Medicine and leadership

Anu Oza | Updated on April 21, 2021

Switching from the analytical to the intuitive is crucial

Both doctors and management practitioners are expected to work in day to day life as well as in crisis. History is littered with examples of people who excelled in one aspect of leadership but not in another. Though steady work is crucial for staving off crises, we still yearn for Messiahs.

There is a lot that management practitioners can learn from the field of medicine. Below are given the challenges that doctors and most importantly surgeons face regularly and the leadership lessons embedded in the practice of medicine.

Data matters, and the right data matters more. The first thing good doctors do is to look at the data and what it shows. They look at the patterns, and ensure that the right data is included and draw conclusions.

Data that you may have excluded matters too. Data is not everything. In leadership or in medicine you need to clearly understand not just what you have included but what you have consciously or unconsciously excluded. For example, in the Challenger tragedy, there was enough data on the O-rings to send off alarm bells. Often in the hurry to take a decision, one takes a decision based on excluding data rather than including it.

As a surgeon, do the blood reports tell you everything about whether the patient is ready for surgery? Or have you excluded the data on the patient's lifestyle, her age and how ambulatory she may be? Data properly collected is a key to good shaping of experience.

The easiest thing to do is to go only by the data. But knowing when to let go, knowing when to hold steady, knowing when to just let things be is true for leadership as well.

Role of experience

Data driven organisations go only by data.

Data when backed by experience, especially diverse experience, adds much greater value than just data. Similarly in leadership, the leader must be able to distinguish leadership from authority and hear voices not just from above but from below. Not only is this the logical thing to do, it is also the safest.

Role of judgement

Most excellent doctors have said that skill and experience do not equal judgement. At a minimum, skill and experience, plus introspection and reflection equal judgement. But this is not a perfect formula either. It is crucial to see that there can be a lot more factors at play.

It is the same in management. Understanding one’s own biases can be a part of judgement but can go well beyond data and experience.

Skill and experience can bail you out when you make a poor judgement call. Learning from senior doctors or senior management practitioners is critical here. It is important to ask questions like “Is there a pattern to the calls?”

The intuitive mind is the evolutionary mind, the mind that helps you survive. When you deeply clearly listen to it, it becomes the mind that helps someone else survive.

The analytical mind is the data driven mind. It was consciously built to help a person reason, break things down and make decisions. It is a highly treasured part of the mind. That said, to be able to understand and accept that both the intuitive mind and the analytical mind matter and to know when to make the switch is critical. It is this switching that is very difficult to learn.

Leadership and medicine are complex. One cannot learn from just acquiring degrees. The capacity to learn from disciplines and to cross disciplinary boundaries is crucial for success.

The writer is HR Director with an auto major in Chennai. She acknowledges the contribution of doctors she interviewed as well as Shiv Shivakumar for this article. The views expressed are personal

Published on April 21, 2021

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