Dr Kevin Martin says he isn’t a natural leader, yet he found himself in a leadership position after joining the Oceanside Division’s board.

 “I was frustrated with the system in the local area and I realized that I could either sit and be frustrated and do nothing about it, or I could try to be part of the solution,” says Dr Martin. He soon recognized the complexities of chairing a board, which is why he enrolled in SFU’s GPSC Leadership and Management Development Program.

“As physician leaders, there are automatic assumptions that we have the skillset to be comprehensive leaders within health care systems. For the most part, however, our skills lie in the realm of clinical diagnostics and science,” says Dr Martin, one of 28 in the program’s sixth cohort. “I was already working as the division’s board chair and rapidly realized that I did not have any skills in terms of understanding governance and fiscal responsibility. That’s why I decided to go on this course, and it certainly helped in those areas.”

One of his objectives was to learn the practical aspects of governance.

“I’d never overseen a budget, apart from my own personal budget and my clinic’s budget. I’d never worked in a non-profit environment.”

The program taught Dr Martin something about his own leadership style. That was an exercise the class tackled in the first of its five modules, Building Support: Peer, Governance and Multi-stakeholder Leadership.

Dr Martin realized that he’s a “disruptive innovator” who questions the facts on which the status quo is based. He’s not afraid to disrupt and reform a system that’s not based on solid outcomes data.

“I tend to be more of a proactive leader, when it comes to systems change,” says the native of South Africa, who moved to Vancouver Island in 2008. “South Africans by nature are able to engage in tough debate and dialogue without there being interpersonal fall-out. I believe that trait is very effective in leadership as it allows for tough conversations to occur, within a context of enduring respect and collegiality.”

The program helped each participant understand his or her leadership style, acknowledge that it was innate, and then use that leadership style for the greater good.

Dr Martin concluded that knowing yourself well allows you to know others well. If your leadership style can’t interconnect with styles of other partners in multi-stakeholder initiatives like the division, that’s a weakness, he says. “And if you can use that leadership style in a way that enhances its positive side, but also allows for engagement with other leadership styles, then that’s a strength.”

The program’s other modules were Strategic Leadership and the Responsibility of Governance; Ensuring Quality: Roles, Responsibilities and Accountability; Leading Innovation and Resource Allocation; and Building Sustainable Partnerships and Collaborations. It was rounded out with peer discussions and group exercises like a simulated board meeting.

Dr Martin – whose division is one of BC’s smallest, with 27 members altogether and only six on its board – says he’s already used the skills he’s gained through the course to help in two vital endeavors and in one important effort that’s coming up.

“I used a lot of the governance, fiscal responsibility and collaborative work training to get the 11 small divisions together to have a collective impact study on our infrastructure funding,” says Dr Martin, whose group shared its findings to the GPSC. “And I used it as well in forming a recruitment and retention collaborative with the municipalities in Oceanside, and to look at establishing a publicly funded multi-physician community clinic.”

Dr Martin is also using skills gained through the course in planning for his successor.

“I’m going to start to train the new chair and hand over all of the different concepts of governance, financial responsibility, all the financial stewardship, and all of the other skills that I’ve learned through experience but also through the course, to the next chair, so that there will be more seamless continuity.”

To learn more about the program, visit www.pspbc.ca.