Want to be a great leader? Focus on your strengths!

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Physicians are committed both to preventing illness and treating patients. This puts us in a unique position to be outstanding leaders of health care organizations. Leadership and talent development is a special interest of VPSA, which recently hosted the Physician Leadership Institute’s Talent Management for Exceptional Leadership workshop. Members quickly signed up to fill all the available spaces.

The session was led by facilitator Paul Mohapel, whose research interests include the biological and social underpinnings of leadership. He believes that effective leadership requires a holistic approach including emotional, spiritual, social and system thinking skills.

Throughout the two-day session, participants were challenged to think about leadership competencies and capabilities and what it takes to successfully lead in the current health care environment. They discussed systems in place to assist with leadership development as well as barriers to it. A key takeaway from the workshop: build on your strengths and manage around your weaknesses.

VGH gastroenterologist and transplant hepatologist, Dr. Vladimir Marquez was one of the VPSA members to attend the workshop.

“I’m always the quiet guy in the back who listens to others who seem to be more opinionated; but I learned that leadership is not just about being loud,” he said. “Rather, it can take many forms and different types of leaders are required at different times depending on what an organization’s objectives are at that particular moment. I found the concept of strength-based leadership surprising—the idea that we should focus on developing our strengths towards excellence rather than trying to correct our weaknesses.”

The workshop defined strength as any recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied; it’s a special ability or aptitude that is enduring and unique, and it’s not necessarily something you are immediately good at. Strength, Mohapel emphasized, is not knowledge or skills. Talents need to be developed into strengths.

Talent management was another focus of the workshop. This is a holistic approach to the employment lifecycle and focuses on both leadership development and succession planning. Organizations with robust talent management systems have structures to support this and have identified the success factors required. They have an established talent pool including recruitment and they assess the talent and diversity within that pool and make plans to develop it. There is a mentoring system with rotating assignments, training and coaching. And, the talent in the pool is monitored and reviewed and adjusted to meet changing demands.

Psychiatrist Dr. Harish Neelakant, who is the medical manager with Urban Vancouver Community Mental Health Services, the team physician leader at Raven Song Mental Health, and works at the BC Psychosis Program, also took the workshop.

“I wanted to learn about what talent management is and how to implement it for mental health teams and physicians,” he said. “My goal is to build a team that works on our members’ strengths. The workshop was helpful in identifying our strengths, building on them and preparing for the future. I am hopeful that we can implement it.”

For Dr. Chad Kim Sing, VCH’s associate vice president of Medicine, Quality and Safety, the workshop’s key takeaways included the need to pay attention to job crafting and purposely engage an individual’s strengths as a significant portion of their work.

“This lifts people and the team around them up; it protects against burnout, creates more joy in work and increases motivation and fulfillment. This, in turn, serves us well in the delivery of patient care,” said Dr. Kim Sing. “I’m interested in creating a robust, rewarding and longitudinal development path for our medical staff and physician leaders.”

Indeed, the workshop emphasized that successful organizations develop leadership skills intentionally and start this immediately upon a new physician joining them. Dr. Robin Walker, Integrated Vice President of Medical Affairs and Medical Education at the London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, joined the workshop via Skype to discuss its well-established citywide talent management program.

“After physicians are recruited there, their career tracks are identified (clinician teacher, researcher, educator, scientist, or administrator) and mentors are assigned to ensure each new physician develops along the expected track within the usual timeframe,” said VPSA Co-chair Dr. Lyne Filiatrault. “Is there any reason why VCH could not use that model and help develop our future physician leaders?”

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