In February 2020, just prior to the full-blown pandemic, the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) began a comprehensive leadership program to accelerate the growth of vascular surgeon leaders. Before this time, SVS members had created education around the topic of leadership; however, these efforts were intermittent and tracking long-term measurable outcomes was absent. Therefore, the organization created a formal leadership program with the goals of identifying and engaging current and future SVS leaders, strengthening their leadership skills and creating opportunities for the graduates to apply these skills to further the SVS and the specialty of vascular surgery. To date, SVS has trained 51 vascular surgeons and just selected its third cohort of an additional 24 participants. All participants are 5–10 years post-completion of training and, through a rigorous application process, have shown a sincere interest in developing their skill set around making a positive impact on the specialty, their workplace, their societies and other important areas of their lives.
There are a lot of different resources, videos, books, courses and probably even TikTok videos out there about the topic of leadership; however, the SVS decided to fully embrace the research and scientific approach outlined in “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Ken Slaw, PhD, executive director of SVS, is a primary force supporting the leadership program, and his mantra is, “People move the world, leadership moves people.” This mantra reinforces what research findings on leadership commonly state: “Hard science around the study of leadership consistently tells us to become effective and successful, you need to grow your gravitational pull (influence) on others. It requires mastery of a learnable set of behaviors and skills that become accelerators of your gravitational pull.”
With this in mind, Kouzes and Posner focus their approach on well-researched behaviors and five core practices of exemplary leadership
Model the Way
- Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared values.
- Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
Inspire a Shared Vision
- Envision the future by imaging exciting and ennobling possibilities.
- Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
Challenge the Process
- Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
- Experiment and take risks by consistently generating small wins and learning from experience.
Enable Others to Act
- Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
- Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competences.
Encourage the Heart
- Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
- Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
The SVS program was initially envisioned as a weekend in-person workshop; however, due to COVID, the live event was converted into a nine-month-long online blended learning activity. Participants undertake an initial 360 Leadership Practices Inventory Assessment, attend interactive webinars focused on the five core practice areas, and participate in independent study/homework, breakout discussion groups and mentoring sessions. Initially, there was some concern that cohort members would not maintain interest over such an expansive period of time; however, the exact opposite occurred. Participants have reported that stretching the program over multiple months meant that in between the webinars, they had time to apply the skills they learned and participate in the mentoring opportunities. Below are some quotes from the participants of the first two cohorts:
“The most important lesson I learned from this program is that leadership is more about letting go of control than taking control. By allowing the rest of the team members to flourish in their own roles, the entire team benefits.”
“The course helped give me a solid foundation to understand my interactions, and I began to observe myself and modify my actions and communications accordingly.”
“The most important takeaway for me has been the understanding that whether or not I am technically responsible for various aspects of an undertaking, in order to contribute as a leader, I must take ownership of being self-aware in seeking to understand the talents and motivations of those involved, working to inspire the heart with regard to dedication to common goals, and being open to frank feedback.”
Beginning with cohort 2 in 2021, SVS has now invested in a train-the-trainer model titled the “Mastery Grant Program.” Participants from the previous cohorts can apply to receive a grant for onward study and application of leadership skills. In return, the Mastery Grant recipients serve as mentors to the current cohort members, lead the breakout room discussions and work on ongoing research around the area of leadership. During the Vascular Annual Meeting this past August, SVS held a graduation celebration for the cohorts. Cohort members, the faculty, the Mastery Grant recipients and 30 past and present SVS leaders were asked to sit amongst medical students, residents, fellows and guests to celebrate the program. It may have been the year and a half of being apart, the balloons or champagne, but I can assure you that the energy in the room was like nothing I had seen before at an Annual Meeting. It was a true celebration of the program, the specialty and the community at large.
Image of the SVS Leadership Development Program Cohorts 1–3 alongside their mentors (August 2021).
As mentioned, there are a number of different educational models and resources to help in the creation and implementation of leadership skills training. Along the same lines, the Alliance is committed to supporting its members with education and resources around the topic of leadership. On Sept. 30, the Alliance is hosting a virtual afternoon conference, Spotlight on Leadership. Learn more about the sessions and register on the Alliance website.
Lisa F. Cohen, CHCP, is the director, education and professional development, for the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS). You can reach her via email at email@example.com. Visit the SVS website for more information about the program.