Winning, Losing and How to Build Teams (Podcast)

Leadership is ‘the ability to create a vision and the courage to develop’

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As an undergraduate at Treverton College in Mooi River, South Africa, Lars Svensson, MD, PhD, excelled in academics as well as team sports. Both taught him leadership skills he carried into his career as an internationally known cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon.

Sports provides strong grounding in qualities leaders need later in life, he says.

“You learn to win but you also learn to lose,” Dr. Svensson said during a recent interview with Brian Bolwell, MD, for the “Beyond Leadership” podcast. “And even if you lose, you’ve learned something and so you hopefully are in a better shape for the next time.”

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Dr. Svensson is Chair of the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. In the podcast, he discusses his leadership philosophy, the importance of communication, leading through change and more.  

Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: When were you named chairman of the department and how did that occur?

Dr. Svensson: At the beginning of 2015, I was made chairman and it was a tremendous privilege to get that position. I’d obviously benefited from having great mentors in [Drs.] Fred Loop and Toby Cosgrove and Bruce Lytle, who I knew from my training here initially, and then [Drs.] Stanley Crawford and Michael DeBakey in Houston. So I had wonderful role models and people who were encouraging and helped me on my journey.

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Dr. Bolwell: You go from being a world-renowned heart surgeon, which is a leadership job in terms of the team, folks in the operating room, etc., … to running this institute.

Dr. Svensson: I think the principles still apply, and I would say that I learned a lot on the sports field when it came to rugby and cricket and athletics. At Treverton College, I was in an unusual position in that I did well academically but also in sports. We were involved in putting together teams like a national science conference but also putting together sports teams like rugby.

I think rugby and American football and a lot of team sports are a great place to learn a lot of skills and what you have to deal with – finding the right capabilities of people, the cognitive abilities, people who get on well together, communicating well together and giving them guidance, and then coaching them.