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Early Career Leadership (ft. Mandela, Obama, and Beyoncé)

Posted By By Laura Sudano (ft. Reitz), Saturday, April 27, 2013
Updated: Thursday, May 30, 2013

Laura and Randall's
post is the last
in a 5-part series on
leadership in
collaborative care.


If you have been in your chosen career for more than five years, please disregard this blog.

Stop reading now.

It is not intended for you.

Your persistence is starting to creep us out.

There, much better. Now we can speak candidly.

Early career professionals are in a tough spot. Not only are we asked to carry more than our weight in proving ourselves, we do it with the limited networks and without the influence of people who are already established in their careers. Facing this double whammy, what can we do to exert leadership? How can we utilize those who are willing to help us in moving the field in the direction we believe is most fruitful?

Well, for starters, we can learn from Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, and Beyoncé Knowles.

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom,” he described his leadership style as follows:

"A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, US historians parse political narratives to identify a "doctrine” that encapsulates a president’s leadership style. The emerging "Obama Doctrine” is a Mandela-esque "Leadership from Behind”. This doctrine is described in both glowing (here, here, and here) and derisive (here, here, here, and here) terms.

For Obama supporters, leadership from behind describes a president who has assembled a team of brilliant rivals that follows a rigorous process to hash out a consensus. They describe Obama as a president who is willing to allow all branches of government a role and in international affairs they see him as diplomatic and insistent that America not go it alone.

While Mandela and Obama are obviously world leaders elected to high offices, we wonder if "leadership from behind” might be the optimal approach for early career professionals who are positioning themselves for future collaborative care leadership.
Mandela Obama Beyonce

Another figure from which we ECPs can learn is American singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress, Beyoncé Knowles. Like Obama and Mandela, Beyoncé has been a role model for leaders and young professionals alike. Her unparalleled entrepreneurial business savvy has been on display since an early age. She is always re-defining herself and developing as an artist.

From a collaborative perspective, she promotes women musicians by having an all-female band (as seen on Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show here) and collaborating with artists outside her genre including Sean Paul, Shakira, Justin Timberlake, and Lady Gaga. Through collaborating with other early career musical leaders she asserts her own identity (influencing) and remains open to others (being influenced).

Although ECPs may feel that they are still in a learner’s position, consider the following question, "How can I be influential to those around me when I’m still in training?” Asking the question of how you could be influential allows you to examine where you have been in your professional career and where you would like to go. And most importantly, who is coming with you. More specifically, reflecting on the unique aspects that you bring (or brought you) to the field of integrated care and how you can access and expand your network to influence the field accordingly is something that ECPs can do right now.

Building allegiance and support among current leaders can help you, the ECP, to lead from behind. One can achieve this by presenting ideas to those you look up to as current leaders in the field and join collaboratively, whether it be for a paper, a presentation, or interviewing the individual(s) for a class project.

Another approach to early career leadership is lifting others in your cohort. To riff off the many versions of Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young by Mary Schmich (see here), your colleagues, like siblings, are "the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.” Lifting others in your cohort and staying connected to others who you’ve met through networking is an invaluable relationship. Similar to you approaching current leaders in your field, presenting your ideas to colleagues is invariably impacting others. As a result, you build your network and display your ideas to others so that you can continue to lead from behind.

Leadership from behind for ECPs may appear as a pro-active approach to an unfortunate reality. However, as ECPs, we have an obligation to influence and be influenced. As systemic thinkers, we know the value of moving away from a linear approach (e.g., people are depressed because of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain) to a systems approach (e.g., psychosocial factors play a part in depression). As such, we should move away from the top-down approach (e.g., implementing what our leaders have shown us) to a cyclical approach (e.g., presenting our ideas to colleagues/leaders and in turn, have them be influenced by us).

We hope this post will spark conversation about how ECPs "lead from behind” and (if any mid- to late-career people stuck it out) how mentors have witnessed ECPs "leading from behind.”

Here are questions to consider:

1. What are limitations faced by ECPs seeking leadership opportunities?

2. What can be done to overcome these obstacles?

3. Who are your role models in early career leadership?

4. What are other leadership styles you have seen to be effective for ECPs?

5. Does a feminist perspective support or discourage "leading from behind”?,

Laura Sudano

Laura Sudano is a Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech and works as a Medical Family Therapy fellow within the Family Medicine residency at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, CO. She currently serves on the Denver 2013 CFHA conference planning committee and is the co-chair for CFHA's Social & Networking Committee.
Randall Reitz
Randall Reitz should not have contributed to or read this blog.  The possibility that he still considers himself an early career professional is delusional, laughable, and probably creepy.

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Comments on this post...

Kelly Valdivia says...
Posted Monday, June 3, 2013
I really enjoyed this blog. I was interested to see how Beyonce would be connected to ECPs and also found myself wondering what song she and Justin Timberlake did together that I missed ?

As a predoctoral intern approaching postdoc year this coming fall I think my biggest barrier to leading from behind is intimidation. The concept of imposter syndrome comes to mind. I find it ironic that, as a current intern who has five supervisors (offering wonderful feedback and challenges to my clinical work), has started studying for the EPPP (reviewing my academic knowledge); and, attends didactics twice/month on the latest evidence-based treatments for a variety of disorders; I often think “Who am I to lead anyone?”

I often joke with my supervisors about feeling like a sponge because I am constantly taking in so much information. I would like to get to a point where I can still be receiving information and at the same time offering new perspectives while dabbling in a leadership role. Perhaps when I am fully licensed the imposter syndrome will lessen in intensity. Time will only tell.
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Laura Sudano says...
Posted Monday, June 3, 2013
Thanks for the feedback! Beyonce and Justin did a remix to the "End of Time." On a hike over the weekend with our mutual friend, Tiffany Ruffin, we discussed your comment and how others identify with what you said. We thought of a way to nail down how these feelings could be addressed or confronted. With a little help of Alex Honnold, she will be discussing our points further in a following comment.
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Peter Y. Fifield says...
Posted Monday, June 3, 2013
Responding to Q#4 above...Wow, this is a great topic. Medicine in general has gone through many iterations of leadership styles Transactional styles were deployed for decades and still are in certain medical situations (such as the ER). Other styles such as Situational Leadership, Servant Leadership and Adaptive Leadership styles have been taught in manifold medical professions including physicians and RNs, Sheilds offers an approach (education field) called, Transformative Leadership (not to be confused with Buns' Transformational Leadership). Transformative leadership is a leadership style that focuses on true social justice. Fundamentally it is a critical approach to leadership that goes well beyond the tenets of most current leadership theories to focus on social transformation as the basis for both individual and collective achievement. This approach may offer some great insights into moving forward with social justice in mind relative to the third wave of medical care. Also there has been increasing amounts of research focus on the use of Complexity Science and Chaos Theory in making sense of medicine in its delivery, management, research and leadership. --great series!
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