Reimagining Pediatric Leadership Development: Metaphors Matter
July 13, 2020
This week, I have a big work project I need to complete. Previously I would have just started. I’m a relatively efficient person and like to check things off a To-Do list. But the wonderful thing about being Assistant Boss and being mid-career, is that I can pick and choose my tasks. This task is important and needs to be done well. I need to finish our Departmental Leadership Grid/Flow Visual that describes the current state of leadership development, and how we reimagine the leadership development process.
As a student of the History of Science in undergraduate, one of the first discussions we had in Sophomore Tutorial was in deconstructing metaphors in science and the power that lies behind certain metaphors. The classic one Historians of Science will use is the metaphors that scientists have used in describing the fertilization process. Previously it had been described with war and battle analogies. The sperm swimming tirelessly to reach the egg and piercing the different layers of the ovum. That language was often male-centric where the agency of the fertilization process was given to the sperm. Yet, if one looks at the science it can be described differently as the ovum secretes attracting agents and actually does have a process that selects out which sperm can reach it. The metaphors are more feminine and share the agency between the egg and sperm. Same process but completely different understanding and world view. The metaphors that scientists use have multiple cascading effects on society, and are in indeed also a reflection of the current cultural and political millieu that that science is being created.
This is a powerful fundamental understanding that sets apart those that critically look at knowledge and science, and those that passively accept something as truth. Sometimes I wonder if my Crimson University education was monetarily worth it as I still have student loans to pay off, but at these moments I am glad I was challenged and received a philosophically rigorous education. Was it worth 4x the price of a good public university? I don’t know and will never really know, because I have just my one life to live.
As I am thinking about this current work project on understanding the current flow of leadership development and reimagining leadership in our department, I understand that metaphors matter. I was helping my fellow Assistant Bosses edit another leadership document recently, and one of us was all over the place He was mixing metaphors left and right, and it drove me crazy. He was using sports analogies, phrasing that bring up images of war and business. The bulk of the document was already well written by our other Assitant Boss, and I went through a inserted just words and phrasing here and there and put in words that had to do with growth, gardening and planting. It seems simple, but the originator of the document is a gardener and I could hear the underlying tone of her writing already. We just needed to be more deliberate with the phrasing.
|Mentor Guide or How To
|Grow into their roles
|Create a safe place
|Propogate good models
|Journey within medicine
|Enrich both mentor and mentee
|Start good habits
|Establish good habits
Written and spoken words are powerful. I knew this when I was in speech and debate in high school, and when I was a student of the History of Science in college. I am not sure where and when I had forgotten. As I have written before, the medical training process can be brutal even for pediatricians. As I developed that outer shell of teflon during medical school and residency and even the first years within our organization, I think that is when I had forgotten the power of phrasing and metaphors. When you are just trying to survive and do not feel heard yourself, it’s hard to pay attention to those details.
But I am very fortunate now to be in the position I am in. I will work on the final leadership grip/flowchart with it’s accompanying document. For our Assistant Boss document I used Dr. Seuss’s “Thing One Thing Two Thing Three” to talk about interchangeability of my leadership position. For our Mentor Guide I inserted gardening/growth language. And for our Leadership Flow Document, I would like to use the prairie grasslands and rivers. These environmental metaphors reflect a more inclusive and sustainable leadership dream.
Rewilding rivers can be a metaphor for leadership development. Rivers like those in Yosemite when they are allowed to be wild, actually change the earth around them. When we alter a River’s course, they essentailly die. Rivers have to be allowed to remain free to flow, and carve the path that they are meant to flow for them to be able to play their vital role in our ecosystems. I think leadership paths are very similar. Sometimes we try to force individuals into one path or the other, one commitee or the other. But we have to offer them multiple natural paths to leadership and their own professional development. A river that is dammed or it’s course redirected will die, as will the earth around it.
Another metaphor I find powerful is the grasslands metaphor. The Great Prairies of America have wild grasses native to that ecosystem. Those native grasses actually have roots that extent meters into the soil, and intertwine and anchor the soil. When those grasses are overgrazed or replaced by other crops or other activities, the intertwined roots are no longer there to anchor the earth. It is those roots that can absorb rainwater. And when those roots are no longer intertwined, there is flooding, dust storms, droughts, and ecological ruin. A department is not unlike the grasslands. The individuals plants are not really individual, but part of an intertwined root system. The stronger the ties are between physicians the more able we are to weather certain catatrophic events. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I think it is a challenge to our department not unlike a torrential rainstorm. We will be able to weather this storm together and absorb the waters and survive the winds, if our roots are intertwined.
And that is what we are trying to do with reimagining pediatric leadership development. We need to understand what is the current state of leadership development and reimagine what leadership development collectively. This task binds us all together. I am part of this department as well and my professional, financially and personal destiny intertwined with my colleagues.
It seems like a straight forward project to do, but I needed to wait until I was in the right mindest to do it. And I am now. This week I have the mental freedom to ponder and think, and I will tackle the Leadership Grid/Flow Document and accompanying text this week. Rivers and grasslands: these are the metaphors I have chosen to reimainge Pediatric Leadership Development. Metaphors matter.