Robert I. Grossman, MD, chief executive officer of NYU Langone Health and dean of NYU School of Medicine, sees the field of medicine as the “caboose” of the leadership train. Business and political organizations have long understood the value of leadership education, but medicine is just catching up.
“Medicine never developed leaders,” Grossman asserted during a lecture at Indiana University School of Medicine on September 8. “Throughout the vast majority of my career, there was zero emphasis on leadership training.”
IU School of Medicine seeks to change that dynamic through several faculty development initiatives, including the new Stephen P. Bogdewic Lectureship in Medical Leadership. Stephen Bogdewic, PhD, brought leadership development to the forefront at IU School of Medicine, establishing the office of Faculty Affairs, Professional Development and Diversity (FAPDD) before becoming the school’s first executive vice dean, responsible for school-wide strategic planning.
As an internationally renowned, award-winning medical innovator, Grossman was a natural choice for the lectureship’s inaugural speaker.
Leaders think bigger
“Leaders are visionary—they have bigger eyes than the average person,” Grossman said. “They are audacious, and they are risk takers. They see things differently.”
At NYU Grossman School of Medicine—renamed in his honor in 2019—Grossman recently led the unprecedented initiative of providing tuition-free medical education for all current and future students in the MD program. Also under his leadership, NYU Langone has increased research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by more than 532 percent since 2007, making NYU Langone the No. 1 recipient of NIH funding in the United States. In 2018, Grossman was named to Time magazine’s inaugural Health Care 50 list of the most influential health care leaders who have changed the state of health care in America.
To Grossman, leaders are “born” but also need development. In a second-grade class photo, young Grossman is the only child wearing stripes rather than a collared white shirt. That boldness has served him well as leader of a top-ranked hospital system and medical school.
As leader of NYU Langone, Grossman recounted four crises he’s had to manage:
- During the financial crisis of 2007, NYU Langone faced a $150 million budget deficit.
- In 2012, Hurricane Sandy delivered floodwaters that required the safe evacuation of 322 patients and temporarily shut down hospital operations.
- In 2018, a fire broke out during construction of the Kimmel Pavilion at NYU Langone Medical Center, setting its opening back nine months.
- The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic placed a heavy early strain on New York hospitals.
Grossman’s advice for leading through a crisis includes getting all the details needed to make a decision, thinking long-term—and expecting criticism.
When asked how a leader can know if a decision is right, Grossman replied simply, “You don’t.”
“If you’re going to be a good leader, you can’t be afraid of failing,” he said.
While leadership takes vision, it also takes humility and self-awareness, Grossman said. He quoted famed basketball coach John Wooden: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Grossman is a voracious reader and would question the leadership of anyone who isn’t (see his reading list below). He gleans wisdom from an eclectic group of iconic leaders including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Ulysses S. Grant, the Dalai Lama and biblical King David. For a current example of leadership, he points to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, saying, “You know it when you see it.”
Successful leaders can be identified by common characteristics. Grossman ranks the top four as humility, metacognition (self-awareness), courage, and adhering to core values and principles. Contrary to popular belief, leaders are “human” and often are moved by empathy for others, he added.
What they are not is indecisive.
“Leaders are really good listeners, but as a leader, you’re going to have to make the final decision,” Grossman said. “If you make a mistake, own it, redirect it and move on.”
As he sees it, the best leadership style is “adaptive.”
“You are very disruptive. You are flying on the edge of chaos, but you are creating incredible opportunities and, at times, doing things that are amazing,” said Grossman, speaking from his experience as an innovator in medical care and academic medicine. “You have to be audacious but also be able to execute.”
IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA, has taken leadership inspiration from Grossman for years and was excited to bring him to Indianapolis.
“Dr. Grossman has been very influential to me personally and professionally, particularly his focus on using data to drive decision making and accountability,” Hess said. “I am pleased that so many in our school community could hear and learn about his aspirational approach to leadership.”
View Dr. Grossman's slide presentation on "Leaders and Leadership."
Dr. Grossman’s Recommended Reading for Leadership
- Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End by Rosabeth Moss Kanter
- Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders by Chesley B. Sullenberger
- The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison
- The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
- Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz
- Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal
- Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter by Gautam Mukunda
- High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
- Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Deals from Hell: M&A Lessons that Rise Above the Ashes by Robert F. Bruner
- The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today by Thomas E. Ricks
- On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman Dixon
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadership by Sam Walker
- Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt
- What Makes A Champion! Over Fifty Extraordinary Individuals Share Their Insights by Allan Snyder
- Eisenhower by Geoffrey Perret
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu
- How to Be A Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership by Plutarch
- Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character by Admiral James Stavridis
- Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History by Andrew Roberts
- Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis
- Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol
- The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned by Robert Iger
- The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
- The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
- Grant by Ron Chernow
- The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant
- Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane
- Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
- Shut up and Listen!: Hard Business Truths that Will Help Your Succeed by Tilman Fertitta and Jim Gray
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury
- Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R. Sunstein
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton
- Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella
- Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Leaders: Myth and Reality by General Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone
- Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
- Hidden Games: The Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrational Human Behavior by Moshe Hoffman and Erez Yoeli
- Team America: Patton, MacArthur, Marshall, Eisenhower, and the World They Forged by Robert L. O’Connell
- Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy by Henry Kissinger