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Stanford University School of Medicine

From surgeon to leader: Lessons from Stanford Medicine’s Lloyd Minor

As a surgeon, Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, was used to making quick decisions. Speed and confidence were valued. But then, he stepped into a leadership position and the playing field changed.

Minor reflects on the lessons he learned, and a few missteps he took, in a Wall Street Journal piece today. Some of the traits prized in surgery are also valuable for leaders: "You focus on outcomes, look for solutions no matter what the challenge, and always take accountability for your decisions."

But there were also differences. And as Minor then learned, outside the operating room it sometimes pays to slow down and reach out to others before decisively taking action. How did Minor learn this lesson? Well, as a relatively new department chair at Johns Hopkins Medicine, he spurred a hullabaloo over neckwear. As he explained:

Each department had its own special pattern of ties and scarves that faculty wore on one day of the week, demonstrating collegiality and pride.

My department had a problem: Our pattern was, to put it bluntly, unattractive, and nobody seemed to like it. I decided to change it, and thought for sure that my colleagues would applaud this decision. I was wrong.

Unappealing or not, the ties and scarves represented tradition and paid respect to the institution and those who had come before. His colleagues balked at the prospect of change, even change that would introduce a more attractive alternative.

Yet, like many mistakes, what happened was beneficial, Minor says, writing:

The neckwear lesson taught me a lot about how to really listen to those I lead - to be aware of all that factors into their roles and contributes to their identities as professionals, and as people...

From being on both sides of the operating room, I've learned that without close and considered collaboration, it's impossible to run an organization, much less lead one.

Previously: Beyond practice: Opportunities for physician leadership, Abraham Verghese: "Leadership is not about knowing -- it's about listening" and Lessons from the top: Science's Marcia McNutt offers hard-won wisdom on leadership
Image by Kaz

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