Physicians are placed in positions of leadership by the medical team, by the community, and by society, particularly during times of crisis such as the COVID pandemic. They are looked to by the media at times of health care news such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade.1 In a 2015 survey of resident physicians, two-thirds agreed that a formalized leadership curriculum would help them become better supervisors and clinicians.2 While all physicians are viewed as leaders, the concept of leadership is rarely, if ever, described or developed as a part of medical training. This month’s column will provide insights into defining leadership as a physician in the medical and administrative settings.
Benefits of effective leadership
Physicians, whether they are clinicians, researchers, administrators, or teachers, are expected to oversee and engage their teams. A report by the Institute of Medicine recommended that academic health centers “develop leaders at all levels who can manage the organizational and system changes necessary to improve health through innovation in health professions education, patient care, and research.”3 Hospitals with higher-rated management practices and more highly rated boards of directors have been shown to deliver higher-quality care and better clinical outcomes, including lower mortality.
To illustrate, the clinicians at the Mayo Clinic annually rate their supervisors on a Leader Index, a simple 12-question survey of five leadership domains: truthfulness, transparency, character, capability, and partnership. All supervisors were physicians and scientists. Their findings revealed that for each one-point increase in composite leadership score, there was a 3.3% decrease in the likelihood of burnout and a 9.0% increase in the likelihood of satisfaction in the physicians supervised.4
Interprofessional teamwork and engagement are vital skills for a leader to create a successful team. Enhanced management practices have also been associated with higher patient approval ratings and better financial performance. Effective leadership additionally affects physician well-being, with stronger leadership associated with less physician burnout and higher satisfaction.5
Leadership styles enhance quality measures in health care.6 The most effective leadership styles are ones in which the staff feels they are part of a team, are engaged, and are mentored.7 While leadership styles can vary, the common theme is staff engagement. An authoritative style leader is one who mobilizes the team toward a vision, that is, “Come with me.” An affiliative style leader creates harmony and builds emotional bonds where “people come first.” Democratic leaders forge a consensus through staff participation by asking, “What do you think?” Finally, a leader who uses a coaching style helps staff to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work toward improvement. These leadership behaviors are in contradistinction to the unsuccessful coercive leader who demands immediate compliance, that is, “Do what I tell you.”
Five fundamental leadership principles are shown in Table 1.8
Effective leaders have an open (growth) mindset, unwavering attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to building relationships and trust; they practice effective communication and listening, focus on results, and cocreate support structures.
A growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities are not innate but can improve through effort and learning.9