7 Leadership Lessons from the President of Morehouse School of Medicine

When Dr. Rice walks into the room, you know it. She carries herself with authority, dignity, and kindness. As the president of Morehouse School of Medicine, She is the first and only president of a medical school in the United States who is a black woman.

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Dr. Rice in the middle, surrounded by the Dragon Army leadership team.

She sat down with our Dragon Army leadership team yesterday to talk about leadership. These are some of the principles she shared with us.

Authenticity

You have to be able to be yourself at work, and other people have to be able to be themselves as well. Authenticity builds trust and the ability to see others for who they truly are as well.

Be authentically curious about the people you lead. This is one of my favorite things she said, and something I haven’t heard a lot. She talked about how in every one-on-one meeting with someone who works for her, she makes a point to learn more about their personal life. She asks about their kids, about the ball game they went to last night, about anything meaningful to that person, helping her to make a better connection, and building an authentic relationship.

Leaders Create Clarity

What does success look like? It’s the job of the leader to make sure everyone knows. And, the leader has to do more than saying what success looks like. S/he has to be sure everyone fully understands what was said.

Sometimes merely the process of working toward a goal is a success. When teams try to do something and miss the goal, they can see that as a failure. But, often, it’s a success of its own because the team came together, worked hard, and became a better, more capable team in the process.

Diversity is Important

Great teams need diversity. Bring people together with different backgrounds and ways of thinking. It gives everyone a unique perspective on the world. This unique perspective helps in problem-solving. This isn’t a new idea. According to a study of diversity in teams by Max Nathan & Neil Lee from 2015, “companies with diverse management are more likely to introduce new product innovations than are those with homogeneous ‘top teams.’”

Inclusive

Leaders must be inclusive, seeing the value of diverse ideas. When talking about having a team member with a dissenting opinion that is adamant about something, Dr. Rice said, “You have to look for the value in what someone is saying.”

She pointed out that often when someone has a dissenting view different from the majority, it’s because they have a unique experience and perspective that no one else has. The only way to learn that is the look deeply for the source of the value.

Innovation

You should fail 50% of the time when getting to a goal. By trying new things and being willing to fail half the time, you will inevitably be forced to innovate. This innovation will push you to your goal faster than if you had just played it safe, fearing failure.

Teams should celebrate what they learn from failure, as every failure provides new knowledge and learning opportunities. Being open to failure also allows for more people to have a fingerprint on the blueprint of a plan. As teams are willing to take risks, fail, iterate, and try again, more people can be involved in the process, giving the team more diverse opinions and more chances at success.

Having a Voice

A leader needs to know their voice and be willing to call things out, being to the point. But, having a voice isn’t a means to conflict, merely to direct the team. A leader must remind themself and their team of what is truly important.

Moreover, a leader must be ready to forgive (and forget) and move on quickly. Remembering past mistakes or wrongs isn’t beneficial to the organization. It just wastes time.

Give Yourself Grace Time

Everyone needs grace time. That is time to recharge, unwind, and then come back ready to be your best. For some people, this may be a nap; for others, it may be time away from a crowd for four hours.

Each person needs something different to recharge and be the best. Part of a leader’s job is to make sure they get that time. When everyone on the team can come to the table with a full charge, the team will perform much more effectively.

Summary

Dr. Rice’s talk captivated our team, and I can see why she effectively leads so many people. Her focus on authenticity, diversity, and innovation struck me as particularly important as she brought a clear message on leadership to our team.

One more thing Dr. Rice said was great. “As a leader, we need to let our teams be curious.” She advocated letting our teams grow and explore, much like children learning about the world around them. I love that.

Credit to Carla Harris, VP of Morgan Stanley and Dr. Rice’s mother, Annette Alexander for their insight.

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Husband. Father of six. Wearer of fedoras. Startup co-founder (with exit). Nonprofit co-founder & CMO. I write about personal growth and nonprofit marketing.

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