Become a Strong Physician Leader: Small Steps to Take

July 19, 2014

By prioritizing physician leadership, you can help your practice successfully navigate the changing landscape of American healthcare.

As implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues to shape American healthcare, physicians are uniquely positioned to oversee the challenges that will arise during this process. Physicians - especially those who own their practices - tend to have a strong educational, clinical, and managerial background, but they’re not always natural-born leaders.

Physician leaders are individuals with clinical credibility who are equipped to succeed in a managerial role within a health-related business or private practice. According to the American College of Physician Executives, 5 percent of today’s hospital leaders are physicians, and that percentage should continue to grow in the years ahead.

What Makes a Good Physician Leader?
In a recent white paper, the Physician Leadership Institute identified four responsibilities of a physician leader:

• Leading self. Begin by understanding your own strengths and areas that need improvement. A good physician leader leads by example, demonstrating integrity, self-awareness, and optimism.

• Leading with strategy. Physician leaders draw upon their clinical expertise and a commitment to provide top-notch patient care as they develop and communicate strategies for helping their practices navigate healthcare reform.

• Leading people. Physicians who’ve already developed excellent communication abilities while honing their bedside manner will effectively express their ideas in ways that empower others to act.

• Leading for results. Physician leaders combine meticulous time-management and organizational skills while championing safe, sustainable, and forward-thinking results for their practices.

A study appearing in the July-September 2012 issue of the Quality Management in Health Care journal identified exceptional physician leaders as those who demonstrate three behaviors that exemplify leadership inclusiveness: explicitly soliciting team input, engaging in participatory decision making, and facilitating the inclusion of non-team members.

How Can Physicians Gain Leadership Skills?
Start by building strong relationships and trust within your practice. Leaders who demonstrate empathy and compassion will earn their coworkers’ respect, which should make it easier for the physician to lead his or her team. Physician leaders must also prioritize effective communication, working with all members of the practice to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Additionally, leaders should always make an effort to diagnose problems and areas that need improvement. By using coaching and conflict management techniques, physician leaders will earn the right to lead their coworkers. If it helps, think of yourself as more of a facilitator. You don’t need to have all the answers. But you must have a clear chain of command within your practice, so you can direct team members to the people who can assist them.

Outside of your practice, be sure to stay active in national and local chapters of organizations that are devoted to your medical specialty. Establishing yourself as the face of your practice within the professional community will help you maintain credibility as a physician leader.

Physicians who’d like to improve their communication, conflict management, and organizational skills can turn to one of the many organizations that now offer professional development training. In recent years, a few started offering courses that focus specifically on physician leadership. Many will even send instructors to your practice to conduct on-site training.

By prioritizing physician leadership, you can help your practice successfully navigate the changing landscape of American healthcare.