By: Jamiu Busari and Deepak Dath
Dr. Mark Walton
Vice Dean, Faculty Affairs
(Prev) Assistant Dean, Postgraduate Medical Education
(Prev) Postgraduate Director, General Surgery
McMaster University, Hamilton
What is your definition of leadership?
As a clinician educator and leader, we asked Dr. Walton how he would define “leadership”. He responded saying “Leadership should be easy, but it is not. It is dependent on the stage of your career as well as what you are looking for in the different stages of an individual’s career.”
To illustrate his point, he provided a few examples of what he looks for in fellows and residents.
In fellows, Dr. Walton looks at:
- how well they can manage a team,
- their ability to run the day to day activities,
- how responsive they are to the strengths and weaknesses of their team,
- their skill in listening to both the verbal and nonverbal cues from members of their team.
In residents, on the other hand, he looks at:
- how well they can adapt to the culture of their work (or professional) environment,
- their abilities to listen actively (to all members of the healthcare team) and respond adequately to situations, i.e., doing something about the things they hear (following up),
- their skills of advocacy, communication, collaboration and integrity i.e. ability to engage with stakeholders in their environment,
- how effective they are in navigating the “grey areas” of decision making.
What makes a great leader?
In response to the question of what makes a great leader, Dr. Walton says that great leaders are people who can pick talent; they can (quickly) pick the strengths and weaknesses of people. They can create environments (culture) where you can harvest the best out of people and create the atmosphere where it is “totally” okay “not to know” certain things. In his words “Great leaders are those are able to talk to the ‘intangibles’ in everyday interactions.”
How do you define success in leadership?
We asked Dr. Walton how he would define success in leadership. His definition of success in leadership was “An individual’s ability to read every situation well (situational awareness). You go into a room, try reading the room and do exceptionally well at understanding it.” This he says, reflects a leader’s emotional intelligence. In addition, it is the ability to surround yourself with excellence.
What are the attributes of effective leaders?
With respect to the attributes that characterize effective leaders, Dr. Walton’s response was that effective leaders sometimes act as coaches and other times as mentors. They are engaging in nature such that you want to become part of their team. They are individuals who lead by example, acknowledge the things that they cannot manage and have a very strong “sense of self “(authentic). They make others feel better (it’s not about them) and they are constantly on the lookout for, and can easily spot influencers (informal leaders) in their environment.
What are the attributes of ineffective leaders?
We asked Dr. Walton as a leader himself, to share a couple of things that he disapproves of in others i.e. within the context of our conversation on leadership. The examples he gave included those who lack the ability to follow through on their tasks, and who are dishonest and are disrespectful to patients, their peers or other members of the health care team.
What are ways to develop leadership (recommendations)?
As a recognized clinician educator and leader, we asked Dr. Walton to give us a few recommendations on how we could promote the development of leadership in junior doctors. His recommendations included:
- We need to get comfortable with uncertainty. Health care is a complex adaptive environment and is full of unpredictable and often uncontrollable situations.
- We have to slow down the pace. We should avoid being carried away by the rush and chaos of the day and find time to rest and reflect in between.
- As leaders, we have to constantly challenge our followers, respectfully and compassionately to keep them focused and help them grow.