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The 15 Commandments of Surgical Leadership

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

1. It is really more about responsibility than authority or power:

As you move into a position of leadership, your level of responsibility increases, however this does not mean you will be able to tell people what to do. You cannot accomplish anything without the support of those around you. People may think you are in charge, but this does not necessarily mean that you can do what you want. As you step into a leadership role you are allowed to feel a rightful sense of achievement and prestige, but remember that leadership is a vehicle to help achieve, not a final destination.

2. Building consensus is the key: Develop support but know when to sacrifice unanimity to move forward:

Sometimes you have to take the temperature of how people feel and make a decision to move forward despite the lack of a unanimous consensus. What's critically important is that the portion of people that don't agree with the decision feel that they have had their opinions heard, and listened to. This will enable you and the team to move forward.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate:

You can never communicate too much. People value communication. No one likes to be left in the dark. You may have information that you think others have, but don't assume that they do. Ensure everyone is on the same page by communicating.

4. As a leader of the team, you are also a member of the team:

You may be the captain, but it is still a team and you are still only a member. Don't think too much of yourself and prevent yourself becoming self-absorbed. A team can function without a captain, but a captain has no role without the team. Sometimes it is better to get along than be right.

5. Each action or decision will generate a response: Try to anticipate the reaction and never underestimate the reaction: the "$5 rule"

The most important $5 that anybody has, is the $5 I am trying to take away from them. The amount isn't important, but the fact that I want to take it away from them is very important, especially if they do not understand why. Conversely, the most important $5 that someone could receive is the $5 I can give them that they don't expect. In other words, doing something positive for people when they don't expect it, no matter how small, can have a tremendous benefit in your role as a leader.

6. Take what you do seriously, but don't take yourself seriously:

You have to maintain a certain humility about who you are and what you do. You get out of bed the same way and brush your teeth the same way as everyone else does. You have more responsibilities, but in reality, you're not much different to everyone else. Maintaining a level of humility will increase and enhance your ability to interact with those around you.

7. For each meeting, summarize what was decided, what needs to be done, and who is responsible for each task:

You are going to have to attend a lot of meetings! You must ensure the time is not wasted and that at each meeting something is accomplished. So it is important to summarize what has been decided, what needs to be done and who is responsible. You should also include yourself in the list of responsible delegates.

8. Take responsibility to get things done, but not all the responsibility:

You have to rely on those around you and learn to delegate. Achievement becomes defined as bringing out the best in others. This is easy to say but difficult to do. When delegating, you need the 4 "R"s

  • Right person

  • Right situation

  • Right skill set

  • Right reporting mechanism

9. First to arrive and last to leave - Work ethic:

The time and effort you put in defines your work ethic and will define the work ethic of those you lead. Its hard to criticize the work ethic of others unless you set the example.

10. You can't listen too much:

A lot of leaders talk a lot, but some don't listen as much as they should. It takes effort to thoroughly listen before reacting and it is a skill one can learn. No one has ever listened themselves out of a job!

11. Information is essential for good leadership:

The more information you have, the more meaningful your actions become. You must allow people to give you information, take in the information you are given and seek it independently when required.

12. Be yourself with some modifications: Avoid extremes of behaviour.

You are always being observed. What may not sound extreme at any given time, may sound extreme at a later date. Things you say or do may come back to haunt you down the track. Your behaviour sets the standard for others. If you behave inappropriately or treat people so, then others will see this as permission to do the same.

13. Nothing motivates like respect, responsiveness to suggestions, requests for help, and praise for a job well-done:

People just want to be respected, listened to and recognized for a job well-done. This highlights leadership as being a vehicle to help bring up others around you, not a destination.

14. Rumours are inevitable: it is best to dispel them swiftly, and not be the source of any.

Clarify any misunderstanding by going to the source. Do this promptly to stop the spread of false information.

15. Maintain 2-3 confidants, but recognize that all information cannot be shared, and everything you say may be shared:

Be close to 2-3 people you can trust and discuss matters with and bounce ideas. You don't know everything and you'll need other people to help you see things from different perspectives. But remember that whatever you say may be shared.

A video presentation of the above can be found at:


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