Don’t call it administration. Call it leadership.
I recently met with a Department Division Director (DDD) who confessed that he really had not wanted to assume the role of DDD because of all the ‘administrative” work it required. He thought administrative work was a relative waste of time compared to investing his energy in his research. However, after doing the job for a few years he had made a discovery (not in his lab but in his DDD role). “Administrative work” is actually creative and challenging work that makes the division and the professional lives of the faculty members and trainees in the division better. Administrative work is actually better described as “LEADERSHIP”. There was a corollary to the discovery too. Strategic planning (something he also confessed to disliking) was essential, important and a good use of his time. He was pleasantly surprised at both of these discoveries.
I personally loved the conversation with this DDD. I have always felt that the job of running a division or a department is a creative challenge. How can one shape a vision that is bold, inspiring and feasible? What strategies are realistic to implement the bold vision? How can one engage members of the division so they are excited about working to realize that vision? How can one work to create a culture and environment that fosters and supports the career development of the members of the group? These types of challenges are far from mundane “administrative tasks”—they are an intellectual challenge that is the essence of leadership. And this type of work can be deeply rewarding for the leader who draws a sense of satisfaction from building an enterprise. I have always seen my professional work in this light and was delighted to hear a colleague shift their views to see his role in this light also.
But why write a MediNews column on this episode? The reason is that I want to encourage faculty members and trainees at any time in their career to consider taking an appropriate leadership role. It is, of course, important that the leadership role be appropriate for the individual’s stage or career and their personal life—too big a role could be a burden. A few examples may be useful. A clinician-teacher who has been on the faculty for several years may have an opportunity to take on a role as the clerkship coordinator at their hospital or to play a leadership role in developing some new course in their area of specialty for the postgraduate trainees. While it is true that this role will require time away from patients and will not likely provide a significant financial stipend, I would encourage the clinician-teacher to accept the role. It is likely that the job will be interesting, that the teacher will learn new skills (like curriculum development), and that success in the role will lead to other interesting opportunities. Also there are always more senior faculty members who can offer support and teach this CT how to be successful in the new role.
Another example is a more mid career clinician-scientist who might consider whether to apply to be a division head at the hospital, a head of a research program at the hospital, or the head of a program like the Department’s clinician-scientist training program. These faculty members often feel that a leadership role would be a distraction from their own research program. They are of course correct—one has to give up time from somewhere. But for a CS who has already established their own research program, it is often feasible to continue a very productive program while simultaneously providing leadership in one of these roles. In fact, many mid-career faculty find it rewarding to build a program beyond their own research. Like the DDD who realized it was not “administration but rather leadership”, it may be surprisingly rewarding to step out of the focus on research and put creative effort into building research capacity for a broader group.
Of course, leadership roles are not for everyone—some people thrive focused in their own endeavours. A very senior researcher once told me how happy she was that other people liked these leadership roles so she didn’t need to do one—she recognized these roles did not suit her personality. However, more often than not my experience is that faculty members have not really considered whether they are suited for leadership and often shy away from the roles for a variety of reasons. I think it is always worthy of serious consideration when one is presented with a leadership role opportunity.
Furthermore, the DOM is investing energy in faculty development for leaders. We want to help individuals develop skills needed in these roles. We have reviewed all the leadership training opportunities available on line or in person at US or Canadian institutions. A list of these training opportunities will soon be posted under the faculty tab on our website. After discussion with the PICs and department division directors we are targeting the institution division directors to identify what kind of leadership training is required to help them adjust to a leadership position within the institute and enable the academic careers of their colleagues. A needs assessment will be sent soon to this important group of leaders within our department such that the program of support we build will address what is missing in existing training programs and what would truly be helpful.
I am personally happy to meet with any faculty members to have conversations about whether to take a leadership role or how to be successful in the role. I enjoy these discussions and consider it worthy of my time—it is my job to help foster the next generation of leaders.
Wendy Levinson MD,
Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor and Chair of Medicine