What makes a great leader?

April 17, 2017

What is a “leader”? For some, it is a political or royal figure. For others, it is a sports legend, an Instagram celebrity, or a fashion mogul. At the inaugural College Leadership Summit in Chicago, however, it was 20 individuals under 40 from around the nation dedicated to improving themselves and the field of allergy immunology.

The first day of the conference provided a strong focus on skills and characteristics of a leader in the work place, which can be applied to all situations, whether it be interacting with a patient or advocating for our specialty. We were provided tools to resolve conflicts effectively and the benefits of delegation. One of the activities required us to identify ourselves as one of four behavioral styles: Doer, Talker, Guardian and Thinker. Not surprisingly, many of us were Doers, including myself. One of the beauties of our specialty is our ability to delve into the other behavior styles when appropriate. The workshop with Mary Ritz, PhD, provided many new insights into approaching patients, employees or colleagues in ways that may fit more dominantly into another category, such as approaching a talkative patient or a passive employee.

What made this conference so unique was the diversity of the individuals who attended, with careers ranging from academic medicine and private practice to telemedicine and military. Many held more than one role. I, for example, currently combine private practice with resident education and furthering literature. Yet, one of the more interesting discussions I had involved the process of telemedicine, including how history and physical exam are obtained. This diversity is reflected in the College itself, which we learned is increasing in female leaders and active participants under the age of 45. However, universally, all participants shared similar struggles, especially in the first few years after fellowship.

For me, the lecture that resonated the most occurred on the second day when Maureen Petersen, MD, FACAAI, the allergy/ immunology fellowship director at Walter Reed National Military Center, spoke. Dr. Petersen provided a lighthearted discussion about practical application of leadership, using her own journey and the journey of others as examples. I was moved to “dream more while awake” to foster intellectual curiosity. She reminded me that “management is a constant performance in improvement processes.” Her ability to grow professionally while maintaining a work-life balance and a cheerful attitude was inspirational. As Mary and Dr. Petersen both discussed, we all as leaders need to set S.M.A.R.T goals: ones that are “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.”

The conference, while short, reframed many ideas and skills I previously considered. I currently mentor five first-year medical students on four-year research projects. I have been able to finetune communication based on their different and diverse personalities. I am inspired to take on new advocacy opportunities while acknowledging that, sometimes, you are “allowed to say no.” Most importantly, this conference has helped in my day-to-day work with associates, employees and patients.

Ultimately, each of the attendees of the conference was a leader – the future of allergy immunology rests in all of our hands. Regardless of your leadership style, embrace it and get involved. As a graduate of the Leadership Summit, I now find myself more motivated to explore College committees and mentor current Fellows. In the end, our advocacy and unique talents – ones that we defined and refined at this conference – will continue to shape both the College and the allergy immunology field in the future.

Kathleen Dass, MD

Do you have a point of view, a story, a comment or anything else you want to share with the allergy community? Here’s your chance to be heard! The College is offering you a forum to voice your thoughts to fellow allergists. Send your thoughts in 350-700 words to amandaspejcher@acaai.org. Don’t be afraid to speak up! Be opinionated. The allergy community wants to hear your views. Selected submissions will be published in College Insider or on college.acaai.org.