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4 whip-smart strategies for physician practice leaders


Honing leadership skills is essential for a manager. Here are four ways to become better leaders for staff and patients.

Changing payment models, integration challenges, and the push to provide high-quality care at a low cost weigh heavily on physician practice leaders. But a practice’s ability to bring staff on board with these initiatives often rests on a single attribute: the leadership skills of its practice managers.

Many physician practices are led by individuals who were chosen not because of their leadership credentials but because of their length of tenure with the practice. These are people who do not necessarily have a background in business management but for whom the pressures of an evolving environment require practice administrators to hone their ability to lead.

Here are four ways physician practice managers can become better leaders.

1. Know the difference between management and leadership.
Though the words appear synonymous, there is a key difference between being a manager and a leader. A manager makes sure things get done. A leader makes sure the right things get done. Managers bring heat, while leaders bring light.

But what happens when too much heat is applied to your team? They either quit or start to mentally disengage from their work. As a leader and a manager, you want to bring the right balance of heat and light to maintain efficient workflow with long-term employees. True leadership is what today’s practices need in a transformative environment.

2. Lead with C.A.R.E.: Clarity, Alignment, Reinforcement, and Energy.
Great leaders make sure there are clear goals for their team. Staff are aligned around a common mantra, one that can be expressed in roughly six or seven words. Two great mantras we’ve seen in the healthcare community are “We care for who you care for” and, for one long-term care facility, “We give people their lives back.” Without clarity and alignment, staff may become confused-and confused people do not move forward as strong leaders.

As a current leader to your team, it is important to understand you can be wrong, but you can’t be confusing.

Leaders also reinforce their company’s values and bring energy to their role to effectively engage their teams. One critical strategy for maintaining energy: Take a 15-minute break each day-two 15-minute breaks, if you can-to be still. To put it in perspective, 15 minutes is about 1/100 of a day. Is there anyone who doesn’t have 1/100 of a day to take a personal time-out for the good of the team, and more importantly, for yourself?

3. Know the key to engagement.
Think about the difference between treating a disease and treating an illness. Disease is treated by the surgeon and the physician. Treatment of illness is a social event. It’s treated by the whole team. Consider a diagnosis of prostate cancer. A patient with prostate cancer might be able to have the disease removed by a surgeon and oncologist, but he’ll never forget the impact of the illness, dealing with the shock of diagnosis, and being fearful of remission. The impact of the illness extends to caregivers, too. Studies show up to 67 percent of caregivers experience depression after caring for a cancer patient.

Engaging teams means bringing their focus back to the heart of their work by providing excellent care and service for patients while being part of a community that treats illness. Anybody on your team is capable of treating illness, regardless of their role. In one oncology clinic, a man credited a member of the front desk staff for saving his life after a cancer diagnosis. Her care and concern immediately after the diagnosis gave him hope. It’s a powerful reminder of the impact every role has on patients.

4. During moments of change, practice the four ‘R’s.
Your team members want to know how change is going to affect them. When staff lose their competence, such as when a software implementation requires staff to let go of old processes and learn new skills, make sure staff understand:

  • Reason: What is the reason for this change?
  • Result: What will change look like?
  • Route: How will change happen?
  • Role: What will it mean for me?

Just as your job priority is treating the illness and curing the disease, your role as a leader is managing your employees’ fears by being direct and honest with them during periods of change. Communicating the four ‘R’s is essential to building engagement and trust when your team needs it most.

Change is a byproduct of healthcare. It’s unbelievable how much change we are seeing in our industry each day and the ways that change improves our ability to enhance health. It’s difficult, however, for team members to be the focus of change. Honing your leadership skills will teach you to be a guiding light for your team and engage them in the critical work that makes a difference for your communities.

Chris Walls is president and CEO of Pulse Systems, Inc.

Tim Durkin is a leadership expert and can be reached at Tim@TimDurkin.com.

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