Hundreds of Canadian doctors say they're being paid too much, and they've signed a petition asking the government to lower their salaries.

This sounds like the most Canadian thing ever, eh? It's tempting to dismiss it as just a quirky story. 

But once we get past the sheer and literal foreignness of the whole thing, it's actually an incredible act of leadership.

Here's the context. Canada, unlike the United States, has a government-run health care system, and the doctors themselves say they're already pretty well paid.

They also just got a 1.4 percent pay increase in January, but the Quebec health care system, where all this is happening, faces some big challenges. Nurses, for example, say they're understaffed and trying to care for far too many patients at a time.

A viral Facebook post by one Quebec nurse spelled the situation out in late January, describing her total exhaustion after covering more than 70 patients alone on an overnight shift.

(The post is embedded at the end of this article. The original is in French, but the automatic translation is pretty good.)

So, the doctors announced they want to forgo their pay raise, and put the money back into the health system itself. 

"We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations," the petition reads. (It's in French, too.) It adds: "The only thing that seems to be immune to cuts is our salary."

Obviously health care is a big political issue in the U.S., but let's set that aside. Here are 5 key things to learn about great leadership from all of this:

1. Great leaders put the mission first.

This is the crux of the whole thing here: The doctors say they're paid well enough, and that they want to put their raises toward the health system as a whole. 

2. Great leaders understand the power of symbols.

The Quebec government now says there's nothing stopping the doctors from simply returning their raises individually, perhaps as donations. But the doctors understand the power that doing this together as a petition sends a powerful symbolic message to the other people they work with.

3. Great leaders think of people as people, not organizational charts.

I recently spent a night in a hospital, fortunately for something that turned out to be just a scare. But with 18 hours and not a lot to do, I watched who really runs a hospital: the nurses, at least from a patient's eye view. With this Canadian gesture, the doctors showed they understand this, too.

4. Great leaders demonstrate sacrifices.

Giving up a pay raise is a sacrifice. It's maybe not a huge one in this case: the raise wasn't gigantic, and the doctors make an average of about $403,537 a year, according to the CBC. But it still sends a message.

5. Great leaders offer thanks.

The words "thank you" (or more precisely, "merci,") don't appear anywhere in the petition, but the entire thing is an expression of appreciation to the other people they work with.

Here's the Quebec nurse's Facebook post that went viral:

Published on: Mar 8, 2018
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