Physician Leadership Lessons From the Business World


Every physician is a leader at some level. Here's how to be a better one.

Fam Pract Manag. 2016 Nov-Dec;23(6):14-16.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

Leadership is a fundamental skill that all professionals – including physicians – need to succeed. A leader is not defined by a position but by the ability to shift the direction of an organization by influencing others. With the many challenges in today's health care environment, the importance of leadership from family physicians cannot be understated. Influencing policy, trail-blazing new practice models, helping to shift the focus from health care to health, leading effective care teams in clinics, or mentoring students and residents are many examples of the positive impact that family physician leaders can have on our health care system.

The business literature is rich with leadership lessons that most industries – from technology to manufacturing – have readily embraced yet health care has been slow to adopt. This article will share several leadership lessons drawn from the business literature and show how physicians can apply them in health care.

Lesson #1: Leadership has five levels

John Maxwell's classic book The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential (New York, NY: Center Street; 2011) demonstrates the various stages leaders typically go through, what motivates people to follow a leader at each level, and what the highest level of leadership looks like.

1. Position: “People follow you because they have to.” This is the lowest level of leadership, and it equates to simply being “the boss.” In certain situations, however, this style of leadership makes sense – for example, a military commander during a time of crisis. Based on your title alone, others look to you as the leader. As a physician, although you may not have a formal leadership or management title, you do have position as the medical authority. Naturally, you will have a major impact on the work environment. Your attitude, positive or negative, will spread much more quickly than anyone else's in the clinic.

2. Permission: “People follow you because they want to.” This level of leadership is achieved by building relationships with those around you – from your receptionist to your medical assistant to your physician colleagues. If you tend to be more task-oriented than people-oriented, this can be a challenge, but it is critical. You must build relationships, understand your team members' personalities, and know how they work together before you can progress to the other levels of leadership. This can be time-consuming; however, it is time well spent. Making support staff feel as though they are valuable members of the team can help raise morale. In addition, if there comes a time when you have to counsel or correct a staff member, he or she is more apt to listen if you have the

About the Authors

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Dr. Kwon is a family physician and faculty member and Dr. Flood is a third-year resident at the National Capital Consortium Fort Belvoir Community Hospital family medicine residency program, Fort Belvoir, Va....

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army/Navy/Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


Copyright © 2016 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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