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The Essence Of A Physician Leader 

Evolving view of physician leadership: Breaking the mold.

Prevailing models of leadership have prevented organizations from developing a broad range of leaders who can work together to create strong leadership teams.  Conventional models are now giving way to a different approach to leadership.  Physicians looking for non-clinical roles may have a competitive advantage, given their backgrounds and the evolving view of leadership in industry.   

In the past, conventional wisdom suggested there was one best way to be a leader.  Neophytes were taught that leaders were born with the skills they needed—and further development was not necessary.  The privileged few led by telling others what to do, and their subordinates were expected to follow.  These leaders tended to be autonomous and often made decisions and took action independent of others.  Like the fictional character, the “Lone Ranger,” this type of leader became an enduring icon of American culture.     

Today, a new model of leadership is emerging.  The trend suggests there is more than one way to demonstrate leadership.  A diverse set of leadership styles is essential for the success of an organization.  Leadership involves skills and abilities that can be learned—and all leaders—regardless of their level and experience—can strengthen and improve their skills. Moreover, the best leaders are also team players.  They operate systemically, much like a team captain.

Conventional Model                  Emerging Model

One best way                           Leadership pathways

Static                                        Developmental

Born                                          Made

Individual                                  Systemic

Lone Ranger                             Team Captain

What Physician Leaders Really Do

Many have expounded on the difference between management and leadership.  Simply put, management is about coping with complexity; leadership is about dealing with change.  Leadership complements management; it doesn’t replace it.  Physicians seeking leadership positions in industry will need to understand the difference—and build on their clinical experience. 

The Difference between Management & Leadership

Companies manage complexity by planning and budgeting—and setting goals for the future.  By contrast, leading an organization to change begins with setting a direction, developing a vision and strategy for the future.   Setting the direction of change is fundamental to leadership.    

Management develops the capacity to achieve its plan by organizing and staffing, creating an organizational structure and delegating responsibility.  Leadership is about aligning people around the change vision. 

Management ensures its plan is achieved by controlling people, monitoring results, and problem solving.  But in leadership, achieving a vision is about motivating and inspiring people—keeping them moving in the right direction.

Despite leadership’s growing importance, the on-the-job experiences of most people undermine their ability to lead.  One way to develop leadership is to create challenging opportunities for yourself or your staff members.  A key to developing a new skill is finding a way to practice, which you can do through a special assignment to broaden your exposure.  More importantly, some say that creating a culture of leadership is the ultimate act of leadership.  Physicians in industry may be uniquely suited to drive this change in culture and mindset. 

Management                                     Leadership                  

Planning and budgeting                    Setting direction

Organizing and staffing                     Aligning people

Controlling and problem solving        Motivating and inspiring people

Produces predictability and order         Produces change

Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for a compelling post. The distinction between leadership & management clearly illustrates how a thoughtful approach to the same role can drastically affect the fate of an organization.

May 4 | Unregistered CommenterB.C.

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