By Dr. Sudip Bose, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Getting shot at tends to get you focused very quickly and very specifically on what you need to do to take control and eliminate the threat. I mean that literally; I learned that on the battlefields of Iraq. It’s the kind of thing that creates instant leadership. You figure out how to overcome the problem in front of you, or you very possibly will die.
In the medical arena, when I was an intern, I faced my first “code” patient. “Code” is doctor talk for cardiopulmonary arrest – a heart stopping – in a patient in a hospital. When that happens, there are codes associated with each patient that determine the level of response by a medical code team – all the way from a full code, where every effort is made to resuscitate someone, to a limited code, to a “DNR,” or Do Not Resuscitate. A code team of medical professionals will rush to the patient and immediately begin appropriate medical treatment. On my first code response, I rushed into the room and froze. I didn’t really know what to do. And I remember the eyes on me, watching my inaction. I knew from that day on, that I needed to know what was going on. I learned that if I was going to be a leader, I had a need to learn what to do when I come face to face with a pulseless patient. Because when a patient codes, you need to take control, and you need to act quickly and decisively. You need to lead. I needed to learn fast, and I needed to continue to learn.
At no other time on earth has the pace of change been so rapid. At no other time in history have leaders had to understand and process so much information to arrive at a decision. Also, at no other time have such diverse generations been in the work force – Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millenials – and they each have such a diverse work ethic and a divergent sense of reward.
Communicating in such a diverse workplace can be a challenge as well. Humor helps, but you have to have substance. Boomers, generally speaking, are technically challenged; many of them never even wrote a resume and most got their first job with a simple handshake and moved on up the chain of command as their experience grew and people above them left the company. Gen-Xers are the sandwich generation; they whine about the Boomers and complain about the Millenials. The Millenials are very technically savvy, so much so, however, that they often don’t look up from their $600-plus cell phones. Now, obviously, those are gross generalizations, but those are the kinds of labels that have been affixed to those groups of demographics.
Add to that the fact that we now live in a world of instant gratification. Everyone wants something done yesterday. And with social media around, you’d better look perfect and behave perfectly at all times. Because you will be judged. You might be in the middle of one of the most challenging leadership scenarios of your life, and someone’s likely to be taking a cell phone video of it – and splashing it across social media. And let’s not forget that the world is smaller these days. Now we’re not managing or leading across a group of office desks, we’re often doing it across time zones and oceans. Developing leadership qualities that will gather up all these various diverse and divergent groups and get them to move forward toward a common goal can be challenging.
In my opinion, I find that in successful people, there is a key ingredient – they all have something in common. It’s not IQ, it’s not knowledge, it’s not money, it’s not time. When I give talks on leadership around the country, I tell my audiences that it is, simply put, grit. Grit is defined as courage and resolve; tenacity; strength of character. Yet grit is hard to measure. It’s unpredictable. But I guarantee you that when you find a leader, you will find that he or she is defined by grit – that immeasurable quality that certain individuals have that drives them to never give up, never give in, and keep moving forward to accomplish their goals and steer the team they are leading in the same direction. Passion for mission and a drive to accomplish. Pushing the limits.
Are leaders born? Of course! I was born, you were born, we all were born! All leaders are born. But are there born leaders? No. I certainly was not born a leader. I think that’s a role we all have to grow into. I learned leadership qualities through my progression as a pre-med student, a med school student, an intern, a resident, a small-scale leader, and a leader in combat.
If you search around online or pick up books on leadership, you’ll get a lot of different ideas about what makes a leader. Some will focus on clarity of purpose, others on decisiveness, or courage, humility, honesty, delegation, communication, confidence, commitment, a positive attitude … all of it makes a difference and all those qualities certainly are desirable of anyone in a leadership position.
Tony Robbins, one of the most world-renowned motivational speakers and thought leaders, has this to say about leadership:
“When people fail to achieve, they often say they are missing resources like time, money, people and so on. Yet, the top leaders in the world know resources are never the problem; the real problem is a lack of resourcefulness. You can always get the resources you need as a leader if you’re resourceful enough – and the truth is this: The ultimate resource is resourcefulness.’
Jim Rohn was an American author and motivational speaker. He has a compelling rags-to-riches story, which played a large part in influencing his work, which in turn influenced others in the personal development industry, including the aforementioned Tony Robbins. Said Jim Rohn on leadership:
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly; and learn to deal in realities.’
And John C. Maxwell, an American author, speaker and pastor who has written many books, primarily on leadership, has said:
“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”
A quote that hits particularly close to home for me on leadership because of a shared background in the Army is one from World War II general, leader of the D-Day invasion (commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said,
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.’
That speaks to another leadership quality that I would put right up there with grit, and that is that a leader must have and must adhere to solid principles. As a leader, the situation you’re in, the time and place in which you must assert yourself as a leader always changes. What doesn’t change, though, are your principles. Your principles may evolve, but they remain constantly with you. It’s your core. It’s how you are defined as a person. In situations that look out of control and where you need to step in as a leader, look to your core principles to guide you.
As you gain more experience, you likely will add to your principles – your life maxims that are your North Star. During the toughest challenges, those are the things that will hold you up and guide your direction.
When you’re being shot at – and I’m using that now metaphorically – in the toughest situations you think you’ll ever find yourself in, while all those around you are running about with their hair on fire, remember your core principles to sustain you and help you lead the team forward. When you can do that, you’ll know with an inner calmness, that you can handle the situations in life when things go pulseless.