Friday, September 21, 2012

What Makes Successful Leaders?

The attributes once sought in physician leaders have changed along with the evolving healthcare landscape. Healthcare organizations demand leaders with collaboration and adaptability, facilitation of tough issues, communication and relationship skills, transparency, political savvy, stakeholder alignment, as well as energy, enthusiasm and engagement. They want leaders with positive, invigorated attitudes that are adaptable and energized by challenges and possibilities. Leaders are expected to shape the future, guide “the change,” make things happen, and foster an environment to build the organization’s next generation of leaders.

But what makes a successful leader?

Consider leadership vs. expertise – they are not the same. It’s not about knowing more than anyone else. Being good at the work makes someone an expert, not a leader, and many organizations confuse expertise and leadership skills.

Good leadership skills can be defined as those actions and behaviors that support leadership – the ability to influence, motivate, and direct others. According to the 2011 Physician Retention Survey, 84 percent of respondents said a physician’s teamwork qualities are more important today as compared to five years ago. This view also was unanimous among the audience of physician leaders at the recent AMGA annual conference in San Diego.

With a clear mandate for enhanced teamwork, successful healthcare organizations will sharpen their focus on assessing teamwork skills in physician candidates and developing team leadership within the organization. While medical training focuses on honing technical skills (the “what”), effective teamwork and team leadership are soft skills that require specific behaviors (the “how”). For example, successful leaders:

  • Handle stress with composure
  • Handle mistakes gracefully
  • Focus on getting people to help solve problems
  • Get along with a wide variety of people

While these may be difficult to assess during recruitment, Tools such as the Winslow Assessment will help determine whether or not a candidate possesses the traits of a successful leader. Most survey respondents (77 percent) believe references are an effective method for assessing teamwork qualities, but this approach relies heavily on the quality and qualifications of the reference. At the other end of the spectrum, about half the respondents indicated they use emotional intelligence assessments, yet only 35 percent of those believe these assessments are effective.

Fundamentally, the natural progression of a leader starts with the ability to lead onself, followed by leading others and eventually leading the organization. Healthcare organizations need to identify and create advancement pathways for physicians who perform well and demonstrate leadership in an integrated team environment.

The 2011 survey findings complement numerous published insights from medical group leaders across the United States in a variety of practice settings and delivery structures. A resounding common theme is the growing need for establishing strong relationships with physicians who possess the attributes and motivation to work as partners in delivering care that is accountable to patients and payers.

To do this, consider the following characteristics of “best practice” leadership development programs:

  • Should balance an “instructional” academy approach with personal development initiatives
  • Is both an organizational and individual responsibility
  • Must align characteristics and needs of individuals with organization goals
  • Must be a strategic priority


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