KARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore, of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for the Globe & Mail. Today I am delighted to be speaking with Thomas Hellwig, who is a professor of Leadership at INSEAD, one of the world’s top business schools.
Good afternoon, Thomas.
THOMAS HELLWIG: Good afternoon, Karl. Thanks for inviting me for this interview.
KM: So Thomas, you must be the only business professor in the world who is also a practicing ER doctor and, in fact, co-head of the ER department. We have all watched ER on television, what can managers learn from the ER physicians role?
TH: We all watched ER and, from some degree, I always heard from my friends, “Yes, there is the one heroic leader who calls the shots and who goes, with a lot of tenacity, against it.” But what sometimes doesn’t come across in these series that are hugely popular, is that there is also a huge team process going on. You do, and I think the more experienced ER physicians I came across, involve the team and they do step back. They might, on occasion, jump in and call the shots but they keep the overview. If you put it into a leadership concept then they are on the balcony, they look over what is going on on the dance floor - if it is being with a patient or, in my case because I am a pediatrician, talking to the parents or pure medical stuff in doing some kinds of specific things that nobody else can do. So you need to have an overview, you need to know when you need to jump in on the dance floor, and when you need to pull back and be on the balcony and watch everything. That is one thing that I would say is very important.
The second thing I would say is compassion. I think empathy and compassion in medicine is not something we learn at any point of our career. For some people, although we believe every doctor has that given at birth, it is a huge process to get to that. But I think, when I look at managers in my work and leadership, the one thing that people have difficulty learning but yet what sets the really great ones apart, is having empathy, having compassion, with the people they deal with – with the staff, the clients, or the patients in my case in the ER room, and knowing when to do that, not dying with every patient but having enough compassion and empathy to go with them.
KM: It strikes me that when you talk about positions that actually emotions are very much a part of what the physician deals with – particularly with the family. What is the role of emotions there?
TH: Emotions are important and initially, when I got into medicine first, I thought that the most experienced of my colleagues, the professor that I was looking up to, that they don’t show emotions and they are sort of almost like always objective and don’t show emotions. It took me a lot of time to understand the business side, if I can say that, that they do have emotions and on occasions they connect to that and they connect via these emotions to the patients. I think that’s also a story that managers and leaders can learn from. If you only want to put your emotions in a box and only get to your emotions when you get home and see your family then I think you are only half a person. We are not separate in private and professional self, I think it is pretty much together.
Here, again, the most senior and most experienced leaders that I work together with at INSEAD are the ones who are able to recognize their emotions and to use them in a powerful way to connect, not artificially, but authentically with people they deal with. And here, again, the staff they are managing but also like other stakeholders involved or clients.