A leader is only as good as his or her team, and a team is only as good as its leader.
For the physician leader who heads a business or organization, an ambitious, talented, and high-functioning team is the first step to running a successful practice or department. The second step is learning how to manage this team.
Moving from being a clinically contributing physician to a physician leader is a major transition. Whether you planned your rise to leadership from the beginning of your career, slowly evolved into the role, or fell into it by default, your ability to transition out of the clinical into the administrative will be a journey in itself.
As a physician leader, you will find that recruiting, hiring, and managing staff will take up a great amount of your time, and establishing yourself as a coaching leader—rather than a managing manager—will give you plenty of opportunities to create the buy-in every leader is working toward.
Some would say that managers get things accomplished by force, while leaders get things accomplished through inspiration. Michael Guthrie, MD, MBA, executive-in-residence at the University of Colorado in Denver, says that leadership is “inspiring groups of people to achieve objectives larger than their own personal interests,” while management is “getting things done with and through other people.”
So why take the time to inspire people though leadership when managing sounds so effective? The answer is simple: People don’t react to strategic plans, goals, and objectives; they react to things that connect to their own values.
Charles E. Dwyer, PhD, associate professor in the Educational Leadership Division of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and featured speaker at the American College of Physician Executives’ annual Spring Institute, held in New York earlier this year, believes that a physician leader should “never expect anyone to engage in a behavior that serves your values unless you give that person adequate reason to do so.” This boils down to getting your employees to perceive that, by following your plan, they are doing what is best for their own values.
Values? What about Visions?
According to Dr. Dwyer, “Organizations [themselves] do not have, never have had, never will have, and indeed cannot have objectives, goals, missions, visions, philosophies, ideals, ideologies, values, or problems—they can’t because they are not living things.” It is people, he says, who have missions and visions, and that is rare within itself. “Most people I’ve encountered do not have a personal vision,” he says. “Some people just show up and do their jobs.”
Someone, or some group of people at each established institution, created the mission and vision—not the institution itself, and Dr. Dwyer cautions against the naiveté of believing that each and every employee personally subscribes to the exact mission and vision of their department, institution, or practice. “We’re not all here for the same reason; we don’t all believe in the same thing, and that is okay,” he explains.
When you come to understand that each of your employees has entered healthcare—and your department, institution, or practice—for different personal and professional reasons, you will be able to tap into their values and get them to tap into, and go along with, your plans.
A true merging of an employee’s values with a supervisor’s plans does not happen overnight. It is a process of creating buy-in and loyalty that allows a physician leader to build an environment where all team members are working toward the good of the entire organization, rather than the good of themselves.
It is safe to assume that giving employees a sheet of paper with the mission and vision of your practice, institution, or department doesn’t automatically guarantee buy-in and loyalty. Creating this comes directly from the top down, and viewing—and treating—employees as assets, rather than costs, will build a firm foundation for this.
In his 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “Covert Leadership: Notes,” Henry Mintzberg writes, “Leaders energize people by treating them not as detachable ‘human resources’ (probably the most offensive term ever coined in management) but as respected members of a cohesive social system.”
Edward J. O’Connor, PhD, professor of management at the University of Colorado in Denver, and featured speaker at the American College of Physician Executives’ annual Spring Institute, notes that to be a successful physician leader, “You want to attract, motivate, and keep knowledgeable employees and give them something they want to do.”
This thought touches on one of the basic principles of management: Give me something important to do, make it personal by attaching it to my values, coach me along the way, trust that I will do it—and I will. Doing this is an ongoing process within each organization, but it can be done.
The following are a few basic ideas to help you begin to create buy-in among your current employees.
- Provide meaningful work: Odds are, your employees were initially attracted to their jobs because they want to help people. Tap into this value by giving your employees projects and responsibilities that will remind them of the patients they desire to help.
- Provide challenging work: No one wants to be bored on the job. When an employee’s days become too routine and unthinking, he or she may start looking into other options. By providing projects that will feed your employees’ minds and energy, you are literally feeding their careers—and no one will leave a table with plenty of food on it.
- Provide flexibility, and respect my personal life: Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing—even when you love your job. It is important to view your employees as people with personal lives, as well as assets to your organization. Giving them time to handle their personal business will ultimately help your business.
These ideas tap directly into the professional values of your employees and will help you as you start to create buy-in and loyalty, but they are just the beginning.
In an upcoming issue, “From the College” will continue to discuss how physician leaders can merge an employee’s values with their practice’s, department’s, or institution’s goals and plans by looking at the five Rs of physician leadership: recruitment, realization, recognition, redirection, and retention.