Competencies physician leaders should have before becoming physician leaders

One of the harder career transitions to make is from a practicing physician to a physician leader with administrative and leadership responsibilities in a complex health system. Physicians spend many years learning the clinical nature of their work. Even if they take time out to get an MBA, they sometimes don’t know exactly what they are getting into when they step into an administrative role, and often lack some of the key competencies that non-physicians have developed through years of organizational experience.

This can cause frustration for the physician leader, his team, and his colleagues — especially if the physician leader lacks awareness of his his impact on others and isn’t open to receiving constructive feedback and advice. In extreme cases, it can lead to a very expensive mistake for both the healthcare organization and the physician leader’s career.

Some of the competencies physician leaders should have, and can be developed with a good executive coach and training opportunities, include:

  • Communicating with other people while balancing the need to get results and maintaining strong professional relationships.
  • Demonstrating communication flexibility — the ability to use different communication styles to have maximum impact depending on the situation.
  • Having effective influence conversations.
  • Thinking more strategically about issues.
  • Being an authentic leader — going first, modeling the behaviors and values expected, and setting a tone that demands the highest standards.
  • Demonstrating leadership style flexibility — the ability to adjust their leadership style depending on the situation and person(s) involved. Many physician leaders (and leaders in general, really) only have one leadership style and haven’t learned that different situations call for different approaches.
  • Engaging team members and employees to do their best — using informal vs. formal or titular authority.
  • Developing other leaders.
  • Taking responsibility for their own professional development and continuous improvement.
  • Evaluating the political landscape in order to think through how to get buy in to make an idea or initiative happen.
  • Developing a strong network of professional relationships up, down, across, and outside the organization.
  • Collaborating effectively with others to forward the larger goals of the organization.
  • Being aware of their impact on others compared to their intent, and making adjustments to keep improving. This includes eliminating any behavioral blind spots that could significantly derail the physician leader’s effectiveness in or even career with the organization.

The above are only some of the competencies that we have seen physician leaders benefit from developing. In practice, a confidential assessment of the physician leader’s strengths and development opportunities leads to insights about opportunities. Often these insights alone can provide career-changing and never-ending value to the physician leader, and ongoing value to the organization.