Humility, A Boss’ Best Trait?

This past summer, my son did an externship in neurosurgery at a world famous medical institution. He was not very forthcoming on all his experiences while completing his externship. In fact, I heard very little.  But one day, after he completed this great opportunity for learning, I could sense he wanted to talk.

He began our conversation by telling me that his Grand Rounds presentation went well. But he said the best part was after he completed his presentation, the physician who my son reported to and worked with came up and thanked him.  My son said, Dr. O’s thank you meant a lot. The physician was the chief of the department and is world renown. As my son spoke, it was clear that something about this physician moved him. I wanted to know more, so I asked him, “What is it about Dr. O that you like?”

My son thought for a few moments, searching for the right words, and then said,  “Dr. O does not act like a big shot boss.” He was not afraid to help his nurses or other students and or even his patients with little things.” What exactly do you mean,” I asked. My son continued by saying, Dr. O would open a door if a nurse’s hands were full, or help a patient get up from their chair, or take extra time to explain to a student how a certain symptom led to a diagnosis. There were many times when we were in clinic that Dr. O was quiet while residents or junior faculty members were discussing a case. You could just sense that Dr. O knew more about what was going on and was in a better position to make a decision but he let the discussion play out.  But when Dr. O did speak, he did not lecture but rather asked questions that made all of us think. Not once did you get the feeling that Dr. O wanted to let you know how smart he was.  You could tell Dr. O’s first concern was for you to learn. Another thing was that Dr. O was always polite. Whenever someone did something for him, he always said thank you and if he wanted something done he said please. My son went on to say, “Dr. O is just humble.” You never got the feeling that Dr. O thought more of himself than he did of others.

I then asked, “Do you think his humility makes him a good boss as well as a doctor?” My son replied, “Yes, humility is a great trait to have.” When you are humble like Dr. O, I think it helps your patients to trust you. Dr. O’s humility put his patients at ease; they opened up to him and tried to tell him exactly how they felt and what their worries were. While they were speaking, Dr. O would look at them and just listen. And then before he would say anything about their prognosis, Dr. O would say, “I am here to help you.” So yes, humility is important for establishing a relationship built on trust. It gave Dr. O’s patients confidence in his ability as a doctor.

In finishing, my son said, “It is good for a boss to be humble.” When you are humble, the people who report to you know that you are there to help them and work with them. They respect you not because of what you say but more because of what you do, you serve them. The way Dr. O treated me encouraged me to do my best because I knew he cared and he wanted me to do well. Working with him was a great experience. I learned not just medicine, but how to be a good boss and do to the little things well.

Wouldn’t it be great, if someone said these things about you?

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