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Lessons in leadership foster a growth opportunity


Where leadership may once have been seen as crafting a master plan and handing down directives, today leadership manifests as a collaborative process.



Where leadership may once have been seen as crafting a master plan and handing down directives, today leadership manifests as a collaborative process.



By Molly Schar

Leadership has little to do with where one sits on the organizational chart.

It has to do more with natural or acquired leadership skills that can be demonstrated at any level, said Lama Al-Aswad, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York.

“In medicine, we are taught hierarchy; your teams are supposed to do what you want them to do,” Dr. Al-Aswad said. “I realize now that what I missed early on is that every piece of the puzzle is important to grantee success.”

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“To me, leadership is personal and it is because of your personal leadership that you experience achievement as an individual and as a leader of people,” said Rose Wynne Brooks, vice president of marketing, Carl Zeiss Meditec. “If you don’t have a personal leadership foundation, it is almost impossible to lead people successfully.”

Where leadership may once have been seen as crafting a master plan and handing down directives, today leadership manifests as a collaborative process.


NEXT: Failing forward


“As organizations streamline and become flatter, the ability to lead and influence others across different functional areas has become more important,” said Julie Clark, MD, medical director, ThromboGenics. “Creating and articulating a vision that all areas understand and support is critical. This also applies outside your own company. Larger, more complex projects-such as clinical trials-often require collaboration with several outside vendors, and keeping all teams driving toward the same goal is key. It can be a really collaborative and even fun process, because everyone brings their own experiences and strengths to the table.”

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It’s that commitment to a shared vision-especially in the cost-conscious environment of today’s ophthalmic practices-that ensures high-quality and efficient patient care, said Susan Senft, MD, FRCOphth, founder of Island Eye Care Inc., Kailua-Kona, HI.

“The team approach is absolutely necessary to getting staff to embrace a group mentality and subsequently the brand,” she said.

Failing forward

“I have had many successes in my career and learned from all of those, from developing and implementing a new go-to-market strategy for a $2-billion business to new business development ideas resulting in unprecedented new revenues,” Brooks said. “Everybody always wants to talk about those learnings. However, I know my biggest leadership ‘aha’ is from failure.”

One such “failure” in her career was a tough 3 years that ended when she left the company.


NEXT: Page 3


“I was trying to motivate a team that was shrinking, a business that was not achieving growth targets, changing business goals with CEOs coming and going . . . working under a great deal of uncertainty and in an environment afraid of decision making,” she said.

“From that, I learned to take more risks and frankly not take everything so seriously. I realized organizations in this type of environment are hungry for leadership. It is so important to recognize successes – no matter how small – for morale. When people are having fun, they are creative, purposeful and excited about the possibilities. This is how you win in a tough business environment.”

Dr. Senft learned critical leadership skills and hard lessons about running a small business when billing issues and employee embezzlement threatened the success of her practice.

“Nothing in medical school and residency prepares one for the business aspect of practice,” Dr. Senft said. “Being an excellent physician is not enough.

“We realized billing issues were resulting in lowered collections, which lead us to discover employee cover-ups and embezzlement of funds,” she added. “By virtue of changing everything, replacing personnel and spending the time hands-on with the daily operations, we survived as a company and are better for it. In the end, it was business, not personal, with respect to making hard choices and changes.”


NEXT: Growing leadership skills


Growing leadership skills

Being a great leader means being a great communicator, according to Dr. Clark.

“Ask the right questions and really listen to what others are telling you, in words and behaviors,” she said. “Have passion for what you are doing-bring the energy.”

Brooks agrees that learning to listen is an important skill to develop as a leader.

“Make sure people-your employees, your customers-know they are heard,” she said.

“Know your leadership principles,” Brooks continued. “Be very aware of who you are. Know your strengths and weaknesses and how you will manage yourself. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to ask for what you need.”


Molly Schar is the executive director of Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL). She can be reached at mschar@owlsite.org or 415/751-2401.


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