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Cosmetic surgeons learn leadership skills best by observation, survey shows

Article-Cosmetic surgeons learn leadership skills best by observation, survey shows

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  • One leader suggest: the qualities of a good mentor include openness, patience and innovation.

Whether it's reading a biography or memoir, posting motivational quotes around the office, or learning through a mentorship, a nonscientific survey of cosmetic surgeons shows that they often look to the lives of others to develop their own leadership skills.


"My favorite book about leadership is a book that's not typically about leadership, but one that I found to be incredibly helpful," says Steven Dayan, MD, FACS, of Advanced Facial Plastic and Laser Surgery in Chicago. "It's a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin on President Lincoln called Team of Rivals. I took a lot out of this book by reading between the lines about what a fantastic leader he was — how many situations he had to overcome in order to prove his leadership." Dr. Dayan says some of the leadership skills Lincoln had that he tries to use in practice include the ability to build a team, delegate and seek out criticism.

"You should always ask, what could you do different? What could you do better? And don't be defensive about it," he advises. "Along with that, you have to temper your ego because your ego doesn't want to have to take that criticism, but you have to. You can't get ahead or you can't get better until you understand what you're doing to not make people happy."

Once a year, Dr. Dayan asks his office staff for anonymous feedback with ways he can make their jobs and lives easier. Every year, he says, it results in changes in office operations that ultimately lead to happier and more productive employees.


Citing the memoirs of Albert Einstein as his favorite, Steven Cohen, M.D., F.A.C.S., plastic surgeon with Faces Plus in San Diego, also looks to the lives of others to learn more about leadership, though he says he believes leadership goes beyond the traditional business definition.

"I think of leadership more in terms of innovation and journeying into areas that have unmet and unfulfilled needs, and have a huge possibility for patients and within the cosmetic arena," he says. "Leadership in cosmetic surgery shows up in terms of new devices and innovations, making sure that these are not purely marketing ploys, but are really going to be useful techniques and useful devices to bring the best care to our patients and the safest care."

He cautions, however, that the lives of leaders through time have often shown they can be misunderstood. For proof he cites one of his favorite Einstein quotes: "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds."

For those who don't like to read typically dry business books on leadership, quotes often serve as a way apply wisdom to every day work and pass it on to residents and fellows.


William Kuzon, M.D., Ph.D., section head of Plastic Surgery and director of the Integrated Plastic Surgery Residency Program at the University of Michigan, admittedly has never read a book on leadership and "never plans to."

"Personally, I think leadership is about being self-aware and knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing what you can do, and what you need to let other people do," Dr. Kuzon says. "It's about giving other people space, and it's about not caring much about the merit badges."

He does, however, see an analogy between cosmetic surgeons, who value excellence, and sports, and loves this quote from Penn State football coach Joe Paterno:

"There are many people, particularly in sports, who think that success and excellence are the same thing, and they are not the same thing."

"Excellence is something that is lasting and dependable and largely within a person's control. In contrast, success is perishable and is often outside our control..."

"If you strive for excellence, you will probably be successful eventually... People who put excellence in first place have the patience to end up with success. An additional burden for the victim of the success mentality is that he/she is threatened by success of others and resents real excellence. In contrast, the person fascinated by quality is excited when he/she sees it in others."

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