September 10, 2016

Source: Bigstock

From time to time I receive invitations by e-mail to attend conferences on something called medical leadership. “€œDo you want to be a leader?”€ ask the invitations, to which the answer, in my case, is “€œNo.”€ I am too old for such an ambition, and in any case I have never had it. I always preferred to keep in mind a variation of Polonius”€™ admonition to Laertes, his son, to be neither a lender nor a borrower:

Neither a leader nor a follower be…

The latest conference on medical leadership has eighty speakers and lasts three days. The organizers seem to believe that the longer the conference and the larger the number of speakers on so patently dull a subject, the more impressive it is, no doubt in the way that a big box of chocolates impresses a greedy person more than a small one. All things considered, however, I”€™d rather stay at home and read the collected works of Kim Il Sung: to which, indeed, the conference bears a striking resemblance.

Here are the biographical details of one of the speakers, taken from the list at random:

D…is founding director of a management consulting firm. His extensive practitioner background includes working with senior leaders from multinational companies. He is the author of LFR’s award-winning article “€œTwelve paths from failure to success”€ (May, 2004) which has since consistently been named as one of LFR’s “€œTop 10 Must Reads”€ on Leadership. He recently co-authored and contributed to the large-scale LcN study on leader transformation and retention. His expertise is exploring leadership as a process of evolving “€œwisdom”€”€”enabling individuals to integrate discernment, courage, power and compassion.

And here are the details of another:

“€œThis is the mysticism of apparatchiks, the romanticism of bureaucrats, the poetry of clerks.”€

A…is Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute for Sustainable Business and Enterprise. She has been working to support leadership development with both individuals and groups up to Board level globally. She has a particular passion for a focus on positive psychology and diversity & inclusion in leadership.

In case this should be insufficiently enticing to prospective attendees, it was explained why they should attend the conference:

The event will develop a shared understanding of what good leadership is and how working together can benefit service delivery and patient care, consider how we can encourage greater involvement of healthcare professionals, service users, communities and the general public in shaping healthcare services that are fit for purpose, and network in a unique multi-professional healthcare leadership event embracing all levels and sectors.

After reading a few lines of such prose my mind goes fuzzy as if I were suffering from a hangover, or as if an almost physical shutter comes down in my brain, just as it does on reading a paragraph of Kim Il Sung. The prose destroys my capacity, even my will, to concentrate or fix my mind on anything. My remaining thoughts are fleeting and desultory: “€œCan anyone really have a passion for “€˜diversity and inclusion in leadership”€™?”€ or “€œWhat can the life of someone who does have such a passion be like?”€ I try to imagine it, but nothing comes to mind. Surely no human existence could be quite as empty or devoid of meaning as that.

Then I begin to wonder what Alexander the Great or Napoleon would have made of the conference on leadership. Would they have been able to reach “€œa shared understanding of what good leadership is”€? If Alexander had only been better able to integrate compassion into his discernment, courage, and power, would he have found new worlds to conquer? If Napoleon had learned about “€œleader transformation,”€ would he have crowned himself emperor earlier in his career than he did?

Who would pay good money for such a conference? The answer came to me in a flash: the taxpayer. He would not attend the conference himself, of course, but he would pay for employees to attend it who needed or desired a three-day break from their work in public hospital or as part of their mandatory “€œcontinuing professional development.”€ He would also pay the fees of the speakers, some of them flown in from distant lands.


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