Webster’s dictionary defines a leader as “someone or something that leads or is able to lead.” Whether it is through formal leadership programs or informal mentoring, all physicians are considered leaders in the clinical setting. With the rise of modern medicine come changes that transform healthcare delivery of the organization and that of the healthcare industry. These changes require physicians to embrace leadership roles and engage other members of the healthcare team toward success. In order to develop into a strong physician leader, it is necessary to identify the characteristics that are most important to leadership in medicine.
- Vision above all: Consider vision as a billboard. It is the ideal picture you must paint to get your ideas across as powerful and desirable. As a physician leader, your efforts to develop and communicate a clear, compelling vision comes from the values you share with your team members. You must be able to look toward the future, overcome challenges, and take healthcare transformation to the next level. Ask yourself this question: If you are a leader without a vision for achieving success, why would anyone want to follow you?
- Influence: Leadership is a relationship where one individual influences the actions or attitudes of others. In order to be an effective physician leader, influence is vital. You must be able to set a direction, guide other members of your team to follow you, and achieve organizational goals. Hence, without influence, it is impossible to become a leader.
- Honesty: As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. As a leader, you are responsible for a team of individuals, so it is important to display proper values and core beliefs. Your team is a reflection of yourself, and by encouraging honest and ethical behavior, they will follow your example.
- Communication skills: It goes without saying that communication skills (verbal, written, and listening) are essential for being effective as both a physician and a leader. If you are able to make your patients and team members feel comfortable around you, you are likely to build strong bonds with them. Such behavior will help build your reputation as being a trustworthy and respectable medical professional.
- Accountability & Integrity: As a strong physician leader, you must be able to make decisions and take responsibility for your actions and those of your team members, no matter the consequences. Your team members (and even your patients) want to be assured you possess integrity and that they can rely on you for support. Good leaders create surroundings where future leaders can gain valuable experiences early in their careers.
- Appreciation for others: More than anything, your team members want their voices to be heard, and they want to work with a leader who is compassionate and dedicated to their work. Be the type of leader who shows appreciation for others’ ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Have faith in your team members’ abilities to take action and achieve desired outcomes. No matter if it is a medical student, colleague, or patient, motivate those around you and build up their confidence.
Many scholars have found there are several characteristics and skills which have proven effective in displaying proper leadership approaches. So, how can we be sure these specific characteristics (vision, influence, honesty, communication skills, accountability, integrity, and appreciation for others) identify all effective physician leaders?
We may never receive the proper answer to this question. The term “leadership” has a broad number of definitions, and the characteristics listed above simply highlight what makes a great physician leader based on the general population. In truth, what makes a great physician leader is based on each individual’s own perspective on medical leadership.
Physician engagement is vital, as hospitals and healthcare systems are continuing to rise in volume. However, engagement alone is not enough to ensure success within an organization. While medical schools train physicians to develop clinical skills, such skills don’t necessarily amount to excellent performance in leadership. In fact, research shows that most physicians are students well into their thirties, working in environments, practicing medicine, and most don’t have leadership experience whatsoever. As the healthcare industry is continuing to facilitate clinical integration and improve performance, physician leadership is paramount. For these reasons, it is imperative that hospitals and healthcare systems provide opportunities for physicians to take on leadership roles within organizations.
As you move along the path from student to resident and, finally, to doctor, chances are you will ultimately take on a leadership role. Each of these steps are specifically designed to prepare you for such a role and to help you advance in your medical career. As a physician leader, you have the opportunity to improve collaboration among team members, create strategic direction, and develop better healthcare systems—all of which can lead to enhanced medical care. Better yet, you can share your knowledge and pass it down to the next generation of healthcare leaders.
Being a great physician takes a certain type of person who is intelligent, empathetic, and passionate about their work. However, being a great communicator, motivator, and collaborator is what turns great physicians into great leaders. Needless to say, the characteristics that make you a good physician are not necessarily the same ones that make you a great leader. Still, at the heart of being a good physician leader is being a good physician.