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How to Spot a Promising Physician Leader

By Debra Shute  
   July 13, 2017

Formal advanced business education isn't essential for clinicians to succeed in the C-suite. But certain personality traits do matter.

It's one thing to scan a physician's CV and learn what business credentials he or she would bring to a leadership role. It's another to assess whether a person's character traits are right for the job.

Selecting successful clinician leaders requires a bit of both.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, it's a bit of trial and error," says Cynthia Hundorfean, MBA, president and CEO of Allegheny Health Network, a Pittsburgh-based integrated health system with seven hospitals and numerous outpatient sites across Erie and western Pennsylvania.

"But you have to be very good at selecting leaders who you think have the personalities, as well as the qualifications, to be able to lead efforts that are beyond their basic skill set," she says.

More Than Intelligence

It is a process of both art and science.

"Every doctor is intelligent," says Lynn Massingale, MD, cofounder and chairman of Knoxville-based TeamHealth, which offers outsourced clinical care across a variety of specialties to approximately 3,400 acute and postacute facilities and physician groups nationwide. "At the same time, they don't all have the right personalities or interpersonal skills for leadership."

At TeamHealth, clinicians identified for leadership positions undergo evaluations—such as DiSC profiling, a personality and behavior assessment tool—that help illuminate traits of one's potential leadership style.

"We actually use some tools for testing prospective physician and business leaders, but we look for high emotional IQ, empathy, ability to build consensus, etc., as starting points," says Massingale.

"Then we take those prospective physician leaders and help them understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, show them the areas they need to work on to be better leaders, and over a number of courses, augment their skills in conflict resolution and communication, to fill in the gaps."

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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