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How to Hire and Develop Physician Leaders Based on 6 Common Weaknesses

August 2, 2017

hire and develop physician leaders

A few years back, we started a dialogue with our clients about the behavioral competencies of physicians. More importantly, how could we assess these competencies to identify physicians who fit the organization’s culture and vision, and then help those physicians to grow, develop, and succeed?

In the years since, we continue to work with professionals, leaders, and executives across all industries, including the unique healthcare population. Clients recognize that finding and developing physicians is critical to success. It’s no longer sufficient to hire based on the CV or clinical skills. Hospitals and hospital systems need much more from physicians today.

3 Step Process to Hiring and Developing Physician Leaders:

  1. Define performance and behavioral expectations for physicians and physician leaders.

  2. Assess candidates and incumbents to understand their abilities and expectations.

  3. Develop every physician and physician leader as a valuable resource.

We’ve been using a combination of assessments for physicians over the past few years – our robust Select Assessment for Executives (the same process used by leading companies to select and develop senior leaders), the Select C.A.R.E. Assessment designed to help individuals improve patient-centered care behaviors, and our new Select Assessment for Physicians, which targets the behavioral competencies needed for success.

Some of most interesting work has been work we've done with healthcare systems seeking to understand more about the performance challenges and potential of their medical chairpersons. Traditionally, these senior leaders were chosen because of a successful academic and clinical track-record, and that was sufficient. Today, though, health systems are looking for people in these positions with substantive leadership skills – skills that will help them navigate a period of unprecedented change and pressure to perform. Clients are putting these leaders through a four-hour proven online behavioral assessment and an hour-long interview with a trained executive assessor. The result is a custom report on each individual that provides deep insight into his or her strengths, weaknesses, and potential, as well as the ability to look at the group as a whole. Armed with this information, the organization can identify group weaknesses and work with individuals to maximize performance. The same process is being used to help select the best candidate to fill an open spot.

What does the preliminary data show? There are outstanding physician leaders, but are they chosen by mere chance? Sometimes the results show that the most visible and vocal leaders are lacking in specific skills while some of the less-obvious physician leaders have the potential to do much more to help the organization. Looking at over twenty behavioral skills categories, physician senior leaders are often strong in some of the areas you’d expect (keep in mind, of course, that these are generalities – there is a great deal of individual variability).

Common Strengths of Physicians

  1. Focus on patients - Most have succeeded because they are outstanding clinicians.

  2. Results orientation - Physicians are driven, particularly those who’ve risen to senior leadership roles.

  3. Learning agility, strategic thinking, financial acumen, and judgment - No surprise here, physicians are bright.

When you think about how physicians are prepared and groomed for leadership (or, rather, how they are specifically NOT prepared), the common weaknesses are no surprise either (again, recall these are mostly physicians in the most senior positions in the medical staff).

Common Weaknesses of Physicians:

  1. Planning and organizing - In other fields, success at lower levels requires an increasing ability to plan and organize. Successful physicians are often surrounded by a team that plans and organizes for them and are then handed the keys to a department of hundreds along with complex initiatives.

  2. Relationship management - Again, for the most part, physicians are not selected for medical school, trained, or evaluated for their ability to manage relationships, except for the doctor-patient relationship, which is pretty unique and not consistent with what’s needed here.

  3. Emotional intelligence - Social and self-awareness are particularly problematic. This can make it difficult to work collaboratively or foster a culture of teamwork and avoid unnecessary organizational conflict.

  4. Openness to feedback - Another skill not emphasized in physician training. As one CMO put it, Department Chairs have not traditionally felt like they have a “boss” or thought much about seeking help to improve their performance.

  5. Accountability - This gets at the ability to move department initiatives. A sense of accountability to one’s direct supervisor perhaps. Again, many physicians have succeeded without ever being in a position to be really accountable to someone or an organization. Clinical or research success was all that mattered.

  6. Holding others accountable - Most physicians have no training or experience actually managing people. Accordingly, they’ve not had the chance to develop the unique skill of holding others accountable while also gaining their buy-in, and creating in them, a sense of accountability other than relying on traditional autocratic leadership methods.

Knowing this, what can we do with this information? Here are some starting suggestions:

  • Start thinking about helping to groom physicians who show leadership potential.

  • Make use of assessment tools in choosing physicians for the most important leadership roles.

  • Implement structured developmental programs for leaders currently in place. Their success will be your success – or failure.

For more on how to hire and develop the best healthcare leaders:

healthcare leadership

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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.