Integrity: It’s easy to make a quick buck by compromising your values but that’s not a sustainable model. If you work with brands of ill repute, you’ll be undermining your own brand and missing out on bigger relationship opportunities. A leader forgoes the low hanging fruit and keeps his or her eyes on the ultimate prize.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Will Kirby.
As the Chief Medical Officer of LaserAway, the nation’s leader in aesthetic dermatology, Dr. Kirby has the great responsibility of ensuring that patients all over the United States are receiving safe and effective minimally invasive cosmetic treatments. Moreover, he is under an industry microscope as the decisions that he and his medical team make send reverberations throughout the relatively new, but rapidly growing, field of aesthetics. I sat down with him to get his views on what it means to be a leading thought leader.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
A well-established, but rarely openly discussed, fact is that the aesthetic industry can attract nefarious personalities. See, aesthetics has historically been one of the dirtiest subspecialities in all of medicine. So, as it relates to this specific interview topic, I’m the Dirty Harry of dermatology. Not in the sense that I’m reckless by any stretch of the imagination but definitely in that I have little regard for the unqualified, self-appointed authoritarian figures that have ruled over the cosmetic field for far too long and that I’m a vigilante for integrity. See, for many years I silently observed what I perceived to be to a “pay to play” scheme where self-proclaimed “key opinion leaders” held pharmaceutical companies’ hostage and extracted payments from them for their financial endorsements under the guise of altruistic research, unselfish education, selfless public service, and benevolent patient advocacy, all the while lining their pockets. The day I became a true leader was the day that I decided to speak out against this unethical conspiracy. My metaphorical weapon in the fight against physician greed is my voice and I’m finally now using my platforms to promote industry integrity in the hopes of improving transparency and with a focus on the ultimate goal of improving patient treatment outcomes and increasing industry rectitude.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Dejected by the traditional “thought leader” pathway, I instead decided to shun all financial compensation for authorship of research articles, journal publications, and medical conference speaking opportunities. To reiterate: Every single journal article and textbook chapter I have authored has been done with zero compensation. Moreover, I chose to donate a large portion of all my advisory board and sponsored lecture series compensation to charity and I even co-authored a medical textbook chapter on the subject of ethics and medico-legal considerations. I wanted to send a loud and clear message to the prevailing as well as up-and-coming aesthetic pharmaceutical and energy-based companies that not only was I not for sale but that you should not have to pay any physician to get accurate, honest information! It was important for me to make sure that my industry colleagues, the residents I teach, and the aesthetic companies I respect, understood that true leadership is completely free and unincumbered by the inherent bias that occurs when money is exchanged for pseudo-academic information.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my naïveté I thought that I would find comrades on social media who could help me in my quest to bring transparency to the aesthetic field so I sought out like minded individuals on a Facebook page that was exclusive to board certified dermatologists. Boy was I wrong! You’ve never seen a more toxic environment. The vitriol they spewed was unprecedented and that’s coming from someone who has worked in reality television for the past two decades! It really was a fascinating study in the human condition though; rather than engage in healthy discourse they just wanted tear down anyone who was on a course of happiness and success. There is an absolutely fascinating element to some social media pages that allow, and even foster, extreme negativity. Probably because of jealously and self-loathing I suspect. It’s odd that some people just actively choose to be miserable. I was unceremoniously kicked off that Facebook page for cracking a few lighthearted jokes — I guess the irony is that dermatologists don’t have thick skin!
Ok, thank you for that! I’ve heard of that page and, yes, they are rumored to be wretched. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
Aesthetic patients vote with their wallets. If a product or service works, we’ll know very quickly because patients will request it. So, the true “thought leaders” in our field are obviously the patients. And to answer your question, truth be told, a thought leader is synonymous with an influencer in aesthetics. As such, there is an argument that in additional to the patients, those implementing the actual treatments, the registered nurses, the nurse practitioners, and the physician assistants, are also influential industry tastemakers. The least influential faction is, paradoxically, made up of the paid “key opinion leader” and “luminary” physicians who lecture to each other and publish superfluous papers. All too often they do not do much more than perpetuate noise in a vapid echo chamber. Bottom line? True influence is quantifiable and actual aesthetic leadership starts and ends with the patients and the physical practitioners. They are the alpha and the omega of aesthetics.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Like attracts like and when you lead with the right intentions you become a magnet for other people who believe in abundance. Any individual, team, or business is only successful because of partnerships and aesthetic industry associates know that they can always count on me and the entire LaserAway team to provide every single tool available to ensure synergy and mutual benefit. Needless to say, leadership unquestionably has privileges but I’m not of the belief that you have to make substantial time or monetary investment to reap the benefits. True leadership is just a natural progression that takes place when one makes a series of correct choices over and over and over. Energy is of course required but exuberance begets vigor so its self-sustaining. So, you shouldn’t invest in resources with the goal of becoming leader, you should simply lead by example all the while taking comfort in knowing that the cream rises to the top.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
I’ve definitely seen a shift in the last six months: The larger, more reputable companies like Allergan Aesthetics and Cynosure as examples are absolutely making a much-appreciated effort to align themselves with us and I’m of the belief that this is occurring because of our approach to leadership. The communication has never been better and I think our message is being received loud and clear: We are the leaders in aesthetic dermatology, we aren’t for sale, we play in the big leagues, we practice with integrity, and you can count on us as true, long-term partners.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share five things that an aesthetic health care practitioner should focus on to become known as a thought leader in their industry?
1) Integrity: It’s easy to make a quick buck by compromising your values but that’s not a sustainable model. If you work with brands of ill repute, you’ll be undermining your own brand and missing out on bigger relationship opportunities. A leader forgoes the low hanging fruit and keeps his or her eyes on the ultimate prize.
2) Delegation: No one can be successful in a vacuum and you personally aren’t a scalable entity. Choose your team wisely, inspire them with your own work ethic, and trust that they’ll make the right decisions. Proper delegation can make a world of difference as you grow into a leader.
3) Efficiency: A lot of people confuse being busy with being efficient and I see so many aesthetic providers get caught in a meaningless hamster wheel. Don’t publish superfluous papers, cancel membership in organizations that offer real value, and skip needless conferences. The mark of a true leader is masterful time management and supreme efficiency.
4) Science: As a medical specialty we have an obligation to be objective. The fact that the aesthetic industry has purposely refused to define what a “key opinion leader” actually is undermines our field. These aren’t the middle ages and sorcery has no place in a medical field. So, focus on data and track everything you do so you can determine what specific actions result in success. With the proper data points in place thought leadership is quantifiable.
5) Grit: The cliché is true: They only boo from the cheap seats. And you can expect to meet a lot of naysayers during your assentation. Industry respect doesn’t occur overnight and perseverance is paramount. So, hang in there! Real leaders have grit.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
I used to think that a detailed curriculum vitae and industry experience were the strongest predictors of future success but I’m only now realizing that anyone can learn new skills and that passion simply can’t be taught. As such, the single best businessman I have ever met is my close friend and colleague, Scott Heckmann, the CEO of LaserAway. He selects an enthusiastic person for a role and effortlessly coaches them up but it doesn’t end there; Once they master their role, he has endless questions so that he can learn from them! By doing so, he has garnered an unparalleled level of understanding of the inner working of the aesthetic industry. So, when he puts complete trust in someone to do a job and then patiently awaits while they meet their potential, he fosters organic personal growth and deep company loyalty all the while increasing his own knowledgebase. I’m blown away by both his tolerance and perseverance. From his approach we can learn that a genuine curiosity and love of an industry coupled with business zeal leads to fulfilled employees and a successful company culture. Thought leadership is a true privilege and he clearly recognizes that.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
It is my unwavering contention that the entire aesthetic industry needs to make a complete and immediate lexicon switch. Not only should “thought leader” no longer be used but we should also get rid of other terms as well. I’m asking that “key opinion leader” and “luminary” be removed from the aesthetic vocabulary. These phrases are ostentatious, pretentious, and outdated. Anyone who uses them to describe himself or herself isn’t in tune with the current climate, they can’t read a room. And any aesthetic company, conference, or publication that allows an individual to use these phrases is worshiping false idols.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
The word “doctor” is derived from the Latin word, “docēre” which means “to teach”. And ultimately that’s what I am, a teacher. My strong suggestion to physicians is that they volunteer their time to educate others. From medical students and interns and from residents to fellows, there are numerous opportunities to pass on experience and medical acumen to future generations of healthcare practitioners. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphasize the joy you get from teaching nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. It’s emotionally rewarding and it absolutely thwarts burnout. Want to see a true leader? Just look at a teacher.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The contextual movement I want to promote is unbelievably simple: I’m tasking my industry colleagues to once and for all put a premium emphasis on honesty in aesthetics. No longer stand by idly while aesthetic pharmaceutical companies and aesthetic energy-based device manufacturers assign the seemingly unbiased title of “key opinion leader” to individuals who are actually their “paid spokespeople”. Now let me be really clear: I have no argument with an individual being financially compensated for endorsing a product. But when you pretend that a paid spokesperson is a “key opinion leader” well, that’s just an insult to upstanding healthcare practitioners who have integrity. More importantly, is a disservice to potential patients seeking unbiased medical information. This shameful charade has gone on for long enough. I’m taking a stance against it and asking others to do the same.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to our discussion?
An aphorism that’s extremely applicable to our topic today is, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. See, I’m often asked why I care so much about morals, ethics, and rectitude in the aesthetic industry and it’s because it is time to usher in a new era of virtue. Some studies show that the market penetration of aesthetics in the United States is around three to four present while in other countries it is over ten percent. Why do we lag behind? Well, one possible reason one reason is because potential patients don’t trust big pharma and the physicians that they have championed for so long. And why would potential patients trust them?!? By marginalizing compromised physician “key opinion leaders” and instead offering accurate, transparent cosmetic education, we can regain public confidence and provide many more patients the aesthetic medical services that we know they want.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to sit down with Ray Kurzweil. He’s the preeminent futurist in the world and the inventor of the concept of technological singularity but I wouldn’t want to study him to try to predict where things are going. See, I don’t necessarily want to know what will happen or even what could happen, but instead I’d like to see how one expands their mind to be open to all possibilities.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please access me on Instagram at @DrWillKirby1.
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide my feelings and beliefs on this important subject.