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New to Leadership

The time will likely come in your career when you begin to take on more responsibility in addition to the daily case sign out. Perhaps you become the histology section chief, become the representative of your department on a hospital committee, or start acting as medical director at one of the smaller hospitals your department covers. Whether this happens in the first year of being new in practice or years down the road, the assumption of added responsibilities can be both a daunting and rewarding task. Here are three things you can do to ease the transition into a leadership role.


Introductory issue of CAP Today, November 1986

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1. You Don't Have to Know Everything on Day One

Generally speaking, many pathologists do not feel residency training was enough to prepare them for future leadership or management roles. So, if you feel nervous, you are not alone. Of course, you should do things to increase your knowledge base—read those books or articles on the new analyzer, understand the leadership hierarchy of your hospital, do the extra CME. However, you can start to be a leader before you are the ultimate expert. Part of assuming responsibility is knowing how to find the answer—not necessarily knowing the answer. Unabashedly engage those in your staff or other pathologists who may assist you as you grow into the role. Others' experiences may be invaluable in ramping up your learning curve. Mentorship continues to be a crucial asset as you assume new roles. Rely on those local and maybe not so local networks you have built through residency and practice to help guide you through the complexities of the task at hand. You do not have to go at it alone to be an effective leader.

2. Get to Know the People You Will Work With

As you start your new position, it is integral to know your colleague's names, maybe where they are from, and begin to build the relationship. Even if before all you did was politely nod in the hallway, reintroduce yourself. Good working relationships are the foundation for a successful team. 

Building relationships doesn't stop with your staff. No matter what leadership role you are taking on, part of what you oversee is the delivery of a product. Who is getting that product? Get to know them! Whether it's your colleagues getting histology slides or your clinicians getting LFTs, check in with them to make sure the product is what is actually needed and delivered well. One way to become an indispensable component of the larger health care team is to query those pre- and post-analytic variables that may be affecting the product you are trying to deliver. Keeping the lines of communication open and fostering a bidirectional relationship with the non-laboratory staff will help ensure that quality service is delivered efficiently every time.

In particular, when it comes to running sections of the anatomic or clinical laboratory as you build those relationships, look for ways in which you can offer something back to your staff. For example, I have found that the hematology section med techs appreciate going over interesting or instructional smears on a regular basis. It's a form of continuing education and helps support the level of quality you would like the lab to output. Most of your staff will appreciate knowing how their work and their daily decisions directly impact and benefits patient care. Nearly everyone in the laboratory values the patient who is at the center of the health care team. Both technical and non-technical staff value the knowledge you can contribute! Even if you don't feel like you are the expert, realize you have experience and understanding that can help elevate others' practice.

3. Be Open and Be Seen

Access and visibility are important, consider having open hours so anyone can approach you with concerns or thoughts for process improvement. For people to take you up on this, don't lead from afar. Be around to see what's going on in your area of responsibility on a regular basis. Consider attending the morning laboratory huddle or having sit down times with your lab manager once a week. These touch points serve a purpose as you can appreciate the actual real working environment, which will help you to make positive changes. Over time this will allow you to see areas for process improvement and possibly address problems before they happen.

So the beginning steps to being a good leader are not complicated. Working on gaining knowledge, build relationships, and foster communication. Take these three relatively small and easy steps early on to get to know the people and the environment you are in charge of to set up a strong foundation for leadership.

Photo of Juanita J Evans, MD, FCAP
Juanita Evans, MD, FCAP is a pathologist practicing in the Detroit metro area at community hospitals with a strong education focus. Her specialty interests include hematopathology while at work, and travel, flow arts, and games when at play.