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It’s Wednesday, August 6th and you’re taking a relaxing bike ride through the countryside. As your sleek form cuts through the brisk, dewy morning air something catches your eye. Before you round the next corner, you manage to make out a large white banquet tent nestled between a historic-looking farmhouse and a well-tended vegetable garden. Underneath the tent were several hundred people. Was it:

A)     A conspicuously well-attended corporate retreat (most enthusiastic department gets in line for the pasta buffet first)

B)      An organic farmers’ conference entitled “Making the world a better place: how revolutionary, SoLoMo heirloom crops will disrupt the market”

C)      A bipartisan meeting of congressional leadership trying to determine, once and for all, who really inspired Frank Underwood’s character

D)     The University of Michigan Medical School’s M1 class attending a leadership workshop put on by a co-founder of the neighborhood delicatessen

Medical Students or Passionate Organic Farmers? You decide.

If you answered D, congratulations – your powers of inference are astute. I and my fellow M1s were indeed taking part in the Medical School’s Leadership Initiative Program as part of our orientation. You may wonder however, why is this happening on a farm and why is a delicatessen involved?

Before I answer that question for you, I have a small confession to make. Although the seminar was technically hosted by the co-owner of the neighborhood delicatessen, that was a bit of an understatement. In reality, the neighborhood delicatessen is none other than Zingerman’s, the internationally celebrated delicatessen recently featured in the New York Times. The co-founder in question, Ari Weinzweig, discovered his love for the restaurant business while washing dishes and transformed Zingerman’s from a small sandwich shop into a community of businesses with annual sales topping $50 million. Cornman Farms, where our workshop was held, is part of that community.

OK, so it is a successful delicatessen – what makes Ari Weinzweig’s perspective on leadership unique? Unlike most leadership techniques, which center on optimizing the transactional side of leadership (you do, we do, I do), Mr. Weinzweig focuses on fostering a sense of common purpose and ownership within the team through a process he calls visioning. This process involves having team members create individual, narrative, and vivid visions for what they want the team to embody and accomplish. The team then reconvenes to discuss individual visions, and from them synthesize a group vision, to which the team commits.

At the start of the day, we broke off into our Family-Centered Experience (FCE) groups (more on that in a later post) and put visioning to task. After 15 minutes of “hot writing” (think back to your fond memories of frantically scratching out SAT/ACT essays), we had the first draft of our personal visions. For me, the real value of visioning hit home when it came time to share personal visions and create a team vision. Voicing my vision to the group made me feel that team members knew where I was coming from and were more likely to respect my perspective in future conversations. Just writing down my vision made it feel altogether more tangible and attainable. Perhaps most importantly, working together to create a unified vision allowed our team to start our FCE on the same page and with the same goals in mind.

Our group beginning the process of creating a unified vision

We arrived that morning as an assembly of individuals; a team-in-name-only. Agreeing on a vision together – taking accountability for a shared set of values – made us a team.

It’s no secret: where there is a medical school, there is someone talking about leadership. What sets Michigan apart is its team-focused, values-based and hands-on approach. In a team of healthcare providers that all share the same vision for patient care, leadership becomes less about maintaining compliance and more about continually pushing oneself towards excellence. In my opinion, that is what being a physician is all about.

(If you’re interested in hearing more about the Leadership Initiative Program, the medical school just posted a video describing it here.)