Experts as Leaders to Expert Leaders

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At Clarity's Associate event in London, guest speaker Peter Lees, chief executive and medical director of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management spoke about medical experts transitioning to expert leaders.

There is a conundrum in medicine with the growth of formal clinical leadership roles. Often expert clinicians are expected to be able to morph into expert leaders. Due to his clinical experience, this is the position Peter found himself in. However, the skills required to fulfil each of the two roles are not the same and moving between the them presents unique challenges. However, a new faculty was established by all the UK medical royal colleges to help to professionalise medical leadership.

The Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM) was founded in 2011 with the main objective of improving medical leadership in order to an increase the standard of patient care. An early step in the life of the faculty has been to define the first standards of medical leadership and subsequently to establish fellowships to allow individuals to benchmark their leadership skills. The Faculty reviews leadership development across the world, publishes a journal, holds conferences, and more. The faculty also runs the prestigious National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellowship Scheme in England which allows junior doctors with an interest in leadership to spend a year working at the top of most of the NHS and healthcare related national bodies.

A further way to develop as a leader is to focus the type of development experienced. Horizontal development, where more information and skills are gained, encourages better performance at one’s current level, while vertical development allows a more complex and sophisticated way of thinking and is often gained through hands on experience. It enables a person to rise to a higher level of leadership and better cope with VUCA.

VUCA (as defined below) was originally a term used in the military world but has since been used in strategic leadership situations. It encourages a level of preparedness, anticipation, evolution and intervention, all qualities required by leaders to manage situations with unknown outcomes. To overcome VUCA, an individual first needs to understand the situation in order to understand what is needed to overcome it.

Volatile: change happens rapidly and on a large scale

Uncertain: the future cannot be predicted with any precision

Complex: challenges complicated by many factors; few single causes or solutions

Ambiguous: little clarity on what events mean and what effect they may have

People will always react differently to situations and will have their own style of leadership. According to Rooke & Torbert (2005), there are 7 different developmental action logics, which affect the style of leadership a person might take. Peter focused on three: Expert, Achiever and Strategist.

Experts (38% of people) tend to obsess over perfecting their knowledge. They have water-tight thinking, dismissing ideas that are not in line with their own and using hard data and logic to convince others. This can create problems at leadership level, as they can be so sure of their position that it becomes an issue when they are challenged. However, this same certainty can be hugely beneficial in certain areas, such as surgery. Achievers (30% of people) have more understanding of the dynamics of teams. They focus on deliverables, which can sometimes inhibit them from thinking in a more lateral way to execute a task, as their focus is the completion of the task. Finally, the Strategist (4% of people) is happy with ambiguity. They’re comfortable not knowing every tiny detail and can create uncertainty by challenging those around them. They don’t follow blindly, but they can see the bigger picture. They have a positive use of language and often communicate a better future.

Each mindset that aligns with 7 developmental action logics brings inherent advantages and disadvantages. To overcome the disadvantages, it is fundamental that leaders understand the type of leader they are, to enable them to better understand their action logic, thus strengthening their ability to lead. More ownership needs to be given to individuals, and vertical development will be key to advance the individual’s thinking and experience. The earlier this training begins, the better!

Peter finished by discussing the neurobiology of leadership. It has been shown that there are two neural networks: the task-positive network (TPN), which is considered the analytical brain; and the default mode network (DMN), the emotional brain. When one network is active, it inhibits the other, so the two cannot work together. However, there is a group of people who can activate both simultaneously – namely psychopaths. They will be empathetic while reading you, but analytical in calculating how to manipulate you. From this potential new approach, it is amusing to conjecture that in the future, leadership interviews might be held in the MR scanner!


Rooke, David & Torbert, William. (2005). Transformations of Leadership. Harvard business review. 83. 66-76, 133.

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