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Learning to Lead by Following: Part 2

Throughout my time here at Michigan thus far, in addition to learning from the “leaders and best,” what has kept me afloat has been acknowledging the importance of finding experiences in what I personally value and am passionate about. Sure, there are plenty of people doing amazing things in the traditional leadership sense. These individuals are the ones I was envisioning in Part 1 of this post: those who are in a position of power, vocal, and actively seen by the community as leaders.

However, leadership comes in a variety of flavors. The concept of leadership has always captivated me; historically in the athletics realm, and more recently, I’ve enjoyed observing and exploring the various leadership styles in the medical community. One thing I’ve noticed is that leadership is about your attitude, not your position. For instance, there’s a type of leadership that is not as highlighted and coveted as the one most commonly accepted. It portrays a leader who is present, who shows up, who is dependable, who is a team player, who is invested in the cause of the matter and not the title it’s associated with. Still sounds like a leader, right? This form of leadership, known as followership, has become an increasingly popular and recognized type of leadership across many domains. Just as the connotation of “leadership” does not necessarily have to be one of authority and dominance, the implication behind being a “follower” should not be associated with being second-string, unexceptional or noncontributory.

We had a school-sponsored opportunity to try out Escape Room with M1s-M4s as a leadership learning and team-building experience. We successfully escaped together and almost broke the record!

Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times (the inspiration for this blog post) that calls for the need to encourage followership and emphasizes the importance of schools valuing their students’ purposes, passions and drives to create positive impact.

College and medical school have been crucial times for personal and professional growth for me as well as for my classmates. Rather than having us stress under the pressure to accumulate as many leadership roles as possible to boost our candidacy for our next level of training, Cain drives home the idea that the world doesn’t only need leaders, but it needs team players. It needs people who do well and who do good. It needs followers.

At a place like Michigan, I’ve learned that it’s okay to be a follower among my classmates. And, there does not have to be a differentiating line between being a leader and being a follower. However, there needs to be a growing emphasis and recognition of opportunities where leadership does not come in the form of being heard, seen or acknowledged, but instead felt by presence and by purpose. There is so much power behind following personal values and passions. Cain wrote that we need “leaders who are called to service rather than to status.” Fortunately, there are just as many of these sort of individuals at Michigan as there are traditional leaders, and many more who are a mosaic blend of the two. And still, the common quality across my medical school class? Driven students committed to training to provide the best patient care.

Thanks for reading, everyone. It’s time for me to return to the land of the “leaders and best,” both as a leader and a follower. I’ll leave you all with one of my favorite quotes by Viktor Frankl: “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”

 

Christine Wu is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan and plans to pursue a career in General Surgery. She is passionate about medical education, teamwork and leadership development, and college athletics. She can be followed on Twitter at @Christine_Wu18.

Learning to Lead by Following: Part 1

Attending medical school at an institution that prides itself on their “leaders and best,” I am constantly in awe of the incredible individuals with whom I share the Ann Arbor streets, serve on the same clinical team and eat with in the same hospital cafeteria. There is a variety of superstars who walk the hallways of the Michigan Medicine hospitals, whether they be renowned attendings, role model residents or fellow classmates with remarkable past lives that have led them to a place like Michigan.

My classmates and me, last year as new M3s, at an outdoor leadership day!

Being surrounded by the “leaders and best” every day, I have to admit that there have been many times when “imposter syndrome” creeps into my mind. And a few times when it full-on football-defensive-line tackles me, my whole body, my whole mind. Seeing and hearing about the amazing experiences my classmates are achieving and are a part of—whether it’s regarding academics, research, extracurriculars or other domains—there are times of feeling inadequate and thoughts of doubt if I could keep up with such superiority.

Growing up as a competitive athlete, I quickly learned that there will always be others who are bigger, stronger, quicker and better. After coming to medical school, and especially at a top institution such as Michigan, it was not surprising to find a similar experience. I am constantly impressed by the intelligence, integrity and talents of my classmates.

Yet, being in this position does not need to elicit feelings of mediocrity and inadequacy. Rather, why not take advantage of this opportunity of being around such superstars? Embrace the honor of being at the same place. Connect with them and pick their brains to hear their stories, their challenges, their lessons learned. Equip yourself with new insights and skills. Adapt and apply the energy and knowledge of others. Create relationships and build mentorships. That has been my way to embody the “leaders and best.”

One of the many activities that initiated conversations about leadership and teams.

When I first started medical school, research was certainly not a strong suit of mine. I was easily overshadowed by many of my classmates, who were research “gurus” in their past lives, boasting PhD or Master’s degrees, publications and years of experience. Rather than pout in my inferiority or fear that my competitiveness as a candidate for residency would not live up to that of my classmates, I chose to collaborate. I turned to these individuals and asked for guidance. I gained new insights when working together with various colleagues on different projects. I sought out opportunities to evolve this weakness into a strength, such as serving as an editor on the Michigan Journal of Medicine for peer-to-peer, hands-on learning from these experts.

I chose to collaborate. I made the decision to be one of the “leaders and best.”

 

 

 

 

Christine Wu is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan and plans to pursue a career in General Surgery. She is passionate about medical education, teamwork and leadership development, and college athletics. She can be followed on Twitter at @Christine_Wu18.