This fall, Dr. Grossman shared his insights on life and leadership as part of NYU School of Medicine’s Leaders & Teams lecture series for first-year medical students. Here, a few highlights.
I’m a fan of the underdog. My early years were quite difficult. My mother was an illegal immigrant. My father and his family were from a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. I grew up sharing a room with my uncle in a four-story walkup in the Bronx. Money was tight, so I started working when I was seven years old. I babysat, delivered papers, stocked shelves, washed dishes, scraped paint—I was always working.
You are what your experiences are. For me, what I’ve experienced has made me a more sensitive person, because I know what it means to come from difficult circumstances. I don’t use that as an excuse. Rather, I try to use it in a positive way—to understand the needs of others and help people fulfill their aspirations. It’s also given me much thicker skin, because when you’re contending with significant issues, it doesn’t really matter when somebody says something stupid to you.
Leadership requires emotional intelligence. If you can’t understand the needs and aspirations of others—if it’s just about you—you will never lead successfully.
Be authentic. Know who you are, and be proud of who you are. Know your strengths and weaknesses. People have good B.S. detectors. When you’re pretending, people can tell, and ultimately that will have a negative impact on how they perceive you as a leader.
Don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Effective leaders lead from the front, not from behind.
And healthcare needs more effective leaders. If you look at successful businesses, they invest heavily in leadership training. That hasn’t been the case in medicine. Historically, leadership rarely gets discussed. We’ve never actively trained leaders. But that’s changing, and now there are tremendous opportunities for physicians aspiring to leadership roles. Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing segments of the United States economy.
A successful business is agile and accountable. In 2001, when I became chair of Radiology, our institution was well run and it had greatness. But some of the facilities were suboptimal, and the culture was somewhat depressed. One day I was sitting in my office thinking, “Oh, I’m chair of Radiology, this is a big deal,” when a pipe burst in the wall. All of the plaster came down. The office was a mess, and I was trying to recruit people. They would walk in and say, “Hey, what’s all this about?” I called the appropriate people, and nothing happened. It took six weeks for the hospital and the school to settle on who owned the wall and who owned the pipes. It’s a prime example of why I wanted to combine the school and the hospitals and serve as both dean and CEO.
Everything is important, so you should work really hard. Medicine is an exacting profession. You really have to have a breadth of knowledge—it’s more than just googling. Eventually you have to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair.
I disregard organizational charts and titles—sometimes to my detriment, because it can drive people crazy. I get the paradox. People say, “Well, it’s easy for you to say, Bob, because you’re the dean!” But I try to behave as if we don’t have hierarchies.
Try to be open-minded. I have an institutional perspective and people may not always agree with it.
A leader, in my mind, is a team builder, someone who is passionate, someone who sees things differently. They express themselves clearly. And they’re nice. I don’t want jerks, no matter how smart.
Not everybody needs to be a leader. Get to know who you are and what maximizes your happiness.