In medicine, we often laud the super-specialist. We give prizes to the maverick surgeon. We hear our friends and family seeking out "the best specialist in the field."
Indeed, our culture often sees great leaders as people who work alone, with great inspiration. So a recent talk by Walter Isaacson, who studied both Steve Jobs (2011) and Benjamin Franklin (2003) really made me pause. In his speaking engagement at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, Mr. Isaacson compared the two men as "collaborative leaders." And I realized that their shared collaborative approach might just teach us a few things that could shift how we approach our work in medicine.Any visit to Independence Hall in Philadelphia starts with the remembrance of the horrible, hot summer of 1787. An interesting team assembled with different personalities, backgrounds and interests. They argued. Isaacson describes:
“You needed somebody of high rectitude in George Washington that everybody would respect. You needed really smart people like Jefferson and Madison. You needed passionate people like John Adams and his cousin Samuel. But what you really needed in Philadelphia for both of those conventions was somebody who could make everybody collaborate and bring them together.”
Franklin delivered a speech that seemed to rescue the process of divisiveness and discord. Had the process continued, it is likely that there would have been no Union.
“He said, ‘When we were young tradesmen here in Philadelphia and we had a joint of wood that didn’t hold together, what we would do is we’d shave a little from one side, and then take a little from the other, until you had a joint that would hold together for centuries. So, too, we here at this convention must each join together and each part with some of our demands.’”
Isaacson noted that compromisers don’t make great heroes, but that they do make great democracies. One major compromise was the two-part Congress. The compromise? In the Senate, each state, large and small, has the same two senator representation. While in the House, representation is proportionate to size.
As you walk around Philadelphia, we have often see inscriptions: “The good we can do together exceeds what we can do individually."
All of us in healthcare have different personalities. We have common ground; we want to to do the right thing for the patient. It is up to each of us to create an environment where we can make a strong structure, the pieces of which are held together by strong joints that we form by paring down ourselves to make a good fit. As an administrator, you are undoubtedly in the leadership role to make this happen. As a provider (regardless of where you are on the continuum of care), you can choose a collaborative approach during any visit and during any interaction.
We all remember Steve Jobs, who lived 230 years after Franklin. He is legendary for being visionary, intolerant, narcissistic, focused, and demanding of loyalty. However, Mr Isaacson notes, when he asked Steve Jobs his biggest accomplishment -- expecting to hear something about inventing the personal computer, iTunes, the iPhone, etc. -- his answer was about his team. Particularly as he become more mature, he become more collaborative. His answer:
"'Here’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Making products is hard. But what’s really hard is making a great team that will continue to make great products.' Jobs said the best thing he ever did as an innovator and leader was to create a great team."
Being collaborative may not win us an award, or get a biography written about us. But it can indeed make a great team -- and great teams change the practice of medicine.
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