Achieving Balance: The Daily Edge of Leadership

Dawa Tarchin Phillips

Dawa Tarchin Phillips


Published May 13, 2014

Welcome to Achieving Balance Quarterly, a column by renowned leadership and mindfulness expert and author Dawa Tarchin Phillips. The column's goal is to provide healthcare providers with valuable insight and perspective on topics such as excellence in leadership, conscious high performance, meaningful professional impact and enhanced work-life balance.

Achieving balance is an in-demand leadership objective that thrives on high levels of emotional intelligence, focus and attention skills, professional engagement and effective decision-making. Together, these qualities culminate in increased leadership effectiveness, joy and overall job and life satisfaction.

Balance here refers both to the way a leader experiences their internal reality and access to personal inner resources, as well as the outer stance and approach a leader takes in regards to dealing with ongoing work and life challenges.

Dawa Tarchin Phillips is president/CEO of Empowerment Holdings, a boutique leadership development and consulting firm that trains smart professionals in mindfulness-based leadership and professional skills.

Getting Clear on the Landscape

Medical professionals might or might not see themselves as leaders. Yet to the rest of the world — and to their patients in particular — they most certainly are.

Patients are expecting direction, confidence and composure from their medical providers. Doctors are expected to display clarity and courage in the face of the overwhelming uncertainty their patients and teams are faced with daily.

Leadership in the face of such demand and uncertainty is required, not optional.

While research exists examining the dominant leadership skills appreciated in medical practice environments (e.g., hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms), training programs that groom physicians into leaders able to perform while achieving greater balance at work are rare.

Achieving Balance Quarterly aims to provide physician leaders with perspective and insight into the landscape of effective, presence-based leadership. We'll explore how to best achieve balance for yourself, as well as how to sustain healthy influence and achieve desired results in collaboration with others. Most importantly, we'll highlight how to accomplish your own growth as a leader without detriment to the quality of your daily life and the overall satisfaction you gain from the job you signed up for because you love what you do and want to make a difference. That matters, because data suggests that both patients and hospitals stand to benefit from more empowered and mindful physician leaders.

What Physician Leaders Need to Focus On

Not all leaders are created equal, and the medical community selects its leaders based on a diverse skill set that emphasizes integration of interpersonal and communication skills at advanced levels. This, in addition to the rigorous work-life and educational demands physicians encounter, contributes to the sense of being overwhelmed and imbalanced prevalent among today's physician leaders.

A study done at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008 examined the leadership qualities most desired by physicians and those most commonly asked of physicians. Several towered above the rest:

Physicians specifically need to become leaders that possess:

  1. Knowledge
  2. People skills
  3. Vision
  4. Organizational orientation

In looking at each of these areas individually, you can gain important insight into the role that leadership presence and discernment play in helping physicians develop into the kind of leader the medical practice community most appreciates and needs.

According to the aforementioned study, knowledge is both clearly understanding the role you are embodying within your organization, and your expertise of the particular discipline you are practicing. Knowledge in both areas is refined continuously, but it comes at a price and you'll need to have room for it.

Often, erroneous ideas, misunderstandings and unchecked "facts" and assumptions can take up much cognitive real estate, and there can be little room left for expanding your insight and understanding.

For these reasons, knowledge requires surrender to clarity. You must give up what is obscure and ill-defined in your own mind, what is simply assumed and pre-judged.

Creating the openness for new knowledge to expand on your existing foundation is the edge where every good leader resides. It requires surrender to keep pushing this edge for the benefit of your patients and your organization. You can't refill a closet without throwing away old garb.

A leadership practice that regularly examines what knowledge to keep and what to let go is the surefire way to keep your mind open, nimble and in touch with the evolving environment of your profession. Cultivating knowledge therefore is as much about letting the wrong information go as it is about letting the right information in.

People skills specifically refer to emotional intelligence, which is the "ability to monitor your own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior." This trait is reportedly in growing demand in most medical organizations.

Greater access to emotional intelligence is gained through the power of observation in the moment. Emotions — your own and those of others — arise in the here and now. If as a physician you are not here and present, you can't develop the discernment and insight on which emotional intelligence is built.

Emotional intelligence also invites leaders to have an ongoing "intelligence" practice — a time in the day where you explore, investigate, digest and integrate emotional states that are influencing your decision-making or that create tensions in the organization. If, as a leader, you do not make time in your busy schedule to hone your EQ skills and conduct maintenance on your emotional systems, events and demands can quickly snowball into an overwhelmed state of mind and deteriorating relationships.

Douglas McKenna, PhD, a renowned executive coach and original architect of executive and leadership development at Microsoft, coined the phrase "Emotion trumps IQ." This refers to the fact that no matter how smart a leader you are, if your mind is overcome with emotions, then discernment and ordinary intelligence go right out the window.

Vision is the ability to empower your values with a set of wings and give them expression in your world. Since leadership deals with engaging the uncertain and uncharted territory ahead, your eyes to see and ears to hear may not always be sharp enough. Inner vision is required. This can develop from taking to heart the desires and concerns of your organization and listening inward for a compassionate and wise response. It can also come from taking full responsibility for your true convictions.

Either way, vision requires courage and your ability to commit to live in a better world that is yet to be born out of possibility.

Finally, organizational orientation is about being a team player — being willing and able to consider what is important for the system and for the whole.

When you care for the integrity and direction of the whole, you are not resisting your own individuality. Instead you are simply taking responsibility for the full impact of your decisions as they unfold within a larger organizational context. That is maturity.

When you consider developing your leadership skills, these four are low hanging fruit to help you thrive among people that work hard every day to get where they are.

How to Move Into Greater Leadership: Getting Clear as to Where You Are Now!

What is required in every professional environment that cultivates the above leadership skills is your ability to see clearly where you are now, and to understand that now is your point of power. Look around you and don't be afraid to pierce the veil. When you see clearly where you are, the full demand on you and the categorical uncertainty of it, you recognize the need for a strong portfolio of presence-based leadership skills. Because where you are is the daily edge of what is yet to come. Staying in this present moment and at this edge demands courage.

For many people, including doctors, this edge can be an unnerving place to be. And it is important then to stay mindful of what matters most. Because here the unexpected occurs. In fact, that's the norm rather than the exception.

Good leadership matures with your willingness and increasing ability to be and stay present and to experience the uncertainty of situations with fresh clarity and important skills — not with preconceived ideas or rigid thinking.

When it comes to developing those skills and thriving on the daily edge of leadership with increasing balance, personal commitment and training are key. So whatever you do, don't get complacent. You're finally fully in charge.

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