Business Success Prescription: Plenty of Vitamin A (Affability)

by Hilliard Slavick, M.D.

When I entered Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in 1970, it was not because I had a passion for business. Like most any other bright-eyed young med student, I craved the challenges and rewards of a career as a doctor.

Today, I am grateful that I am still able to pursue that dream of helping people get better. But along the way, I have learned that in order to keep on that path, on the terms that I desired, I needed to form habits and develop skills that are relevant for just about any business endeavor.

Of the many qualities that it takes to become successful, there are three Aís that stand out: able, available and affable.

Those words, by the way, are not listed in the order of their importanceónot in my experience and, as Iíve observed over the years, not in the experience of a broad range of business leaders.

Show me a brilliant, supremely able neurologist who is arrogant and intimidating, and Iíll show you a business failure waiting to happen. On the other hand, if a neurologist couples competence with strong doses of genuine openness and likeability, then he or she can enjoy a thriving practice.

After medical school and residency, I have enjoyed a 30-year run in private practice, including the last 13 years as the sole head of Clinical Neurosciences in Chicago. In a medical realm where private practices have sputtered or fallen entirely by the wayside, to what do I attribute my longevity?

In my sporadic moments of excessive self-esteem, I like to think that itís based on my resounding success in all three ďAĒ categories. But if I have any kind of special smarts, itís truly that I have enough wisdom to know that success isnít about being the brightest guy or gal in the room.

Affability trumps all other traits.

Referring physicians must like a specialist in order to be comfortable in dealing with them as a consultant. They will then allow their patients to work with you. If those patients, in turn, also like the specialist, then it results in their positive feedback about the care provided.

The same beneficial cycle holds true for others, whether they sell shoes, supervise an assembly line or own a restaurant. People like doing business with people they like.

Itís all about having a team-first attitude. Praise your associates and others in your field, share credit and do all you can to make others look good. That spirit attracts people.

At the heart of affability is building relationships.

In my case, this has included mentoring others, such as students, RNs, physician assistants, interns and residents. It has also entailed communicating persuasively with a variety of people: my office staff, CPAs and attorneys, as well as hospital administrators and the doctors who refer patients and work with me in evaluating patients.

Think about what you do for a living, and all the people who help you make it happenówho can take steps, small or big, to help or to hurt you. Often, their behavior isnít even on a conscious levelóthey simply respond to that still, small voice inside them.

So you need to decide which phrase you want those voices to whisper:

ďSheís terrific to work with. Go the extra mile for her!Ē or ďHere comes Mr. Know-It-All. Heís so smart, let him figure it out on his own.Ē

You should have learned this by now, but itís worth restating: Be courteous to everyone, no matter the personís role or status. Each relationship is different, though some of the most vital characteristics you should strive to embody are constant. Among them are judgment, empathy, honesty, and confidence.

By confidence, what I mean in the medical context is that you need enough personal confidence to make yourself vulnerable to other people, by providing care and diagnoses that the patient or the primary care doctor may question occasionally.

For those in other fields, how much and what type of input do you genuinely welcome? When results arise that counter your opinion, how do you respond? Itís at this crucial stage that you can blossom or bomb in a relationship, where you earn trust or stir animosity.

Donít get me wrongóitís obvious that technical skills are important, no matter what you do. But honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, personal strength, commitment, desire, and the ability to communicate with all parties involved in your mission are much more significant in developing a successful business.

This isnít brain surgery, really. Itís more like a heart check-up: whatís your motive for doing what you do? When itís in the right place, and has room to share with others, then you will automatically be a success not only in business, but also in this business we call life.