In my last two Messenger articles, I wrote about the value of high functioning teams and the importance of physician engagement. Building on that foundation, I’d like to introduce the topic of physician leadership.
I believe physician leadership is essential for the future of health care in Alberta. However, the term “physician leadership” may be perceived as physicians wanting to be in charge. There may be times when physicians need to be in charge, but that is not what I’m talking about.
Good leaders create an environment that stimulates innovation and creativity, they recognize individual strengths, and they encourage growth and development when it’s needed.
Over the past 30 years, I have had the privilege of learning from some exceptional leaders. Those who stand out recognized the role they played in building and enhancing the performance of the teams they were fortunate enough to lead. They were also exceptionally strong at engaging all team members in executing common goals.
High-functioning teams rely on the diversity of the team members and maximize each person’s unique skills and abilities. Good leaders create an environment that stimulates innovation and creativity, they recognize individual strengths, and they encourage growth and development when it’s needed.
You don’t have to be in charge to be a leader. You can highlight the talents of each team member and engage everyone even if you have no positional authority. It can be as simple as recognizing when others need help and reaching out, or coming to work with a smile on your face. There are easy things you can do that have a dramatic impact on a team’s performance.
“how can I actively try to help this team perform better?”
If leadership is fundamentally about influencing the performance of a team, what about those who have a negative impact on a team’s performance? Are they leaders? Like many things, leadership is a spectrum from positive to negative. For those who have a negative impact on a team’s performance they are considered to have a negative leadership style. We see that in tyrannical leaders, but you can also see that in team members whose behaviour creates an environment where people don’t want to work or those who diminish the morale of a group thus decreasing the performance of that team.
Self-reflection and self-awareness are two fundamental requirements of good leadership, but they can be two of the hardest things to learn. A question all physicians should ask themselves is… “am I enhancing the performance of the health care team I’m working with, or am I having a negative influence?” The next natural question should be “how can I actively try to help this team perform better?” Neither of these require a physician to be in a position of authority, yet they can have a dramatic impact.
Whether you are in solo practice in a rural community or a specialist in a large urban hospital, you are an essential part of a health care team. Whether it’s formal or informal, you will play a leadership role and your actions can have a significant impact on the care your patients receive.
Let’s all find ways to become better leaders to improve health care in Alberta.
As always, I look forward to your comments.
Dr. Scott McLeod