“The CEO is the link between the Inside that is 'the organization,' and the Outside of society, economy, technology, markets, and customers.”
— Peter Drucker, creator of modern management, The American CEO, Wall Street Journal, 2004
Sometimes I get asked just what do I do as a department chair (on my more frustrating days, I even ask myself this same question….). The quote above from Peter Drucker is one of my favorites since I think it describes one of the most important aspects of my job as a chair. In fact, I like this quote so much, I used it in my vision presentation when I was a candidate for chair more than 10 years ago, and it continues to resonate with me today. Like a CEO, running our department means being responsible for a big business: we generate at least $100 million dollars in clinical revenue through the clinical laboratory and professional billing; we have a multi-million dollar research enterprise, and we lead priceless educational programs that train the entire spectrum of laboratory professionals. .
Another famous CEO, A. G. Lafley of Proctor & Gamble, added to Peter Drucker's description, and I think this is also has a lot in common with my job as chair: “The CEO alone experiences the meaningful outside at an enterprise level and is responsible for understanding it, interpreting it, advocating for it, and presenting it so that the company can respond in a way that enables…growth.”
I therefore see my job as department chair chair/CEO as that connector to “the meaningful outside” – i.e, serving as the inside-outside link and the public face of the department so that we stay relevant and ahead of the curve. In his book “The Tipping Point” (Little Brown & Company, 2000), Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes the importance of connectors – people who serve as hubs — to driving change.
I spend a lot of time as a connector – in fact, one of the things that surprised me as a new department chair was how external focused the job really is. Through my participation in weekly Council of Chairs meetings, monthly Medical Staff Executive Committee meetings, and lots of other health system and university committees, I connect the department to the “outside” that includes other departments, units, and centers within UC Davis Health as well as to others on the UC Davis general campus. I've been connecting a lot with the general campus recently as a member of the advisory team discussing testing and other approaches for the fall campus re-opening. On a UC systemwide level, the UC pathology and lab medicine department chairs all regularly connect in a quarterly meeting, along with leaders from UC Health at the Office of the President in Oakland. I'm also a long-standing active member of several national organizations – College of American Pathologists, American Society of Clinical Pathology, American Society of Cytopathology, and Association of Pathology Chairs, just to name a few – and have served on committees and leadership roles for most of these, so that I connect the department to the national perspective and national trends in our specialty and in academic medicine. All of these are inspiring windows into the broader world outside our department and school, serve as a great source of ideas, and influence the strategies I use as chair to achieve our mutual vision of departmental growth and future success.
I'm therefore greatly looking forward to serving as President of the Association of Pathology Chairs (APC) for the next two years – my term has just begun. Serving as the President will make me an even better inside-outside link for the department. I hope to bring back even more great ideas, better anticipate what's happening in our field, and influence and shape the future of academic pathology, as well as the future of our department. You can check out my President's welcome to the APC's first virtual annual meeting at this link where I describe some of the interesting and challenging topics that the APC is addressing: https://www.dropbox.com/s/c2uoqppigzswo6p/APC_President%27sWelcome_LydiaHowellMD.mp4?dl=0.
But being a connector is not just the department chair's role – I believe that this is a role that everyone can and should take on – I was a connector long before I was a chair. Increasing our visibility by making connections helps other members of the health care team more fully appreciate the value of pathologists and laboratorians. Tumor boards, multi-disciplinary conferences, and health system or university committees are a great way to create connections, get feedback, gain new insights, develop new skills, grow ideas for new services or projects, and create that inside-outside link that enhances our reputation, in addition to enhancing one's own career. Getting involved and making connections provides a great opportunity to develop a reputation as a leader – and whether you realize it or not, everyone in health care is a leader in some way or other – it's not just the department chair. I count on – and appreciate — everyone serving as a connector, an influencer, a leader — you make me even more effective and all of us more successful.