cancer hospital according to U.S. News & World Report.


Straight Talk: Today's Cancer Centers

Brian J. Bolwell, MD... - Click to enlarge in new windowBrian J. Bolwell, MD, FACP. Brian J. Bolwell, MD, FACP