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Dr. Wolf shares strategies for leadership success in urology


“The way to move the organization forward is to listen to learn, not to win,” says J. Stuart Wolf, Jr., MD, FACS.

In this interview, J. Stuart Wolf, Jr., MD, FACS, shares key takeaways from a session at the 2024 American Urological Association Annual Meeting titled, “Empowering Physician Leaders: Strategies for Inspiring Excellence and Achieving Success.” Wolf is the executive associate chair of the department of surgery and perioperative care at the University of Texas at Austin/Dell Medical School.

Video Transcript:

My name is Stuart Wolf. I'm with the Urology Group practice at UT of Austin and Ascension Medical Group Seton in Austin, Texas. Today, I'd like to speak with you a little bit about a really interesting leadership course that I've just participated in for the American Urological Association. In 2022, the AUA formed the Institute for Leadership and Business. We're really trying to help members with those sorts of skills. There's a variety of offerings, courses, written materials, podcasts, things like that. What they're doing this year is having a series of courses at the AUA Annual Meeting concurrent with the annual meeting, and I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in the first course on Thursday, May 2. The title of the overall course was Empowering Physician Leadership. There were 8 invited faculty and then 2 moderators. We all spoke about a number of different things. We were all assigned different topics about leadership. It was really interesting how 3 very definite themes came out among all the talks.

The first one is that as a leader, it's really important to have a vision. You need to be able to carefully articulate and thoroughly articulate a meaningful vision that's impactful to the people you work with. The why–get to the why. Why are you doing what you're doing? That's really core is to have a vision. Now, what strategies to get that vision?

Again, a common theme across many of the talks was collaboration and teamwork. We're all here in urology. We all went to medical school; we made it through urology residency. We're all pretty talented. But we can't do things alone. At the organizational level, you require teamwork and collaboration. An example that I gave was the 1990s NBA dynasty, Chicago Bulls. Two 3 peats, 6 championships; Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is the GOAT. Sorry, LeBron, but that's what I think. But they won not because of him, but because of the teamwork. That's what got them there. So, teamwork and collaboration are always going to get you where you're going.

Then the final theme that was very common is many of the speakers mentioned active, careful listening. That is a key skill for a leader is to listen well. For those of you who are fans of Ted Lasso on Apple TV, there's a scene from I believe it's the first season where he's playing darts. And he quotes Walt Whitman at one point. He says, "Be curious, not judgmental." That's a great lead in to how to listen well. Be curious. Be humble. When you're speaking with someone–whether it be a meeting or with someone in the hallway, or a nurse or a patient, whatever–when you're speaking, be truly curious about what they're saying, really engage with them. Another way to say this is listen to learn, not to win. Let's think about it, ya'll. How often are we sitting in a meeting, we may be disagreeing with the person across the table from us, and we're thinking about "okay, he or she is saying this, and I'm ging to poke a hole in that. When I speak up, I'll be able to get this point in." No. That's not the way to move the organization forward. The way to move the organization forward is to listen to learn, not to win. Active listening takes, there's few tricks to it, frankly, and it's not that hard. Eye contact, close eye contact with the person. Some facial expressions that indicate that you're listening to them, that you're focusing on them. Asking thoughtful questions. If you're in a situation where you can sit down, do so. That indicates comfort with the patient, or with the person. Speaking of patients, we always know that's the case with a patient, right? You go around to the inpatient wards, you want to have good conversation, you sit down next to the bed. You don't just stand there. Well, it's the same thing with other leaders. Sit down, talk to them. Break bread. Get physically close. I personally like to even touch people sometimes, when it's appropriate, of course. But I think physical contact helps.

So anyway, I just thought it'd be really interesting to go over those 3 themes from the leadership meeting: Vision, collaboration/teamwork, and listening well. Thank you very much.

This transcription has been edited for clarity.

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