Learning to Lead in Uncertain Times: Seven Tips


As a physician leader, you can help provide clarity, calm, and cohesion.

Fam Pract Manag. 2020 May-June;27(3):36.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

All physicians are leaders in their organizations because of their clinical expertise and authority. Even those who do not have a formal leadership position are viewed as leaders of their care teams. Physician leadership matters, particularly in uncertain and challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Good leaders can help provide clarity, calm, and cohesion when there is complexity, stress, and low morale.

I recently completed a year as chief resident, which forced me to hone my leadership skills quickly. Along with a few dozen gray hairs, here are seven tips I've gathered about how to be an effective leader.

1. Be proactive. Being proactive involves setting goals, planning, and frequently reassessing so you aren't just reacting to situations. Look at the schedule and identify potential issues ahead of time. Check in with your team frequently to ensure small problems don't turn into big problems. Plan for what's coming so you can avoid frustration later on.

2. Listen. Successful leaders amplify the needs and views of those they represent. Resist the urge to give your opinion at every opportunity and make a point to listen and observe. Study how your organization works and pay attention to what your team needs.

3. Develop an organized system and prioritize. Leaders have dozens of tasks to complete at any given time. Because others look to you for guidance and to get things done, the amount of work can become overwhelming. Developing an organized system allows you to prioritize, delegate, and complete tasks on time. I used Google Keep (, an online note-taking service, and kept multiple checklists with varying degrees of urgency. I also tried to keep my inbox clean by responding to items promptly or moving tasks to my “Keep” task list.

4. Communicate well and transparently. What you say as a leader will be valued, so being an effective communicator is critical. When speaking in person, be concise and focused, and allow adequate time for questions.


Dr. Patel is chief resident at Ohio State Family Medicine in Columbus, Ohio.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


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