5 essential ingredients to physician leadership

Leadership in healthcare requires a different skill set than it does in other types of businesses, Robert Pearl, M.D., CEO of the Permanente Medical Group, wrote in a recent commentary for Forbes.

To truly engage physicians and effect change, healthcare leaders should hone the following techniques:

  • Build trust. Although physicians are analytical by nature, they also rely heavily on their instincts. To earn the trust required for physicians to follow them, leaders must meet with them individually and in small groups, not just send memos. As an extension of trust, great physician leaders achieve success through influence, not authority.
  • Guide through fear. Successful leaders "have a gift for helping people who are fearful at the start recognize by the end why the path was best, and, as a result, encourage them to embrace further change in the future," Pearl wrote.
  • Provide real-world context. Broad demands on physicians don't get their attention as well as specific illustration of the potential impact of change. To encourage physicians to take steps to cut the rate of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), for example, don't focus on the need to pass a Joint Commission survey, but consider bringing in family members of a patient who died from a HAI to talk to the group.
  • Use data to inspire. Data, of course, has its place in illustrating performance measures and the need to make improvements. But rather than opening the discussion with data that shows an organization's poor performance--and reinforces the status quo--provide proof that somebody else is already achieving the desired outcome. A leader must help create a plan to get to that desired outcome that is ambitious but also doable, however.
  • Break change into manageable pieces. To help physicians cope with the magnitude of change, leaders must set clear expectations for specific and observable actions, according to Pearl, such as physicians washing their hands every time before walking into and out of a patient's room or ordering a mammogram for every women of a certain age who has not had one in the previous two years.

To learn more:
- read the commentary