Director’s Corner: Summer Reading

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While enjoying some overdue down time, check out these books on leadership and personal growth.

It’s been a long time since most of us have had a real vacation and I don’t believe there’s any group more deserving than the emergency medicine community to chill on a beach, boat or a mountain with a book and a drink.


If you want to escape medicine while rejuvenating your mind and professional outlook, I have some reading recommendations for you.

It’s Your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

I had the honor of seeing Captain Abrashoff speak at a group meeting in January 2020 and found myself so inspired I not only took notes on his message, but started my “to do” list of ways to implement his management techniques for my ED.  I’ve since read the book twice.  The ED is not unlike a ship in the Navy—staffed with a diverse group of people, having a complex mission, functions independently yet is part of a larger fleet, requires communication and leadership, and still can let individuals impact the mission.


The author turned an underperforming ship into the “Best damned ship in the Navy” and he walks you through his methods that focus on leading by example, communication, building trust, not always following the rules and daily improvements. A major theme I walked away with was controlling what we can control.  As docs, we’ll get together to discuss flow and blame nurses, labs, radiology, etc. when we should be looking at ourselves first, finding actions that we can do better, thus controlling what we can actually control.

I’ve read a lot of books on leadership and management, and this is definitely one of my favorites.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman

The author describes two types of leaders.  Those who use their intelligence to “amplify the people around them” or those who think they’re smarter than everyone else and diminish the work of others.  Obviously, the thinking goes that your multipliers get more out of their team and this book helps you understand what it takes to increase your team’s success.  Wiseman describes “Multipliers” as talent magnets who get the most out of a diverse group of talent allowing individuals to thrive.


Whereas “Diminishers” are looking to build an empire that hoard resources and underutilize talent.  So much of our success as medical directors and ED administrators depends on the talent we develop.  Based on the author’s research, she makes the case that Multipliers double the results of a team while Diminishers reduce the results by 50%.  Think about that the next time you want to roll out a flow project.  Should the plan come from you alone or should it be developed by a team of your talented docs and nurses?

Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leaders Must Embrace by John C. Maxwell

Maxwell is a leadership expert and bestselling author so it’s hard to go wrong with anything he writes.  In this book, he points out the importance of being flexible, adaptable and nimble since our worlds are changing faster than ever.

Leaders need to be ahead of the curve and be ready to “shift” strategies.  Being an ED director has changed considerably in the last five and 10 years.  I know our roles, responsibilities and methods will also continue to evolve and be different five years from now. There are great lessons that will apply to you as an individual leader (how you think, learn and move forward) as well as focusing on your team.

Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim

This book was published in 2017 by the leadership at the Blue Ocean Institute at INSEAD, the international Business School in Fontainebleau, France. There is plenty of information out there about Blue Ocean Strategy, published by their partner, the Harvard Business Review. There are even Blue Ocean Leadership pieces in HBR, once one has familiarized oneself with the concept.

The basic idea of Blue Ocean strategy is to leave the red ocean, or shark filled waters of a traditional marketplace, behind and find and cultivate the unexplored new markets. My wife has used this thinking to successfully change government programs, so it is not only for obvious applications. See what, where and how your mind can move to make change for the better.

Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty

This podcaster, YouTuber and life coach spent three years living like a monk.  He split his day between personal growth and serving others.  Though he’s back in society (and has appeared with Ellen and Oprah), his first book is about reaching your potential by overcoming negative thoughts, reducing stress, and improving self-discipline and focus.

Shetty uses very practical and relatable story telling ranging from method actors to building resilience by overcoming mistakes to “Spot, stop, and swap” as methods to overcome negativity.  Shetty’s thoughts on finding your passion and improving your morning routine are pretty helpful. After all the chaos of the last 18 months, taking a bit of time to build resilience, decrease negativity and increase positivity may be what we all need this summer.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath

My wife regularly reminds me that I should be using more data analytics and artificial intelligence to predict events in the ED.  Rather than reacting to patient surges, I should be looking upstream to better predict and anticipate my issues.  Regardless of our profession, ED administrator, bedside physician or customer service manager, we generally find ourselves putting out the daily fires rather than focusing on the systems that cause the problems.  I often talk about the role of the ED chair is to steer the ship in the right direction.

Realistically, I’m often putting out fires on the ship and less able to focus on the direction.  If I could better anticipate the fires and reduce the frequency of them, I’d do a better job of moving the department forward.  Heath uses examples to help us think about ways to work upstream from our situation to avoid the downstream problems.

The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I. Sutton

This is a sequel to one of my favorite hiring guides, The No Asshole Rule, and is equally funny and even more useful. It acknowledges that not everyone can live by his first rule, and then what? He also goes through his whole history of being a legitimate Stanford University Business School professor, but has become famous for this…and has basically given in to it. Thank goodness, as we can all use the help- as leaders and otherwise.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

If you really want to turn some heads on the beach this summer, pull this book out as you sit near the water.  My wife and I each read this book a couple of summers ago and got some funny looks. Certainly, the title attracts attention, and I was curious because of the use of a curse word in the title, even if I know it’s for dramatic effect.  The author questions the idea that being positive is the secret to a rich and happy life.  Sometimes, you just have to let things go. One of the goals of this book is to teach the reader that life isn’t perfect, and we can’t control everything.

Once we realize that, we have to come to grips with things that shouldn’t matter as much as we worry about them. This book is not for everyone, but for people who are pretty high strung. It may help offer some perspective about issues that aren’t worth the stress and the time involved.  Some reviewers will call it misogynistic and sexist, but since my wife read it first and referred it to me, and because it is an easy read that will generate conversation among your vacation crowd, it’s on the list.


What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

A classic, easy to read leadership book that I have mentioned before. It’s a great book that gives us 20 traits that top leaders need to kick to be the best leaders: and they got to where they are not because of these less than charming foibles, but in spite of them.

I bring it up again because my wife pointed out that she reads it almost every year and cringes as she notes not only all the traits she still has, but those that creep back in like unwanted clutter she took the time to clean out in years gone by. It’s an ongoing battle, so it’s worth a reminder.

Director’s Corner: Lessons in Emergency Medicine Leadership and Management by Mike Silverman

Yes, you may recognize the name.  My book has been around since 2014, but there are a lot of docs new to administration that may benefit from the easy-to-read chapters that focus on individual issues we all face.

The book is divided into five sections and provides specific lessons around leadership, management, HR issues, operations and professional growth. Whether it’s coaching to improve productivity, interacting with the C-suite, or managing a potentially impaired physician, there’s likely a solution to the problem you’re facing.



EXECUTIVE EDITOR Dr. Silverman is Chair of Emergency Medicine at VHC Health. He also taught a leadership development course for over a decade. Dr. Silverman’s practical wisdom is available in an easy-to-use reference guide, available on Amazon. Follow on Twitter @drmikesilverman

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