Purpose: To gain a deeper understanding of the guiding core values that deans of academic medical centers (AMCs) considered most essential for their leadership and the major leadership challenges that confront them.
Method: In 2003–04, semistructured interviews of 18 deans at U.S. colleges of medicine or AMCs were organized around four dimensions: background, leadership challenges, organizational effectiveness, and systems enablers/restrainers for leadership. A values Q-sort was used to determine how widely core values were shared among deans and how the complex challenges they faced did or did not align with these values.
Results: Fourteen of the 18 (78%) deans identified financial difficulties as their most pressing leadership challenge, followed by weak institutional alignment (61%), staffing problems (33%), and poor morale (28%). Open, candid communication was reported as the most effective means of addressing these complex problems. Enacting espoused shared values and having a positive attitude were identified as the most important enablers of systemic leadership, whereas micromanagement and difficult people were the major restraints. Q-sort results on 38 positive leadership values indicated that participants considered integrity most essential. Integrity was positively correlated with humanistic values and negatively correlated with results. Vision, another highly espoused value, correlated strongly with performance-oriented values but correlated negatively with humanistic values.
Conclusions: A dynamic tension exists in AMCs between humanistic values and performance-based core values. The ability to manage that tension (i.e., when to prioritize one set of values over the other) is inherent in a dean's work.