“Physician Leadership” Must Never be an Oxymoron

Written by James A. Stroud, CPA; D. Maddox Casey, CPA
; Sae Evans, CPA on August 17, 2018

Physician Leadership

If there has ever been a time in the practice of medicine when leadership was needed, it is certainly now.  Just a few of the challenges facing practices include:

  • Payer encroachment on medical decision making is increasing.
  • Payments for healthcare services are declining.
  • Utilization review processes question the extent of treatment provided.
  • Aging physicians in the U.S. want a lighter work schedule.
  • Medical staff are more inclined to frequently change jobs.
  • Patients take an increasingly unappreciative attitude toward the medical profession.
  • The payment architecture for healthcare services changes often enough to make it nearly incomprehensive.

While there are many elements needed for navigating this maze, physician leadership is the most essential.

In future issues, we want to address the role of leading your physician partners, the leadership of your employee team, leadership in your medical community, your impact on your patient population, and leadership outside of your profession. However, leadership in all areas begins with effective leadership of yourself.  Because the Healthcare Division of our Firm is singularly devoted to the provision of services to physicians and their practices, we have the opportunity to regularly observe hundreds of physicians in their roles within their practice. Some are natural leaders, others have made themselves into the leaders needed by their group and some have assumed leadership but are not truly ready for the role.  To be a leader you must have the right perspective, clear personal goals and an abundance of wisdom.

The foundation for leadership readiness is found in a perspective that your purpose is to serve those you lead.  In the opening words of Rick Warren’s “A Purpose Driven Life”, the author begins with a reminder that “it is not about you”.  If you believe that your environment exists to serve you, your decisions will be selfish, your judgements self-serving and your appetites insatiable. This belief cannot be concealed, and it is very distasteful when observed by your partners, staff and others.  However, when a physician of supreme abilities, abundant blessings and high regard behaves selflessly, the esteem in which they are held is increased, and a resulting willingness to follow their lead is instilled. This means they know the needs of those around them and possess a healthy empathy toward their fellow physicians, employees and others.

Those who have a magnetic leadership ability, have a clear vision of what they what they want to achieve. Their roles as a spouse, parent, grandparent, child of their parents and sibling are marked by intentional goals and plans to achieve those goals. They have fitness and health aims, personal hobbies and recreational goals, and faith-based priorities as well as their medical practice plans.  Rather than having to insist on followers, those around them follow by admiration of their balanced lives, clearness of direction, and discipline to stay on task in their pursuits. This leadership by respect rather than by position is discussed in “The 360 Degree Leader” by John Maxwell. This pursuit of goals must be balanced. For example, the young physician who is so committed to parenting that he or she wants to coach their child’s soccer team is appreciated for their success in all realms of life if they are also the top producer at the clinic, have expanded their hours to see patients before normal office hours and are working on their afternoon off to make up for lost production. Given the same scenario, the doctor/coach who is the lowest producer and does nothing to supplant the production lost to extra time away from work will never receive respect for their one-dimensional enthusiasm. If they also complain about the unfair allocation of patients, errors in the practice revenue cycle and the need for greater compensation, they are assured of disrespect from their staff and peers.

The servant leader must have a “healthy empathy,” and the goals of a driven physician must be “balanced.” These qualities can only be found in an abundance of wisdom built over the years. Wisdom enables you to pick the battles you should fight selectively. Patiently wait for the opportune time to engage on the issues, and calculatingly arrange the desired audience to be present as you deal with a matter. Wise actions are deliberate, not impulsive. Some wisdom comes from past mistakes, so always review your own handling of tough situations for ways in which you could have improved. Wisdom is also found in seeking the counsel of others, especially those outside your practice.

Future leadership articles will speak to the various areas calling for physician leadership, but self-leadership must be at the core.

"'PHYSICIAN LEADERSHIP' MUST NEVER BE AN OXYMORON" was originally featured in January's issue of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama's quarterly magazine.

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