How to make leadership work in anesthesiology

  • Leading Change in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine
  • 1:15-2-:15 p.m. Tuesday
  • West, Room 2022

Bringing change and improving patient care are central to anesthesiology’s role in health care. But implementing and managing change is more than developing novel solutions. Managing change requires leadership.

“Leadership is one of the most studied and least understood subjects of human endeavor,” said Berend Mets, M.B., Ch.B., Ph.D., who is Eric A. Walker Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and author of the new book Waking Up Safer? An Anesthesiologist’s Record. “Leadership is the engine that drives change. Without leadership, you can’t provide useful, constructive change. The leader’s key goal is to bring productive change.”

Berend Mets, M.B., Ch.B., Ph.D, calls leadership one of the most studied and least understood subjects of human endeavor.

Dr. Mets will discuss the interface between leadership and change during the Tuesday session “Leading Change in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine.” He will draw from his own experiences at Penn State, as well as his work on leadership and the work of J.P. Kotter, Emeritus Professor at Harvard Business School.

The reality is that leadership is difficult –  a reality that has been noted repeatedly since Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about uses and practices of leadership in Renaissance Italy. Yet, leadership is not the same as management.

“Leadership needs far more communication than management,” Dr. Mets said. “Many organizations are over-managed and under-led. Leaders align people, managers order them around. Leadership actually causes some degree of disorganization, whereas management tends to enhance organization. That’s why Gen. Colin Powell called himself the ‘chief disorganizer’ when he was chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That’s the leader’s job, asking how we can do things better, how we can change things for the better and then making it happen.”

Change requires a combination of vision and faith.

Vision is the ability to imagine change, imagine different ways of accomplishing goals and to imagine more effective ways to do the things organizations do. To change things for the better, we must turn imagination into a vision that others can understand, adopt and follow.

“Without a sense of direction and a vision of a better future, it is difficult to get people to change,” Dr. Mets said. “It can be as simple as a goal of enhancing turnaround time in the operating room. You turn that goal into a vision by showing how, if we do this, when we do this, it will make all of our lives easier and better. That inspires the faith needed to implement change to achieve the vision.”

Faith is the willingness to step into the unknown; taking a leap into the future without knowing for sure where the leap will take you. Change managers often compare creating the necessary urgency for the change initiative to a burning platform. The analogy comes from the 1980s when a North Sea oil rig caught fire and crew members had to take a leap of faith, into the cold, dark sea below, with the hope that they would be saved by lifeboats deployed beneath.

“The urgency and energy that leaders bring will ultimately result in useful change,” Dr. Mets said. “Without a leap of faith and urgency, the vision will go nowhere.”

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