Downloading Success: Harnessing the Hidden Strengths of Physician Leaders to Thrive Post-Pandemic

Contributors: Bob Clarke, and Joe Mazzenga
To learn more about Bob and Joe, click here.


image003_1.jpgNever has the clarion call to transform healthcare delivery been louder or more urgent than it is today. Organizations will need to engage physician leaders to answer the call. But not in the way many assume. The COVID pandemic has thrust us into the most incredible circumstances, forcing organizations to reassess nearly every aspect of how they operate, and how they will survive and thrive in the near and distant future. 

Physicians are intelligent, voracious, lifelong learners, a result of their heightened curiosity and scientific thinking. What may be surprising is that this aspect of their personality correlates with and amplifies two other innate tendencies these leaders often possess – ingenuity and innovation. These core drivers are critical for idea generation, out-of-the-box thinking, and problem solving. 

During the course of our work with physician executives, most of whom are focused primarily on administrative leadership activities, we’ve measured data related to the foundational personality drivers of more than 200 physician leaders. Our methods use three science-based assessments that have been independently audited, validated, and refined over 40 years of talent development applications in myriad industries.

These three assessments measure a person’s baseline propensities and characteristics, their key strengths, motivators, and values, and the unconscious tendencies they have which can derail their performance. These metrics enable organizations to leverage this predictive data to create hyper-tailored development and succession plans for their leaders, thereby increasing the effectiveness of leaders at all levels by identifying and accelerating one of the central tenets of leadership, emotional intelligence. 

image002.jpgLooking across the aggregate data set of physician leaders, two markers stand out amongst the very highest average scores – inquisitive and imaginative. Most often these characteristics go hand in hand and demonstrate a person’s ability and propensity to be creative, strategic problem solvers, and boundless, ingenious idea generators.

This remarkable insight emphasizes how critical it is for organizations to include physician leaders in enterprise-level brainstorming, problem solving, and strategic discussions. As we emerge from the pandemic, leading successful teams and organizations will require a much different approach. Organizations that nurture and embrace physician leaders and engage them at a high level will ensure their organization’s agility and resilience to flourish well into the future. 

Explicitly inviting physician leaders and executives to share candidly in strategic, future-oriented conversations, given their innate ability to pioneer solutions, balanced with their expertise and passion for the delivery of high quality, patient-centered care, creates a distinct advantage for healthcare organizations. The challenge is finding the most constructive ways to tap into this tremendous talent. 

Physicians complete years of schooling, residency, and ongoing professional education, but, as many studies have pointed out, this intense training and immersion in the field leaves a deficit of leadership skills. These leaders are often left on their own to learn in trial-by-fire type scenarios how to become effective leaders. Investing in the development of physician leaders initiates an opportunity to develop the skills and competencies essential for physicians in enterprise leadership.

Historically, when physicians are appointed to leadership roles within their hospital or health system, it is often described metaphorically as if they are standing at the edge of a swimming pool. On one end is the shallow, walk-in portion of the pool and the other end, the deepest part. Because physicians are intelligent, hardworking, and have a lot of capacity, they are thrown straight into the deepest end of the pool without the ease of transition that most other leaders enjoy throughout the course of their careers. 

However, physician leaders are frequently ill prepared at this point to understand themselves, as they have not developed much in the way of emotional intelligence. They may also lack the requisite business acumen that would enable them to make the best decisions, and, more importantly, to feel confident contributing to the range and scale of conversations around the boardroom table. This is a population of leaders who feel highly competent in all areas of their career, but, when dropped into a leadership role, may experience an uncomfortable hesitation and doubt. 

image001.jpgAfter spending thousands upon thousands of hours perfecting their craft, here they sit knocked off balance and out of sorts having comparatively worked a very tiny fraction of that time on developing their leadership muscle. By identifying their strengths, increasing their self-awareness, and boosting their intrinsic propensity for creativity and problem solving, physician leaders employ their desire for knowledge and are easily immersed in building themselves and their teams to accelerate performance and succeed. 

Prioritizing these sometimes hidden dimensions of their physician leaders’ personalities, organizations can unlock the potential of these leaders simply by resetting expectations, both external to that leader and within. As other leaders adjust their perception of physicians in leadership roles, the effects will be limitless. When we think about all of this in relation to how we will weather and navigate the unchartered waters ahead and the questions surrounding delivery of care, the voice and contribution of physician leaders must be heard and encouraged. 

Inviting the relentless commitment physician leaders have for care delivery and patient satisfaction into discussions about how and where care will be delivered is vital to designing a future that fits the dynamic landscape ahead. What if the hospital bed of the future is in the patient’s living room, and the house call is via video chat? Isn’t that a discussion best had with input from physicians in the room? The key is to avoid typecasting physician leaders by relying on them only for clinical or diagnostic input. They will have much more to offer.

Looking ahead, it is imperative to enable physician leaders and executives to push the boundaries of possibility and dream of a future healthcare delivery system beyond imagination. Support their outstanding ability to incubate and accelerate those ideas to invent and deploy solutions that proactively thrust your organization into a future of its choosing instead of a future without choice. 


Contact Joe and Bob at:
Joe Mazzenga, Managing Partner of NuBrick Partners
[email protected]

Bob Clarke, CEO of Furst Group
[email protected]