by Sunita Mutha, MD, FACP
While aggressive strongmen leaders seem to be making a comeback on the world stage, there are alternative approaches to leadership including the one I embody.
After nearly two decades of teaching, mentoring and managing, my leadership style and philosophy have evolved. I now know that leadership can be defined and practiced in many ways. Below are seven tenets about leadership that are true to me and the organization I lead, Healthforce Center at UCSF.
- Leaders think about the big picture. Leadership is thinking beyond yourself. I am contributing to a mission that effects positive change in health care. All of my efforts contribute to that mission—it is what drives and motivates me.
- Leadership is a team sport. A leader isn’t always the one at the front of the room. At times, a leader’s biggest contribution is connecting and supporting people behind the scenes.
- Leaders support and nurture others. I want my legacy to be helping people become better versions of themselves. A mentor gave me that gift and I want to help those that I work with — residents, staff and leadership program participants — believe in themselves and grow.
- Leaders value honesty and candor. As long as I believe I’m doing things with honesty and awareness then I feel like I’m doing my best. I show up as fully as I can, engage as fully as I can and try to be as candid as I can with people. Honesty also translates into admitting your mistakes because we all make them. Acknowledging flaws is an important part of leading.
- Leaders take the long view. I went to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir a few weeks ago. That dam was built nearly 100 years ago because the city of San Francisco leaders had the ability to look beyond their immediate needs and identify that the city needed a new water source. The decision wasn’t popular and it wasn’t cheap, but it was an amazing contribution. We need more leaders who have the foresight to plan for future generations and put short-term politics aside to consider the long-term consequences.
- Leaders make time for reflection. The best leaders I’ve seen are the ones who can stop, reflect and ask themselves what they did well and what they need to do differently. They surround themselves with people who give them honest responses, not what they think the leader wants to hear.
- Leadership is situational. We are all leaders and we are all followers. Does everyone have the same title? No. Does everyone feel like they are leaders? No. There are plenty of places in my life where I’m a follower. Sometimes that’s exactly the right role for me.
About Sunita: Sunita Mutha, MD, FACP, is the director of Healthforce Center at UCSF. For over a decade, she has been engaged in transformational leadership in healthcare with a special focus on emerging leaders and inter-professional training.
Sign up to learn about the latest health workforce leadership and research opportunities.