Today’s interview is with a physician with whom I have worked for several years. He truly personifies outstanding leadership qualities. His ability to build consensus yet forge a direction has been evident at multiple different levels of leadership within a very challenging organization.
Why is physician leadership so important?
It is bigger now more than ever. There is a distinct need for the clinical voice at the table. These leaders need to be transparent and very aware of the important role they play. There are key items that need to be considered at the healthcare table: affordability, utilization, price per unit, quality, patient satisfaction, physician and nurse satisfaction are just some of the extremely complex situations that are under consideration. The challenge is to think differently about how these problems need to be solved.
What are the different skills that are needed at the different levels of physician leadership.
For someone just starting, at perhaps the .2 FTE level, it would be to focus on being a clinical champion. Work on developing the relationships that allow you to influence. Informal authority is where many decisions are made. Look for opportunities to work on areas that add value to the organization.
At a .5 FTE leadership level, the most important item I could mention would be the more formal leadership training. Perhaps an MBA, perhaps an executive program. Physicians are not trained in leadership and many errors occur due to this lack of expertise.
As a full-time leader the principle item is a broad, system level thinking capability. It is difficult to start to think at these levels, since it forces a person beyond their own niche that maybe they have been defending and developing over the years.
What comments do you have regarding what are called ‘soft skills’?
The ability to be self-aware is crucial for a leader. You have to know what your instincts are and what gaps are there in your leadership skills. You have to be able to take your internal temperature in a variety of situations and have it be accurate.
The challenge with leadership for some physicians is that in leadership there is no more direct line authority. “Just because I am the doctor” may work in the OR, but it won’t work to develop the influence and respect needed for good leadership.
Any suggestions for working within multiple reporting silos, or what has been called a ‘matrixed organization’?
Developing relationships and influence is the basis. There has to be the respect both personally and professionally. Try to make your voice heard in multiple venues throughout the organization. However, you have to be able to add value here, and not just pontificate. This will require you to “take some corners” in putting yourself into uncomfortable settings. This is easier said than done. We all like to be where we are comfortable. It is like learning a new language. It has to be conscious transition to a new level.
Any other suggestions?
Yes. Find a mentor. This is sometimes hard for men to do since we don’t typically reach out for help as well as we should. However, as a person enters into these new areas of leadership, they will need to find a person to talk to that can be a confidential and reliable sounding board.