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What Physicians Can Learn from History's Great Leaders


As physicians, we may not have been taught certain leadership skills during our training, but we can learn them. There have been some great historical examples of leaders that we can use today to help us grow into the kind of leaders that we need to be in order to affect positive change.

Practice Management, Career Development, Leadership

The healthcare system today is a rudderless system that fluctuates with the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. It goes from being patient-centered to being numbers-centered, and the pendulum never seems to find a middle ground. The key to making the changes that will allow medical practices to offer patients quality care, while maintaining sound business practices is with the physician leaders that are on the front lines. As physicians, we may not have been taught those leadership skills during our training, but we can learn them. There have been some great historical examples of leaders that we can use today to help us grow into the kind of leaders that we need to be in order to affect positive change.

Strong Examples of Leaders

I enjoy history because is a great place to look for strong examples of leaders who impacted the world around them. A few of the leaders that come to mind when thinking of true leaders are Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Abraham Lincoln led the country at a time when it was at a crossroads. His vision for a better America may have been defeated if the war outcome had been different. Despite opposition from all sides, he strived to unify America with freedom for everyone.

Albert Einstein is one of the most well-known scientific geniuses today, and yet for all of his intelligence, he struggled with school because he was often seen by his teachers to be daydreaming. He didn’t let this stop him from becoming the brightest mind of his generation, and showing others that you can continue to quest for knowledge.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born into a family that had money, and was taught from a young age that her fortunes should be used to help those that were less fortunate than her. She turned this upbringing into a passionate advocacy for the suffragette movement, child labor, and other similar political issues.

If you are looking for some excellent historical mentors, these are all wonderful examples that you could learn more about to see how they became the leaders that are remembered today.

Traits of World Class Leaders

There are quite a few things that could be argued that each of these examples have in common, but focusing on their character traits can offer up a guideline for what traits our leaders today should strive to exhibit in their daily behaviors.

Better Oneself

One trait that great leaders have is that they are always looking for opportunities to better themselves. They want to continue growing, learning, and looking inside of themselves no matter how much they’ve already done in this field. These are the people that take any hardships that come their way, and turn them into a learning experience. A great leader is someone that desires to have learning experiences in their life to continually up their game no longer how long they have been out of training.


The best leaders have a sense of purpose. This is what gets them up in the morning and guides their hand during the day. This is something that is important and relevant to their sense of self. The purpose that they have often has to do with larger and loftier goals than anything to do with only themselves, and is often something for the greater good whether that’s helping their community or organization. This is typically going to be something that helps them to serve others in life.


To go along with this huge sense of purpose that leaders have, they also have big dreams to go along with them. They have this vision of the future, and all the possibilities that the future can contain. Some may question whether or not these dreams are possible at all, but a top-notch leader is willing to let their idealism propel them towards that dream. Leaders will continue working towards making their dreams reality, and are optimistic that they can get the job done regardless of outside criticism.

Principles and Values

World-class leaders who are well-known for the amazing things that they have done not only have dreams and a drive to continue to learn, but they also have very strong principles and values. These types of leaders are not going to be willing to compromise their core values, and often, seek to work for an organization that has similar values and principles in common with them.

Willingness to Look Inward

All of the best leaders are also willing to look inward. Self-reflection is not always the easiest task to handle for most people, but being able to be honest about yourself is extremely important. Leaders are able to be honest, and going a step further, are able to take what they see within themselves that they can apply to improving their weaknesses and building upon their strengths.

This information not only provides us with a look back at the leaders of the past who helped to shape the world around them along with the common traits that they shared, but it also is a blueprint for what leadership should look like today. Learning from these leaders of the past can help physicians face the challenge of balancing patient care responsibility with the business of medicine.

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