Characteristics of good mentors. (Career Management).
Associate Clinical Professor
Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention
Harvard Medical School
* Characteristics of Good Mentors
* Role Models
Physician executives who have advanced in their careers have had people who helped them. Six successful physician executives were interviewed about how mentors encouraged, taught, and helped them grow. Most agreed the term role model was more comfortable to them than the word mentor and that they only recognized these people as mentors when they looked back on their career paths--not at the time the interactions were happening. Sometimes they were role models and sometimes they were just the right person with the right information at the right time. Most were located in the person's city and organization and seen daily, but some were in another part of the country and seen on occasional visits but regularly talked to each other on the phone. Generally they were friends who created safe environments for learning, were protectors, gave specific feedback, viewed problems from a different angle, and stretched the thinking of those who sought their advice.
In the last issue I discussed how to be viewed as a sage in your elder years by being a mentor and passing on your knowledge to others. This time, I asked six physician executives who have advanced significantly in their careers to tell me about their mentors--how they encouraged, taught, and helped them grow. Most agreed the term role model was more comfortable to them than the word mentor and that they only recognized these people as mentors when they looked back on their career paths-not at the time the Interactions were happening.
The book From Age-ing to Sage-ing describes the characteristics of a good mentor and the following accounts give examples of these traits: "In the presence of a wise elder, we can talk about our failures and shortcomings, our indiscretions and foibles, without feeling judged or shamed... .when we speak with confusion and self-reproach, the mentor nods with understanding and says, 'It's all right, you made an error but you can start again. And maybe it really wasn't a mistake but an opportunity for deep learning. I did the same thing earlier in life. It's not easy to acquire wisdom, but it's possible and eminently worthwhile. Just keep on in your journey.'" (1)
My first mentor-type person, although I would never have called him that, was my junior resident when I was an intern. He was the "rope show-er"--the one who tells you where the bathrooms are and how you do the routine stuff so you can get to the skill learning.
I didn't have another mentor until I had my first management job. He was a surgeon who taught me, protected me--said this is the person to talk to, that's what you want to watch out for, you have to get this grant request in now, here are the hazards you can run into, make sure the chief does this and the head of nursing does that--they all think that they are the most important person. He laughed a little as I learned the management ropes, reinforced one or two lessons. He said, "Be in control of your own data. Know where the money comes from for the things you are in charge of. Don't let me or the hospital administration tell you where the money is coming from. You track it." I would never have labeled him as a mentor, and he would never have labeled himself that way. He was a role model. I think he liked me because I was interested in what I later learned was management stuff.
Charles W. Mercer, MD, FACPE
Executive Vice Chancellor
University of Tennessee Medical Center
I went into practice with a couple of older physicians who had a value system that I admired. When I had a problem or something I didn't understand, I would go talk to one of them about it, They led me along, asked me questions, sort of adopted me and became my protectors. My spouse has also been a mentor by helping me get outside the box. She can ask questions that help me view things differently. She will say, "Come over here and look at it like a patient, a consumer.
Jermiah H. Holleman, MD
Charlotte, North Carolina
Two people come to mind as mentors--one was my chief surgery resident. He was first someone you could admire because he was technically proficient. He was the kind of person you would want help from. He was relatively nonjudgmental, but when he did judge he was very specific about it. He was very accessible In terms of providing feedback.
The other Is the medical director of my clinic. Technically he reports to me, but we provide each other with advice. I'm probably better at driving issues to closure, but he is a master at running meetings. He is an excellent facilitator. When I became president five years ago, practically every meeting that we both went to, I would ask him. 'What did you think about the meeting?" We are close enough that we can be very candid with each other. He would say, "So and so had something to add, and the way you were running the meeting they didn't get a chance to have their views expressed."
Robert B. Klint, MD, MHA, FACPE
President and Chief Executive Officer
SwedishAmerican Health System
Mentors in my life have been time and place specific. My life mentor was my father, in terms of establishing values. Then there was a medical mentor in training. He was a pediatric gastroenterologist and was the icon of what a doctor should be--smart, available, responsive. He wasn't so much of a personal guide but was a role model.
As my career changed into management, my predecessor at Swedish was one of those teachers and guides. Roger Schenke has been one for over 20 years. Now I am moving more toward a search for a life guide and mentor. I'm moving into a different sphere and wanting a different kind of guide.
If there is an overriding theme tying these role models together, it is that they were constantly there without question. Whatever you did, they were able to teach in a critical and safe space. They helped you look good. There was a personal affection. It wasn't just somebody who was a grand teacher. There was a personal, emotional, soul-based connection with these people--a great deal of trust that took several years to develop.
Mentors are not sources of facts, knowledge, data, what to do. They are something broader than that--it gets into the how and why. It's more about asking questions, guiding, learning how to make decisions, how to choose rather than what to choose. Maybe that's what makes the relationship so special.
Dale S. Benson, MD, CPE, FACPE
HealthNet Community Health
Centers/Clarian Health Partners
The designation mentor seems to be retrospective instead of prospective. We later conclude that that person has been a mentor. While it was happening, it didn't occur to me that this person was a mentor. Three that come to my mind were all bosses. The first was my first boss who hired me in 1969. He is currently CEO of Mercy Hospital in Chicago. I didn't have the American College of Physician Executives then to teach me how to be a physician executive. In the first two weeks in my new job, I fired two of the four people on my staff. It turned out you can't really do it that way. I thought I could just walk up to someone and say you're fired. So he taught me a lot of human resources kinds of things--how to interact and deal with employees and project management--how to put projects together and make them work, but mostly he taught me about how to work the political environment in the hospital.
The next mentor was my second boss who was a physician. He became a mentor in the field of quality when I became interested in that. He was the kind of person that any time I'd walk in his office and tell him what I was thinking about, he was another step ahead of me. He would say, "Have you thought about this?" He was constantly challenging and moving the frontier forward, constantly trying to get me out of the box in the way that I was thinking.
The third was the Director of Ambulatory Accreditation of the Joint Commission. I did surveys for the Joint Commission for 12 years. She taught me to look at ambulatory care and primary care from the big picture perspective because I was down in my little clinics just trying to get through the day. The most important thing she did as a mentor was affirm me. She gave me confidence that I could talk to people at the national level. That was very important to me. I came from being a physician running some little clinics in Indianapolis to really thinking I had ideas that I could interchange with others at the national level. She would say, "You're doing the same things with people who just happen to be from another state." She was not in my city but was in Chicago. I saw her fairly often at the joint commission training sessions and the programs I helped her teach, but also we had frequent phone conversations.
Robert H. Chapman, MD, PhD, MS
CEO/Chairman of the Board
Watson Clinic, LLP
My mentor was the former CEO of our organization before I took over as CEO last May. Watson Clinic has had only four CEOs in the last 50 years of its existence, so it's been an extraordinarily stable position. I spent five years with him as a medical director. I came in eight years ago with virtually no experience to a major organization that had 150 physicians. He was a practicing orthopedist as well as CEO. No matter how many patients were waiting or how many charts were stacked up, he always had time for me. Sometimes I had to sit tall to see him.
A mentor who is totally accepting is someone who sets up a safe environment. When I was medical director I would go to negotiation meetings in the community (economic development council meetings, chamber of commerce meetings). I didn't have a clue what was going on, didn't even belong there, but I was invited to go as a learning experience and for political reasons, so people in the medical and business community could get to know me. I could get exposure in a safe environment where later I would be required to take a more decisive role. I had a lot of room to make mistakes. Mentors can make judgments about you. but It has to be basically an accepting environment. It was immensely helpful to me, not so much for understanding the nuts and bolts of managed care or finance or accounting, but It gave me room to grow.
The person seeking a mentor has to be dedicated and has to be someone that the mentor thinks has potential. It's easier for the mentor to adopt a mentee. It's harder to seek out a mentor because you will be Imposing on his or her time. The mentor almost always has to make the choice of being willing to give the time.
Physician executives who have advanced in their careers have had people who helped them. Sometimes they were called mentors or role models and sometimes they were just the right person with the right information at the right time. Most were located in the person's city and organization and seen daily, but some were in another part of the country and seen on occasional visits but regularly talked to each other on the phone. Generally they were friends who created safe environments for learning, were protectors, gave specific feedback, viewed problems from a different angle, and stretched the thinking of those who sought their advice.
(1.) Schachter-Shaloml, Zalman and Ronald S. Miller. From Age-ing to Sageing, New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1997.
RELATED ARTICLE: Opportunities for Mentoring Relationships
It is a goal of the American College of Physician Executives to foster mentoring relationships by providing opportunities for them to begin. When the chemistry is right, many of them develop into significant long-term relationships that are satisfying to both people involved. There will be six networking events that provide an opportunity to meet people at the Spring Institute in Las Vegas this May CyberForums--online discussions of various topics--are a way to start talking to other physician executives on the Internet. Members can call the ACPE's new Physician Executive Advisory Service and ask to speak to an experienced physician executive on a number of topics. These options could lead to mentoring relationships.
Barbara J. Linney, MA, is the Director of Career Development at the American College of Physician Executives in Tampa, Florida, and a member of its faculty She can be reached by calling 800/562-8088 or via email at email@example.com.
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|Title Annotation:||based on mentoring experiences of six successful physician executives|
|Author:||Linney, Barbara J.|
|Date:||May 1, 1999|
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