Applying “conscious leadership” to PA practice

By Verdale Benson, PA-C

Consciously or subconsciously, we all lead those around us — by our actions and our attitudes. Every action does indeed have a reaction that will eventually manifest.

Verdale Benson

While training to become a military officer, I became a student of “conscious leadership,” a fairly new concept that is taking hold in the senior leadership of many corporations and organizations.

I became “conscious” because I had volunteered to be a leader in the U.S. Army. I knew my job would entail making decisions that could seriously affect somebody’s life, and with that knowledge came an obligation and responsibility to become the best leader possible.

Now, as a practicing PA, I follow these same principles.

What is conscious leadership?

“Conscious leadership” is when an individual realizes his or her position of authority in a situation and purposely acts in a way to positively influence or lead others. Being unaware of how negativity affects those around us makes us unconscious leaders.

Becoming aware of this fact makes you a conscious leadership student as you intentionally apply this knowledge in your daily life to get better at it. The danger of being unaware is that you can become easily molded by negative leadership styles that you may then emulate. This makes you an unconscious leadership student.

I have learned that the most effective leadership is “servant leadership,” an idea closely tied to conscious leadership in that it embraces a responsibility to the interests of those you lead.

The subtitle of John C. Maxwell’s book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” is instructive: “Follow Them and People Will Follow You.” For Maxwell, following others simply means to lead with their best interests in mind.

Taking this idea to the extreme, Gerald Brooks writes, “When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself.”

Sooner or later, most of us find ourselves in leadership positions. The position can be professional, such as becoming a supervisor to the PAs in your practice, or personal, such as parenting your child to become a productive member of society. The problem is that most people up until that point have been unconscious leadership students.

Webster defines lead as “to go before or with to show the way.” So we are all shown how to lead by those who have shown us the way in our past.

As a conscious leadership student, I learned to divide the qualities of those who have led me into two categories: qualities I should use and those I should not. Some of my best lessons in leadership were actually from people who showed me how not to lead. Unconscious leadership students, throughout life, emulate the qualities they have been shown without realizing this division.

How I apply conscious leadership in my practice

As the first PA in my practice, it is my responsibility to lead through a positive example. This is not only for my benefit, but also for the profession’s.

A kind smile and a small effort to teach something could inspire that medical technician to pursue a future PA career. A bad attitude and a quick temper could just as easily dissuade that technician from ever wanting to learn the joys of our profession.

Similarly, approaching a patient with the mindset of servant leadership can influence a positive life change. I truly believe in this leadership style and have always applied it.

The opposite approach will easily turn a patient away from your advice.

By positively leading those around us, we serve as a model to be emulated. Those who look to us with aspirations to become PAs will start off learning the best way to deal with both colleagues and patients.

I have personally seen work environments change from hostile to pleasant and vice versa solely from a change in leadership. When a leader shows that his or her people are the top priority, that positive energy spreads through the whole organization.

And for those of us in medicine, this is especially important. That positive energy will eventually filter down to our reason for existing: the patient.

Verdale Benson, PA-C, is lead PA at Memorial Medical Center in the San Francisco Bay area.