Leadership is a skill. Like any skill, it comes easier to some people. However, many doctors can become good leaders by identifying important characteristics and practicing certain behaviors.
If you are a physician, you probably read leadership articles that seem more relevant to the corporate world. Whether you are moving into a Chief Medical Officer role or just want your team to perform better, specific leadership skills can help you.
Important Characteristics for Physician Leaders
Wally Schmader, the Co-Founder of Exceptional Leaders Lab and a coach of physicians, notes that successful physician leaders have specific characteristics. The first one is humility; he states, “A physician leader needs to be approachable, and know that anyone… even themselves… can improve in their role.”
Heidi Chumley, Executive Dean and Chief Academic Officer, American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine agrees that humility is a critical leadership trait for physicians.
She also notes that successful physician leaders must incorporate views from people who “can bring perspectives from finance, IT, human resources, public relations, and business.” Schmader concurs that “physicians need to consider all of the stakeholders in the decisions they make and have a clear and shareable vision for what the team is trying to accomplish.” She notes that this type of transparency enhances team success.
Finally, strong communication skills are crucial for a doctor to have success as a leader. Schmader gives physicians this advice, “They should use collective language and make sure they are fully understood by asking lots of questions.” Chumley also notes that in addition to oral and written communication, “leaders are continually thinking about what, how, and with whom to communicate to keep stakeholders informed and engaged.” Humility, transparency, and communication skills improve leadership effectiveness.
Recognizing Blind Spots & Addressing Them
Heidi Chumley states that many physicians have a blind spot around business operations. “How to optimize the work of their teams and technology, how to continually improve processes, and how to manage towards patient and financial outcomes simultaneously” are areas where a lack of physician knowledge leads to an unsuccessful team. She notes that physician leaders do not need to be an expert in health information systems or financial analysis, but they must know enough about these disciplines so “they can hire outstanding operators and empower them to move the organization forward.”
Schmader agrees with this perspective and encourages his physician clients to “see themselves as dynamic business leaders doing important work.” He believes, “They need to understand that everyone on their office team has a specialty and needs coaching and recognition.” Additionally, Schmader discusses that doctors must make sure that the staff’s motives and goals and their own motives and goals are in alignment. He recommends doctors promote employee engagement by “having scheduled reviews where team members are asked about their satisfaction and suggested improvement ideas.”
Introverts Make Great Leaders Too
The stereotype of a leader is often an outgoing extrovert. However, introverts have qualities that can make them effective physician leaders. Chumley notes that “Introverts tend to be reflective.” This characteristic often makes them excellent listeners who really understand others’ views.
Schmader states that a reflective nature means “Introverts can usually be counted on to provide more thought-out feedback.” He also states that introverted leaders are often more approachable and empathetic than their extroverted colleagues.
An introverted leader has one big drawback — he or she must fight for recognition. Schmader advises:
- Make sure you are heard when you have an opinion you want to share. Don’t let loud voices and interrupters hold court.
- If you are not sure that your view or opinion registered, follow up with a summary recommendation (often the extroverts will skip these kind of formalities)
- Introverts are typically excellent in one-on-one communication; you can leverage this skill in many ways.
“For a lot of physicians, improved leadership just comes down to much more self awareness,” states Schmader. A self-aware physician is conscious of how staff perceives him or her. This awareness enables doctors to know when their ideas are not getting through to people and to correct their actions.
It is crucial that physicians take steps to improve their leadership skills, even if they do not plan on moving to an executive level/chief position; career goals might change in the future. Also, improving leadership skills such as communication and transparency helps doctors work with others in their offices and increase the likelihood of successful patient outcomes.
Schmader notes, “Having the title ‘Doctor’ does not make you a leader.” Recognizing blind spots and a focus on continuous improvement make you a physician leader. Examine your actions carefully and implement the aforementioned recommendations so you are an effective leader for your patients and team.