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Thoughts on health leadership

Tomás Aragón, Clinical Faculty, School of Public Health | September 1, 2012

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

… John Quincy Adams

I was recently asked to give a short talk to new health officers in California. Here are my thoughts on health leadership:

Since becoming health officer of San Francisco, I have learned that I need to develop more skills in the following areas: leadership, management, administration, finance and budgeting, and planning and policy development.

Since I have not been formally trained in these areas, I have been learning these skills “on the job” – and have been enjoying it! Here are a few practical leadership lessons that I have picked up from experience and observation (but have not yet mastered):

  1. Being in a leadership role (or position) does not make one a leader.
  2. To be a leader, it is necessary but not sufficient to be competent in core leadership skills, the most important of which are to create shared vision, to inspire, to empower, to support, and to ensure success. He or she stays focused on the “destination” (i.e. vision), and inspires and supports staff to be creative and innovative on the “journey” (i.e. accomplishing mission, goals, and objectives). He or she also stays focused on “what matters most” (i.e. the highest priorities).
  3. A good leader leverages relational authority, which arises from earned trust and respect, more than positional authority, which arises from “being the boss.” To earn trust and respect, he or she must genuinely entrust and respect others. Expert authority is also important: it comes from exercising technical expertise and good judgement, but also humility and willingness to listen and learn.
  4. A good leader practices humility and intellectual curiosity.
  5. A good leader practices self-awareness and elicits honest feedback on his or her leadership performance.
  6. A good leader is an effective communicator (and often an inspirational speaker).
  7. A good leader is an effective coach. Based on positive values, he or she brings out our best performance.
  8. A good leader never masters leadership; instead, he or she studies leadership and practices continuous improvement.

I believe that we should model what we expect from others (i.e., continuous professional development and improvement). Thus, I believe that personal development focused in these key areas will lead to improvements in leadership effectiveness. You will find some of these topics covered on Stay tuned for additional articles in the near future.

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Comment to “Thoughts on health leadership

  1. As Mr. Aragon stated so well being a leader is more than holding a title and position.

    I would agree with each and everyone of his list of eight leadership skills required to be a good leader, placing building and developing relationships at the very top.

    This in no way means that we are trying to be everyone’s friend or make everyone happy since leadership requires us to remain focused on our goal. It means that we care about each and every member of our team. We listen when they speak. We remain loyal to them as we hope they remain loyal to us. We do our best to help in a professional way when they have personal issues bothering them. We hold them accountable. We treat everyone fairly and equally. This list could go on but the point being that it takes time and effort to build those relationships.

    After spending almost forty years in a leadership role with the Marine Corps and Corporate America I am still learning the art of leadership. In fact I have written several leadership stories on many of my real life experiences.

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