Don was about 15 years my senior. He was an awesome mentor. We met while working on projects for the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) Committee on CME Accreditation. This committee was responsible for approving intrastate providers of AMA Category 1 CME.


A Mentor To Me

Don was the chair of the committee prior to my being appointed to it. So he had been involved in CME for many years. I later served as chair myself for five years. Now he is officially retired from his job as Chief Medical Officer for a large independent hospital. But he continues to volunteer his time doing CME surveys and teaching young educators about CME accreditation.

Long before I made the move into an administrative position, Don inspired me to consider such a move. He was clearly well-respected by his physician colleagues, and by the ISMS staff with whom he worked. He and I shared a commitment to the accreditation process so that physicians could have access to high quality CME.

As I began to contemplate my transition from clinical medicine to hospital management, I would contact Don and get his advice. He would listen, encourage me to consider the options and do what I thought made the most sense for me. Don would caution me about the response from the physicians at my primary hospital. He would encourage me and help me face my fears about making such a change.

After working as VPMA and then CMO at my hospital, we continued to work on different projects together for the ISMS and I would occasionally seek his advice. The relationship remained fluid and flexible.


My relationship with Bob was much different. He was hired by the CEO of our hospital to help all of us on the senior executive team learn new skills that would help us become better leaders and managers. He was a formal business coach. Bob was an entrepreneur and had started several businesses. He had been coaching groups of CEOs and business owners for many years.

A Leadership Coach

When we had one on one meetings, they were pretty open-ended. “What is the most important thing we need to talk about today, John?” he would ask. I would often bring up specific challenges I was facing, like the performance of a director that was declining.

“If you were opening a brand new hospital down the street, would this be one the leaders you'd bring with you?” I'd chew on that for a while. “No, I would definitely find an A player,” I'd say.

“OK, then, you know what you need to do.”

This was one of my weaknesses. I was not good at handling conflict. But Bob taught me and the other team members the importance of conflict in an executive team. He also taught me that the most important conversation to have, was the one I most dreaded. I needed to have a fierce conversation with my director.

Coaching Versus Mentoring

I believe that the developing physician leader will benefit from both coaching and mentoring. And it will be helpful to understand the differences between the two.

The Coach

Coaching generally focuses on specific skills that need to be learned. Think of the hitting coach in baseball or vocal coach in the field of music. Because it is skill focused, the relationship tends to be shorter. And your supervisor (e.g. the CEO) may be the one to decide if the coaching has been successful and can be stopped. Coaches are typically content experts.

If your organization provides a business or leadership coach, take advantage of it. Use the results of a 360 degree evaluation to identify some weaknesses. Then use the coaching to focus on addressing them. Or talk to your CEO about using a coach to improve your strengths so they become even more effective. Practice what the coach advises you to practice. Your skills will improve.


The Mentor

Mentoring is focused more on attitudes and self-confidence. The mentor often serves as a role model, rather than a content expert. The relationship is generally long-term. Sometimes there needs to be a plan to identify the ultimate goals of the relationship. The success is determined more by the person being mentored than his or her supervisor. The focus is often on promoting growth, maturity, career goals and even work/life balance, without a specific end point.

I'm a strong advocate of using a mentor. But it does not need to be a formal relationship with a lot of pressure. Sometimes you can develop a mentorship just by asking questions. Find someone you admire. Engage them in a conversation. Touch base from time to time.

Just discuss issues that are perplexing or challenging to you at the time. Ask how they have overcome similar issues. I'm not even sure that Don knows he has been a mentor to me. He probably feels that he one of many colleagues that helped answer some of  my questions over the years.

Don't Smother the Mentor

Don't waste their time or impose on them unnecessarily. This is not a friendship you are trying to develop (although it may happen, that is not the goal). Keep the interactions brief and to the point. Listen closely and reflect on what they've said. Follow-up later with clarifying questions if you need to.

One other important note: as a boss, you may occasionally do some coaching and mentoring. But your primary role is not to be your direct report's coach or mentor. Your role should be to encourage your employees to find their own mentor.

You might also identify internal staff or external experts to do some coaching in certain circumstances. On the other hand, you may be a coach or mentor to someone in a completely different area of the organization reporting to a different set of supervisors.

Other Sources of Mentoring and Coaching

It is helpful to remember that we do not always need specific formal coaches and mentors. Many of us can learn specific skills by reading books, watching videos and other “how-to” instructional materials, using virtual coaches.

Even mentoring can be somewhat “generic” rather than personal. I have considered many authors such as Peter Lencioni and Susan Scott to be informal mentors to me through their books, and Michael Hyatt and Skip Prichard through their leadership blogs. The blog writers are even closer to real mentors because you can sometimes interact with them via blog comments, Facebook or LinkedIn groups, and email.

Action Steps

If you are already doing some management, talk to your COO or CEO about finding a leadership coach to help develop certain business skills. Perhaps your CEO is already using a business coach and could arrange to have him or her spend a bit of time with you.

Look around and see if there is an accomplished person in your field that you  admire that you can spend a little time chatting with. Alternatively, you could simply ask one of the more impressive presenters at the next American Association for Physician Leadership conference for their email address. Just promise to send only the occasional brief question related to physician leadership and management.

A new entity with characteristics of coaching and mentoring is a mastermind group. They also have the features of a networking and accountability group, and have become very popular. Consider this as another way to accomplish some of the goals mentioned above.

That should help get you started.

Let me know how it goes in the Comments Section.

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See you in the next post!