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Niagara Falls

Thoughts on Leadership: Before the Falls

The following is a recent 3-minute speech on leadership that I had the honor to give at the 2019 Meeting of The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) held in Niagara Falls. I addressed the lecture to Geneviève Moineau, President and CEO of the AFMC and Dr. Brian Postl, Dean at University of Manitoba and Chair of the AFMC board, as well as collected friends and colleagues.

It’s an honor for me and my wife, Dr. Kathie Doliszny, to be here to receive the AFMC President's Award for Exemplary National Leadership in Academic Medicine. I’d like to begin by thanking Dr. Richard Reznick who has given me the chance to lead at Queens’s University and for nominating me for this award.  I thought I might devote my brief address to convey some thoughts on the value of leadership in Medicine.

You too are leaders, so I’m sure you will therefore agree that Leadership is important! Society needs leaders who are substantive people, people who strive for the greater good. The need for leadership is no less in Academic Medicine. When considering whether to take on a leadership role, I remember the words of Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”That includes good women too!


Leaders must have a functioning moral compass, a sense of social accountability and a passion to achieve excellence. In cynical moments, faculty members often say, university leadership doesn’t matter! Meet the new department head; same as the old department head!Nothing could be further from the truth. If you take a look at larger society you can see the protean consequences of poor leadership. 


We need smart principled, people who are willing to step up and lead, willing to commit their lives to solve important problems; problems that have no simple solutions. Indeed, good leaders recognize that their actions may not lead to success during their terms. This aspect of leadership philosophy is embodied in the Greek proverb, “Societies grow great when old people plant trees, who’s shade they will never see”. 

I’ve had the privilege of leading volunteer organizations, such as the American Heart Association in Chicago, and medical organizations, such as the Divisions of Cardiology at the University of Alberta and the University of Chicago. Most recently it’s been my honor to serve as Head of Medicine at Queen’s University.

So what have I learned in my attempts at leadership?


Good leaders assemble great teams. In each of my leadership positions I set about determining my mission by first consulting broadly with constituents and then crafting a strategic plan. I next assembled a team who shared and shaped this vision. I empowered those teams to be frank and honest, so that they could provide critical appraisal and forge and deliver on our ideas. Great teams always trump a single individual in the quest for excellence!


A good leader serves the people....but in so doing shapes their vision, always nurturing their best attributes; never giving into their fears or weaknesses...and always, as Abraham Lincoln said, nurturing“the better angels of our nature.”   

Leaders communicate and avoid isolation. Good leaders are visible and accessible...if not at  the front they are always nearby! I blog, tweet, speak at departmental meetings, promote citizenship and meet with each faculty member annually. I try to understand their hopes and dreams through coffee lubricated conversations. My admin team keeps me informed of the faculty members’ struggles and losses; keeping me attuned to their challenges even more than to their successes. Leadership is a lot of handwritten notes, gift baskets, one on one chats, signed books and pats on the back! Everyone has their own style but one has to be accessible and present at all relevant tables. As a friend of mine says, “If you’re not at the table; you’re on the menu!”

Leaders should be kind and empathetic, understanding the wisdom of treading lightly. The people we serve often carry heavy loads, many unknown to the leader. 

Leaders are principled. If you stand for nothing fall for everything,  or so says the variously attributed quote.Following their well enunciated principles, a good leader guides the team  but is willing to step aside if they are no longer the right vehicle to carry the team over the finish line. 

Leadership can be lonely so it’s important to proactively attend to one’s health, both physical and mental. Read, Exercise and Play! Spend time with family and cultivate friendships. You may love the job but the job will not love you back! Only friends and family can do that. 


I adhere to president Woodrow Wilson’s leadership advice, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”


In closing, I would like to acknowledge my team of supporters and friends including:
The guys I have breakfast with each week, Drs Sanfilippo, Fitzpatrick, Rudan, and Vanner. 
Our deputy department head, Dr. Stephen Vanner who is a kindred spirit. 
All of our Divisional Chairs and Senior Leadership, who through their tireless efforts ensure that the Department goes above and beyond every single day. 

Our Managerof Operations and 2IC, Miss Anita Ng who demonstrates wisdom, empathy courage and vision beyond her years.  She and her amazing team of Stephanie Hartwick, Jennifer Andersen, Emily Briffet, Krista Knight, Whitney Montgomery, Ed Cutrona, Karly Salsbury, Barb Davison, Julie Heagle, Wei Yan, Geneviève Bureau, Claudia Trost, Rachel O’Dell and Aiden Martella do what they do everyday to make the DOM, #awesome!

Finally, a heartfelt thanks to my kids Elizabeth, Ben and Anya who have cheerfully shared me with my jobs and to my wife, Kathie, who guides me and loves me despite my foibles and flaws. 


AFMC friends