Leading the Way

Leadership does not necessarily come naturally; these key points will help anyone's ability

By Judy Capko | Practical Management | September/October 2008


Being an effective leader is critical for physicians as well as managers. This includes employed physicians as well as physician owners. Staff looks to the physicians for support and guidance. It’s a fact—and it affects whether staff is motivated, productive, and happy on the job!

I was recently brought into a practice where there was dissention among the employees and turnover was at an all-time high. There were a number of reasons for this, but one pointed directly at a physician that joined this three physician practice two years earlier.

Dr. Clueless had a lot to learn about dealing with staff and understanding how important it was for him to set an example. Here are just a few of the things he did that quickly demoralized this staff:

  • Questioned employees in a way that exhibited a lack of confidence or trust
  • Frequently changed his mind about how he wanted things done
  • Was quick to judge and slow to praise
  • Made derogatory statements about one employee to another
  • The manager of this practice was doing a stellar job, but this physician damaged leadership’s position by setting a poor example that was destructive to both morale and productivity.

Physicians need to get on the same leadership course as the manager and provide the support needed to provide a consistent leadership message. Here are some important pointers to help keep leadership focused on doing the right thing.

Communicate leadership’s responsibilities. Begin by clarifying the existing leadership style and culture and put it in writing. Next, orient new physicians on what you expect and coach them on setting an example and being effective in a leadership role. Meet with Dr. New often to review how well he or she fits into the existing leadership culture and offer support and coaching when needed. Set a standard for how staff is treated and hold each physician accountable to meet the standard. This may mean curbing tempers, communicating better, keeping commitments, and respecting each person’s contribution to the practice.

Honor the staff. How important is the staff and how will this be exhibited? If you truly value staff you will pay each one fairly and provide them the tools and instructions to do their jobs well. Honoring staff includes providing the support essential to developing a team culture so that each employee appreciates what other people in the practice do.

It also means offering constructive criticism when needed and dealing with a problem employee promptly. Failure to resolve an employee’s poor attitude or sub-par performance sends staff a message that the performance or attitude is acceptable to management and results in plummeting morale and productivity. It inevitably causes a spike in turnover.

Valuing staff is further exhibited by how you respect their time. This means taking a consistent position on requiring staff to get to work on time and getting them out of the office on time. If tardiness or overtime in the office is a regular thing, leadership needs to examine the cause and find a solution.

A key component to valuing staff’s time is your attitude toward individual and group meetings. If performance reviews are delayed or postponed, or if staff meetings are frequently canceled, staff will begin to think they are at the bottom of management’s list of priorities.

Recognize everyone’s contribution. If Dr. Confident thinks that no one can do the job as well as his nurse and treats her as if she’s special, it will result in dissention and a distrust of management among the staff. Everyone in the office depends on each other, and this message needs to be clearly exhibited by managers and physicians throughout the practice.




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