Oxford University Press, 2018
Reviewed by Johny Van Aerde, MD
In Professionalizing Leadership by Barbara Kellerman, who was a keynote speaker at the 2012 Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership, I found four messages:
Kellerman explores how medicine and law have evolved from occupations into professions over the last few centuries, now requiring extended periods of education, training, and development. She then examines why leadership is an occupation rather than a profession, and she finishes by offering suggestions for professionalizing leadership in the future and what can be done to bestow on leaders the dignity associated with professionals. Top
Markers that are associated with achieving professional status, as in medicine, include: extended education and training based on a generally accepted body of knowledge; required continued education and training; clear criteria for evaluation, certification, and recertification; clear (cultural) demarcation between those within the profession and those without; explicit commitment to the public interest and to a code of ethics; and professional organizations with the authority to monitor the status of the profession and the conduct of their members.
Unlike medicine and law, leadership has no body of knowledge, core curriculum, or essential skill set. It has no widely agreed-on metric, no clear criteria for qualification, and no professional body or association to guarantee minimum standards and oversee the conduct of its members. Therefore, today’s leaders don’t qualify as professionals.
Three essential verbs — educate, train, and develop — are critical components of leadership learning. Even though they are used interchangeably in the leadership industry, they are different. The education component is the acquisition of knowledge, knowing. The training element pertains to skills, the doing. Development, which comprises the previous two components, means life-long practice based on accumulating experiences, the experiential learning or being. Top
In medicine, education happens in real or virtual classrooms, training in the clinical settings of hospitals and practices, and development through life-long learning, years of experience, and continuing medical education, which are measured through recertification. To become a practising professional takes time, much longer than a day, a week, a month or even a year-long leadership program.
If we draw a parallel, what would each of those three verbs mean for leadership learning, and how can they help leadership transition from an occupation to a profession? These questions cannot be answered without seeing leadership as a complex system with at least three parts: leaders, followers, and contexts. Leadership programs have always been leader-centric, not dissimilar from the outdated physician-centred model. Just as the health care system has shifted from physician- to patient- to relationship-centred care, leadership must move away from focus on leaders and include followers. Leadership programs must not only focus on leaders, but also the followers who have different needs for knowledge, skills, and development, particularly as all of us are followers sometime or somewhere.
After reading Kellerman’s book, I see that the Canadian Certified Physician Executive credential is somewhat a reflection of what professional leadership for physician might look like, as it is based loosely on defined requirements for knowledge, skills, and development. I also wonder how the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders might become an organization that helps professionalize physician leadership and leadership development more generally.
This book is not for everybody, but for those who are interested and passionate about leadership and leadership development, this belongs on your book shelf.
Johny Van Aerde, MD, MA, PhD, FRCPC, is editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership and a former president of the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders.