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News: Amal Mattu on Being a Successful Leader

Bufano, Paul

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000438439.89080.d1

When Amal Mattu, MD, became a residency director in 2002, he was optimistically under the impression that he wouldn't face any hitches. A month in, however, he received a phone call from a resident who was dropping out to become a full-time mom. Then two more residents left the program because it was too rigorous, and another suddenly became violently ill. She was intubated in the ED, and then sent to the ICU where she coded twice. She was pronounced dead three days later.



It wasn't exactly the best way to start a new position, but it did teach Dr. Mattu a thing or two about leadership. Well-known as a lecturer and for his work in emergency electrocardiography, Dr. Mattu acknowledged that most of his talks focus on how to save patient's lives. “But I think this is my most important lecture because it's about how to save your own life,” he told a packed room of emergency physicians in his lecture, “Everyday Leadership: Secrets from Great Minds through the Ages,” at the recent American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly in Seattle.

Leading is about nothing more than making other people's lives better, he said. “Being a leader means being someone that other people want to follow,” said Dr. Mattu, a professor of emergency medicine and the vice chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “People will follow you with their hearts if you can inspire them. I encourage you to change your idea of conflict and embrace it because obstacles shouldn't defeat you. Leaders can't be great without conflict because it's the conflict that determines a person's ability to lead.”

Dr. Mattu said some of the greatest leaders in history were revered because of the hardships they helped their people endure, not because of their titles. A positive outlook on life is also a key characteristic for any leader. Do you want to work with a Tigger or an Eeyore? he asked, referencing characters from Winnie-the-Pooh. Working with an optimistic person makes your shift better and infects everyone, Dr. Mattu said. “Don't be a cynic because while it's fun for a little bit, it will eventually bring everyone down. When you're in the ED and you're cursing everyone and slamming the phone down, the people around you are learning that it's appropriate.”

Instead, follow the style of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, about whom Adlai Stevenson said, “'She would rather light candles than curse the darkness' and that's just spot on,” Dr. Mattu said. “You should solve problems rather than identify them because people will love you for doing so.”

EPs also need to work on listening to what a patient is saying because it's just as important as knowing how to treat him, he said, adding that most EPs listen for only a few seconds before interrupting. “I once saw a patient demand a CT scan, and his physician immediately said no because there was no need for it,” he said. “He was distressed so I went over to talk to him, and in just a few minutes I found out that he wanted the procedure because his brother had a brain tumor. He wanted to make sure that he didn't have one, too, and I was able to calm him down by just listening for five minutes.”

Emergency physicians must also think about what it takes to be part of a team, especially when lives are on the line. The esteemed college basketball coach John Wooden had a rule that no player could have his name on a jersey or have his jersey retired because it took away from the team, Dr. Mattu said. “Everyone has had a shift that makes you want to quit, but how would you feel if the CEO came down and thanked you for all your hard work? You'd probably be excited for your next shift,” he said.

“We don't live in a Wooden world, but maybe we should try to be a little bit more like him anyway,” he said. “Who do you want to be remembered as in your ED, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan? Yes, Jordan was a better scorer, but Magic enabled other people to score. A leader will help people discover their own strengths because sometimes they don't know what they're capable of without a little push. I suggest that you share opportunities and light candles.”

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