Medical Practices Should Lead By Examples

April 25, 2018

"Leading by examples" means giving our team clear direction on what great care is. Here’s how to start.

“Leading by examples” is the rarely discussed little brother of “leading by example.” With our diverse employee and patient populations, leading by examples is a necessity. I seek to explain the difference and how a physician might incorporate Leading by Examples to great effect.

I had dinner recently with my in-laws in the dining home of their retirement community. Our server was new and had received typical, generic “lead by example” training: be nice to our guests. She needed more…she needed examples to follow. Management had not given her examples such as hold chairs for elderly guests and take the ladies’ orders first. Incorporating these examples-call them standards if you prefer-into her training would make her a better server.

I have erred in thinking that leading by example is enough; it isn’t. We-and I put the blame on myself-have not made examples a big enough part of our training. For instance, I asked our staff to let patients know if the doctor was running late. That example lacked detail, and as a result, we were inconsistent and fell short of patient expectations.

The examples we need to add include: 1) apologize for the inconvenience; 2) provide an update to any patient who’s been in an exam room more than 10 minutes; and 3) let patients in the lobby know the doctor is running about “x” minutes behind and ask if they mind waiting.

[A quick aside: Physicians should lead by example in the previous scenario, apologizing to patients when running late. That apology means more than all of staff’s apologies combined, and it is leading by example at its best.]

Leading by examples is giving our team clear direction on what great care is. If we define it (e.g., “Each one of us will return all patient calls on the same business day”) and affirm it (e.g., “Beverly, I loved how you held the door for Mrs. Jones and thanked her for being our patient”), we are leading by examples and creating an environment of excellence. Alan Vengel wrote a wonderful book, “20 Minutes to a Top Performer,” on fast and effective conversations for motivating, developing, and engaging others. I have found it very helpful as I grow towards leading by examples. His advice can help you lead by examples without adding time to your day.

Leading by examples has tentacles in many facets of the practice, from great care to quality metrics. It incorporates shared goal setting (“We” will achieve the top score on 98 percent of all patient surveys for our office) and shared problem solving (How can “we” do better on our patient satisfaction surveys?). It incorporates the sharing of what wows and what doesn’t within the practice.

Here’s my advice on starting to lead by examples, using patient service as an example:

1. Pull the results of recent patient satisfaction surveys, and share them with your staff;

2. Have a short meeting with your staff, and give them (and yourself) a homework assignment:

  • Identify five little things we should start doing to make patients smile more without adding any extra work to our day; and

3. Schedule a follow-up meeting and jointly decide what examples will become expectation.

It sounds simple, but leading by examples is a simple concept. The goal is to incorporate examples to help us better lead by example. We are finding it helps with employee communication, buy-in, and morale. We are finding it creates a service edge that can separate us from our competition. And we are finding it creates a healthy competition between our clinics. I hope it works for you.

Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, is administrator of Gastrointestinal Specialists, Inc., a 28-provider practice in Central Virginia. He occasionally learns from his mistakes. For the past 25 years, he has worked in and consulted with physician practices in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiations, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He may be reached at muletick@gmail.com.