I’ve been thinking about bad habits lately. Not because of my teenage children (although they are quick to remind me of such things), but because of some recommended reading from some colleagues. One recommendation was a blog by Robert J. Sternberg (Provost at Oklahoma State University) entitled simply “10 Bad Habits.” This post describes the problems that arise when academic professors move into administrative roles, bringing classroom habits that no longer serve in an administrative setting. The other is a book on succeeding in upper management by Marshall Goldsmith called, What Got You Here, Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful (Hyperion; 2007).
It is not my intention to make this a book or blog report, but I will emphasize that both the blog and the book hit similar themes that have been provocative and useful to me; namely, that some of our most useful reflexes for academic success in medicine don’t help us that much when we are taking on administrative roles or simply adjusting to changes in our health care environments. There are some habits that will require some attention as careers evolve and roles change.
Academic medicine is a career choice where many oncologists figured that their intrinsic value goes up over time based on the accumulation of experience and expertise. While this is potentially true, it is clearly conditional on one’s adaptation to the changing environment and finding a way to ensure one’s own value proposition over time while fulfilling the institutional mission.
Successful adaptation is a matter of finding the balance between the academic and administrative reflexes and knowing when to wear which hat. After all, most administrative positions in academic health centers are a hybrid, in which the person has administrative responsibilities but also retains key faculty dimensions. It is therefore important not to completely shake off those academic reflexes that have served us well. Here’s an example where academic reflexes are the best fit—the ASCO Annual Meeting. I hope that my colleagues will come to the Annual Meeting with their unabashed academic hats, fully engaging important scientific topics. This is a setting where some old habits don’t need to be kicked.