When I first started my career in medicine, I never considered myself a leader nor even a teacher. I just wanted to take care of patients and to do a good job. It started out so gradually that I barely noticed what was happening.
On that first day of internship, I was definitely kind of terrified when someone called me “Doctor”, but I gradually got used to the weight of the responsibility that comes with that title. As a junior and then senior resident, I was naturally expected to teach and lead the team of medical students and trainees. No one is ever ready to run their first Code Blue, but when the time comes all eyes are on you and you realize someone’s got to be in charge.
When we live in service of our bigger mission, we tap into an inner wisdom that comes from alignment with our own integrity
As an attending, I found that I was often the one that nurses came to with problems. Of course I wanted to help, and I didn’t mind doing a little extra here and there. And before I knew it, I was asked to become the Medical Director of the clinic, and then Associate Department Chair. I felt like I would have more authority to make things right with the title, and since I was doing the work anyway, I might as well get paid.
But it didn’t actually turn out the way I thought it would. I thought that dealing with budgets, regulations and pointy-headed bureaucrats was going to be the worst part. And instead, it was seeing this invisible wall come down between myself and those whom I considered to be friends. After all, with leadership comes expectations. And you can’t please all the people all of the time.
Dealing with complaints was definitely the worst. Patients complaining about wait times until the next appointment, medical assistants complaining about doctors, or doctors complaining about lack of staffing, and how it’s all your fault. I learned quickly that raising my hand to help out meant that I’d be putting a bullseye on my own back.
I thought that people would respect me for my sacrifice, but that’s not actually how leadership works. Sometimes I could be the hero and rescue a situation. But more often, there were constraints to my authority, budget or whatever. People needed a villain to blame, and it was easy to point to “the boss.”
Leading with integrity
What I have learned is that we can all be leaders, regardless of rank or title. Rather than looking externally to what others want from me, whether it’s the big boss or those I lead, I must seek to explore my own vision for what I want to create.
When I have clarity about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, it becomes easier to make decisions, to say no, and to know which problems are worth my time and energy to solve.
I recently coached a client who has made remarkable progress in just a few sessions because he was ready to step into his extraordinary leadership potential. Once he learned the power of mindset dexterity and self-coaching, he was able to see where his own thoughts and feelings had been holding him back. When our lives are in service of our bigger mission, and no longer about external validation, we are tapping into an inner wisdom that comes from alignment with our own integrity.
My coach recently noted to me that, by stepping into this kind of leadership, it was as if I had become a different person. I agreed with her in principle, but my experience is that it now feels like I’m finally home. This is me. That other version of me who was always seeking to please others still comes in from time to time, but I’ve learned to notice when that happens, and to choose to be in my truth instead.