Blog | Thursday, March 20, 2014

Leadership: to serve or to be served?

Most readers know that I have leadership responsibilities, both in my job and in my society work. Leadership comes with great responsibility.

Too many leaders lose their moral grounding. They view leadership as their accomplishment and their opportunity. They forget the most basic principle that leaders should serve those who they lead!

Two recent accusations of conflicts of interest should remind us of the dangers of leadership: Patient Safety’s First Scandal: The Sad Case of Chuck Denham, CareFusion, and the NQF and Payments to CEO Raise New Conflicts at Top Health Quality Group.

In both cases prominent leaders in medical quality and safety appear to be receiving financial benefit that could cloud their judgments. In neither situation can we say that the apparent conflicts of interest actually changed their decisions, but we need to require that standard to find these situations uncomfortable and disappointing.

I submit that these leaders have not followed the precepts of servant leadership. We in leadership must always ask how we can help our followers, not how we can help ourselves.

Each day I try to help our students and residents grow. It is not about me, it is about them. I fail sometimes. Sometimes my actions feed my ego. Most humans have difficulties with leadership. Too many leaders in the public eye abuse that privilege.

Of course, the easy way to avoid this trap is to ask oneself what one’s followers say if they knew about such behavior. If the “followers” would critique me, I should not do that.

We should take the ethical high ground. It is our job to serve, not to be served.

db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and is the Regional Associate Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds over 100 days each year. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.