What Leadership Skills are Doctors Lacking?

Some experts argue that physicians are, in the aggregate, sorely lacking in leadership abilities. In a previous post, we reviewed why some experts feel this way, from the perspective of why physicians need to have solid leadership skills in the first place. In this post, we’ll look at what the key skills physicians need to be effective leaders.doctor

Interpersonal Literacy

A healthcare organization is a team, and as senior members of that team, physicians need to be able to help guide and direct the team members as individuals as well as parts of a larger whole. This requires interpersonal literacy.
Interpersonal literacy, according to the Harvard Business Review, “includes abilities related to effectively coordinating teams, coaching and giving feedback, interprofessional communication, and displaying emotional intelligence.”
The authors are not alone in their thinking. They point to other organizations that have recognized and supported the importance of these skills, including the American Medical Association, the National Health Service, and the Canadian College of Health Leaders.

Systems Literacy

The practice of medicine is more about the specifics of diagnosing and treating individuals. It’s much broader as it is part of a much broader and more complex system. This makes what the authors call “systems literacy” so important.
“In today’s healthcare landscape, physicians need to understand the business of healthcare organization, including concepts such as insurance structure and costs that patients encounter,” the authors write.
Aside from their responsibility for individual patients and participation in one-on-one, individual interactions, physicians are increasingly called upon to take part in larger initiatives focused on making improvements in quality and safety at the macro level.
Importantly, they can’t achieve these goals alone, or in isolation from other areas and individuals in the organization. In health care, it takes a village—a village that represents an increasingly complex system that physicians must learn to navigate.

Addressing Errors

Mistakes happen in any industry. But, obviously, when dealing with human health and lives, these mistakes have a much greater potential impact. The authors write that, “given the sensitive nature of their work, physicians must be comfortable with recognizing, disclosing, and addressing errors, and helping their teams do so as well.”
While the focus of  physicians’ education and training is understandably focused on the science of medicine, their inevitable role as leaders means that there are certain skills they simply need to have if they are going to succeed and help their staff and organizations succeed as well as provide the best possible patient experience.
In our final post in this topic, we’ll talk about some recommended strategies for nurturing the leadership skills that are often lacking among physicians.

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