Leadership skills development is key to professional growth. Though not a specific competency expected of general surgery residents, we all expect our trainees to grown into team leaders over the course of training. In the General Surgery Milestones, leadership is not a specific category, but to achieve the highest competency, the trainee “assumes overall leadership of a healthcare team responsible for his or her patients, while at the same time seeking and valuing input from the members of the team” and “is capable of leadership when unexpected events occur…”. Further, as our professional careers develop first as junior faculty to potentially department or hospital leaders, we anticipate honing in on a set of specific skills needed to achieve those next steps. Where we fall short is in leadership development, and little direction is giving to sharpen this skillset. Leadership skills are most typically expected to be either innate or acquired on the job. But what are those skills and what traits are necessary to lead? I propose that they are individual, rather than learned, and understanding our specific strengths and identifying areas in which we are not as strong may be help in achieving professional goals.
In the last year I took the CliftonStrengths assessment1 as a method to identify areas of strength and potential areas of weakness. The assessment is a tool to identify signature themes that make up an individual’s top areas of talent from 34 separate themes. It can also help identify areas in which one is not as strong and understanding those may be equally as important. Number one for me was competition. Maybe not so surprising since I am a surgeon, but it also didn’t sound like a plus for leadership. Delving into it further, I learned that I can use my competitive strength as a way to measure my own performance against my past achievements, knowing when winning isn’t everything, and knowing how to find a “win-win” solution. Rounding out my top 5 were achiever, relator, empathy, and consistency. Ok, not so bad, and those all seem like good tools for my toolbox of success. But what about the bottom of the list? For me that was “connectedness” which helps one see that we are all part of something larger and that our actions all relate to one another. Knowing that this isn’t something that comes as naturally helps me to know that I need to remind myself to seek feedback to gain perspective and to listen to opposing opinions. Understanding the interplay of all of these themes can enhance professional development.
Fortunately, opportunities for leadership development are increasing in surgery2 and recognition of disparities3 in surgical leadership is now an open discussion. But, recognition of one’s own specific talents and using those to one’s advantage may be the key to individual performance. We serve as leaders throughout our careers as it relates to operating room teams, patient care teams, and potentially within our own divisions and departments. Knowing what skills are ours to use to our best advantage is key to success.
- CliftonStrengths. at https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/home/en-us.)
- Sonnino RE. Professional development and leadership training opportunities for healthcare professionals. Am J Surg 2013;206:727-31.
- Greenberg CC. Association for Academic Surgery presidential address: sticky floors and glass ceilings. J Surg Res 2017;219:ix-xviii.