Have you seen those AT&T ads in which Beck Bennett asks the little kids questions like “What is the largest number you know?” and the kids respond with answers like “infinity”, “infinity times infinity” and so on, which result in a genuinely astonished look on his face. “Wow. I never thought of that.” Beck Bennett conducted these interviews for real and the responses are not scripted. The trick, he says, is to “ask the question in a way you believe the kids have the answer, and convey that you will believe what they say to be true”.

I reflected on these ads a lot when my team was conducting interviews based on principles of positive deviance among nurses and patient care technicians in hospital wards for a research study and also when I was interviewing several clinical and operational leaders for a different project in the hospital where I work primarily. Not that anyone is a kid. Not at all. Both the projects had a similar goal, reduction of healthcare-associated infections, or to put it in broader terms, to improve the quality of care we provided in the hospital.

Positive deviance, Comprehensive unit-based safety program (CUSP), Servant leadership, Adaptive leadership, Cotter model of leadership, Situational leadership, Boundary spanning leadership, and so on. What’s common to all of these? Leadership. I think each of the leadership models I have learnt about thus far in formal training as well as real world practice came to be based on the gaps identified among the existing leadership models at the time they were developed. I don’t know that one model is better than the other. Each model serves a certain purpose.

What have I observed as the common denominator among examples of excellent leadership? Because I am a physician epidemiologist by training, I’ll state it using terms from clinical practice and patterns of problem solving. All the examples utilized excellent history taking (getting a complete story from people involved), thorough evaluation (intentional 360 degree fact-finding), formulating an assessment and plan (the ‘diagnostic journey’ followed by the ‘problem-solving journey’), and carrying out the plan and monitoring for results. There is clarity, due diligence, fairness, and skill all around. Robust methods lead to reliable results. Even if the results are not always the ones we wanted in the first place. I have come to believe this to be true.