All physician leaders need a personal playbook that defines their core values.
Author: Robert A Felberg MD
Topic: Physician Leadership
Keywords: physician leadership training, turning doctor into leaders, leadership skill in medicine
In Part One, I discussed an example of poor leadership, and argued that how you deal with you your top-performing doctors, your thought leaders, and your change agents defines your success. I discussed the behaviors that can result, especially employee silence. In this post, I’ll go into my personal philosophy of physician leadership. I’ll discuss the core beliefs and processes that I’ve found effective, recognizing that none of these ideas were discovered by me, but are rather an amalgam of mentors, courses, and other sources over the decades. I will give credit where I can, but honestly at this point I can’t remember all of the influencers.
[Editor Note: physician leadership is a complex skill set. This post is part of a series produced by Physician Advocates LLC discussing physician professional and business skills– the things you weren’t taught in medical school, but define your career success. Please sign up for our newsletter to be kept informed.]
If I were to give one piece of advice to a physician leader; be consistent, straightforward, and transparent. Leadership is about setting and living the core values of your organization. No one should be surprised by any action you take- it should be obvious and based on core values. To a lesser degree it’s about being the one who tells the truth, even when the truth is not what others want to hear. Lastly, it’s about using your skills. knowledge, and resources to plan the future direction of the organization. Leadership is often called “the art of predicting the future.”
Here are my rules that I use as the basis of my leadership style. They certainly aren’t perfect and I often have to deviate, but they may be a good starting point.
- Misery is shared equally. There are many things in medicine that are unpleasant. Call, paperwork, seeing difficult patients, working holidays, etc. If something is unpleasant, everyone will be required to do their fair and equal share. No one gets to wriggle out of unpleasant duties.
- Positive behavior is rewarded. As Jack Welch said- If you do good work, you will be rewarded with money, recognition, and voice (voice meaning a bigger role in the future of the organization). If you behave poorly, under-perform consistently, or in other ways cause negative outcomes, you will be moved out quickly if intervention does not turn this around.
- You are there to add value to your team members. As the leader, I have already reached my career goals. I no longer need attention, recognition, or ego- inflating praise. My goal is now improving and growing the careers and expertise of my staff. Don’t worry; I’ll still get lots of recognition- as the leader who discovered and groomed excellent upcoming physicians. My job everyday is to figure out how to add value to my team and team members. If you get jealous of your team members or their recognition, you should reconsider your leadership role. I see jealousy behavior in physician leaders more than you can imagine.
- You send up the “skeet”. Let your team members shoot them down. This is a euphemism for “don’t micromanage” and “learn to delegate” at the same time. If you want your team to excel, you need to let them solve problems in their own way. Of course, they’ll need supervision and someone to help with the tough decisions. You’ll also need to set parameters, budget, and deadlines. But, beyond that, do your best to let your staff solve the problems. They may surprise you with a fantastic novel idea. They’ll also develop into better quality managers as they are forced to take on a greater responsibility. At the same time, you can monitor them for knowledge gaps and use the opportunity for valuable education.
- Learn how to run an effective meeting. There is nothing worse than bad meetings.
6. What defines a bad meeting?
7. The information is always the same – “please remember to sign and date your notes”, the information is not interesting, the debate goes on too long or is hijacked, and most importantly no decisions are made. Try this instead- Introduce with the goals of that meeting. Assign problems to teams. Allow the teams present their findings and solutions. Implement the solution. Assign a team to handle the next problem. Do not waste time on long debate. If people have a strong opinion, they can join the team working on the problem. Serve snacks, end on time, and do not tolerate lateness.
8. Differentiate your staff. This is an another Jack Welch idea. Use transparent criteria to determine your top-performers from your middle of the road and bottom performers. Reward and train your top performers to retain them and develop into solid leaders. Try to move your bottom performers into middle of the road or better. If they don’t respond, move them along to other careers.
9. Physician leadership can be profoundly difficult, but when done right equally rewarding and productive. Always remember your real purpose as the leader. You are there to ensure that core values are upheld, to make the tough decisions, and to be honest even when it’s unpopular. You are also there to advance the happiness, productivity, and careers of your staff. Certainly, there are other elements that are important, but you’ll find your role as leader will be much easier if you can keep these basic requirements in mind. Judge yourself and your actions by the value you add to your team.
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What do you think? Is this a good starting point? Should some things be added? Some things subtracted? Have you found similar advice to be helpful in your leadership roles? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.