The Anatomy of Leadership

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, our entire society is trying to find its “new normal.” Not an easy task… For the first time, in our lives, most of us have been asked to tip the very essence of our work structure on its ear. A month ago, you were told you had to come into work, even if you were about to cough up a lung. Now, people are trying desperately to hide their sniffles from allergy season for fear of being trundled off to their local employee health department. Front line healthcare employees are reeling from the huge expectations thrown upon them. And management– well… Some managers are right there on the front line. Some are perhaps less visible these days.

In my last post, I referenced the elephant in the room– What makes a leader a Leader? Is it that high visibility that has now possibly vanished? Is it the constant stream of communication in some new virtual format? Or is it the person who steps up because nobody else is around to take action? Why is it that some people have the ability to inspire others? And are these the same people who have matching titles of authority?

There are many, many, many people out there on the interwebs publishing about exactly this. In fact, you can sign up to take courses in leadership, leadership analysis, leadership coaching, leadership basket-weaving… You name it, you got it. In fact, just by posted about the word “leadership”, I suspect that my social media ad feed will be inundated with self-help classes [with the upsell for one-on-one coaching, no doubt]. I don’t claim to be a leadership expert here. I just know what I see and what I hear. But what I do perceive are some consistent patterns. And as any good surgeon would do, identifying and quantifying the patterns would be the first step in coming up with a solution.

So the first major question that I would ask is: “What does a Leader do?” Seems simple enough, right? Leaders lead. But what exactly is leading? Leading to what? Or away from what? And how does this get done? Are there some overarching patterns that emerge time and time again whenever you look at a leadership situation? And if you expect to lead a team, what are the rules of this game? Is your boss still your boss at the company picnic? How about out on the hiking trails at your local park on a Sunday morning when you run into her? How far does this construct extend?


I would like to propose a very simple diagram to explain this. Let’s call it a Leadership Map. The Leadership Map is just a flow chart that breaks things down to their simplest parts. If you are the Leader, what function do you serve? Well, it would seem logical that you are trying to achieve a specific goal for your organization.

Hmm, that middle step seems a little vague. Obviously, there are steps to getting things done. Every big goal is often made up of a series of smaller goals that will cumulatively get you to where you need to be. If you want to lose twenty pounds, where do you start? You start by losing one pound. And you do it again. And again. Eventually, you’ll get to where you need to be… but not overnight.

So let’s add a few blocks to this diagram…

Let’s unpack that mysterious phrase sitting in the middle of that flowchart. What sort of “things” do you need to get to your goal? In the broadest sense, you could look at this as internal functions and external functions. An internal function is something you bring to the table– your knowledge, your talent, your experience, your resources, your network… These are what make you unique. This is why you are the leader! Ah, but the next question is the the kicker: Is this enough to get the job done? Usually, the answer is no. You need help. Even if you could do the entire job yourself, it is likely that you will need some extra pairs of hands to scale that kind of accomplishment. Also, you might know enough about a subject to be dangerous, but does that make you an expert? For example, I know enough to design and execute a blog site, but does that mean that I know how to build a cybersecurity vault to protect top secret information? Umm, no. I would need to farm that out to someone with more skill and more experience in that field than myself. Hopefully, as a Leader, I would be able to choose the right person to be on my team for that purpose. At the end of the day, however, we all probably need a little help along the way.

The anatomy of leadership can be extremely complex, but for the sake of discussion, I would suggest that we stay pretty basic. This Leadership Map is just a starting point. As any surgeon would tell you, knowing the anatomy is only half the battle. If you can’t figure out how things integrate with the rest of the system, you will probably get very good at your Morbidity & Mortality presentations [er, I think we politely call these “Quality Reviews” these days, but I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean!] From here, we’ll talk a little bit about what powers this flowchart– what qualities are needed to get from YOU to GOAL, in this case.


As I’m sure you can tell, I am no artiste, but I have made a PDF of the Leadership Map that you are welcome to download and share:

The Lonely Surgeon — The Leadership Map

In our next installment on Leadership, let’s take a closer look at how the leadership juices actually flow. Nothing is static. And as any surgeon will tell you at 2am on that nasty, infected OR case, patients don’t always read the textbook– knowing the anatomy is only the beginning.

Until then…


Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

3 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Leadership

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s