Leave your pride, ego, and narcissism somewhere else. Reactions from those parts of you will reinforce your children’s most primitive fears. (Henry Cloud)
The above quote by the co-author of the Boundaries series was written in the context of parenting, but its message applies to all relationships. Like children, adults react negatively to pride, ego, and narcissistic behavior. Humility, on the other hand, creates powerful bonds between people and is good for the soul.
Although humility is a virtue worth nurturing, it can seem like a double-edged sword, especially for women in medicine. Although women now outnumber men in medical schools across the United States, Western medicine remains a male-dominated field. Despite the rising numbers of women in the active physician workforce, financial disparities persist, and women remain notably underrepresented in both organized medicine and academia. In this environment, expressing humility and vulnerability requires wisdom and discernment so we don’t get stepped on or become invisible. For female physicians in particular, it is prudent to walk in humble alertness.
It is important to note that humility is not naivety. Likewise, servant leadership is neither passivity nor weakness. Servant leadership does not mean we are doormats for others. It also does not mean we tolerate abuse. In fact, abuse must be confronted and addressed so it ends, as it is not only a moral wrong but also the antithesis of a culture of wellness. We can be humble servants with eyes wide open to the truth of our reality and with courage to speak up and act as necessary.
It is a fact that women who are assertive leaders are often perceived as aggressive. Likewise, women who are nurturing servant leaders can be perceived as weak. Male physicians can support women in medicine by being vigilant to discern these subtle dangers in perception in themselves and others. In this way, harmful attitudes and behaviors can be challenged in healthy ways and not perpetuated, as they impact the entire medical team and patient care.
For female physicians, it is vital to find a winning balance, and the fastest way to learn is by observing colleagues who do this well. If you find a woman in medicine who has mastered this balancing act, stay close to her and learn by watching what she says and what she does, how, and when. A strong woman with the confidence to practice medicine with courage while unafraid to be vulnerable and real with people is a gift.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn teaches “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” In medicine, we need all these virtues, and more!
As in our “bigger life,” humility bears good fruit in medicine. Genuine expressions of kindness flow naturally from the humble heart that’s been released from the bondage of ego. I experienced this firsthand during my journey as a patient, some of which I share in my latest book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine. Learning how to instill confidence with humility and remain professional while being vulnerable is, in fact, a building block to meaningful relationships that help us recapture the joyful practice of medicine.
Regardless of where we work and the job titles we carry, how we treat people matters. The confidence that derives from years of hard work and excellent training, when combined with kindness, humility, empathy, has the power to transform lives.
Connect: Do you have female role models in medicine who are humble and vulnerable while also displaying courageous assertiveness? Reach out to these women and learn from them; their wisdom is a treasure.
As you continue to grow as a leader, remember to be good to yourself!
* This is an excerpt adapted from my book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine: A Coaching Manual for Physicians to Live Well and Lead Effectively.