11 Points for Health Care Leadership Learned During My Journey from Resident to CEO

Mayo Clinic has been led by physicians since our founding more than 150 years ago, creating a culture of shared values that focus on putting the patient first. As CEO, I occasionally have the great privilege to speak to resident and fellow physicians early in their health care leadership journey. Sharing the lessons learned on my journey from resident to CEO will hopefully inspire others to invest in their future and discover their own paths to growth as leaders. Physicians must be leaders to not only advocate for their patients, but also to push for a much-needed global transformational change of health care. Physicians balance the complex emotional and data-driven components of health care decision-making with patients every day. This expertise is pivotal to helping address the growing need for more cures and greater equity in health care. To enact transformation, change must come from within from health care leaders who are change agents and servant leaders.

Below are 11 points I have learned throughout my journey at Mayo Clinic that I believe are critical for effective health care leadership, regardless of where you might be on your career journey:

1. Don’t over-plan a path. Rather, take advantage of what comes your way. By focusing on the present and overachieving in the tasks at hand, you show your colleagues, mentors, and leaders you are able to excel in your role and, importantly, open to a new, perhaps unexpected opportunity.

2. Be curious. IQ and EQ are frequently discussed, but CQ (Curiosity Quotient) is just as or even more important. Asking a lot of questions empowers you to always learn something new that you can file away for future use. It does mean you must not only ask the question, but also actively listen to the answer and build on it instead of just accepting the answer.

3. Always embrace a new environment. Then once you embrace it, make it better. This may mean learning to wait to understand why organizations do things a certain way, but I would encourage you not to wait so long that you forget what you wanted to change.

4. There is always space for a good idea – you just may need to let go of something else to make space. 

5. There is never a good time to take a calculated risk, so don’t wait to take risks. Mayo Clinic’s Bold. Forward. 2030 Strategy of Cure, Connect, Transform is designed to do exactly that – take calculated risks. In 2019, when we launched Bold. Forward., we knew health care needed transformation, but we could not have planned for what would come next. Balancing our progress related to our strategic plan while continuing to provide leadership in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed us faster and further and created new, scalable knowledge. Calculated risks can open doors to improving outcomes that aren’t possible when playing it safe.

6. Be open and be coachable. A big part of what you accomplish is determined by the people who come before us, often in the form of mentors. But keep top of mind that mentors also need mentees who are driven, respectful, and thoughtful. Remember that mentorship is, above all, an act of generosity.

7. In health care, true change agents are servant leaders. True transformation requires leaders that are not afraid to challenge the way things currently are but can also remain grounded in their values to always put the needs of others first.

8. You are never “ready” for leadership, so don’t let that stop you. It’s critical to push past the feeling of not being “ready.” Stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the uncomfortable will empower you to learn from experiences and growth opportunities that cannot always be taught through formal training. I was never truly ready for any leadership job I have held.

9. Be honest with yourself and work on yourself – Regardless of experience or leadership rank, we are all works in progress. Effective leaders recognize this and have their own personal development goals.

10. Find joy in your work. The ability to find joy is a vital tool that will help you become a resilient, fulfilled health care leader. Throughout my career I have always found joy in my work as a researcher, and despite the demands of my current and previous leadership roles, I have kept research as part of my life which gives me joy.

11. Leadership is good. Leadership is not something to stay away from. It can make you a better person, it can bring you joy, it can give you fulfillment, and it can help you, your organizations, and, most importantly, your patients, achieve remarkable things.

Whether you have just matched into a residency program, or you are well into your career in health care, leadership in health care is different for everyone. But it’s important to remember that our obligation to provide hope and healing to those in need will always necessitate champions in the form of effective, transformative health care leaders.

Best of luck on your journey – and on developing your own model for success and leadership in health care.

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