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Developing physician leaders

MGMA Stat - May 16, 2019

Professional Development

Leadership Development

Culture & Engagement

The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders, “Do you provide leadership coaching to clinicians?” The majority of respondents (67%) answered “No,” while 33% responded “Yes."

Some of the respondents who answered “Yes,” provided additional insight into clinician leadership coaching:
  • “Leadership training for medical leadership is an annual goal.”
  • “Monthly leadership coaching is an in-service held to cross-train clinicians in other departmental jobs. As an integral part of a disaster plan, any leader will be qualified to perform pertinent tasks, if necessary, allowing the clinic to remain open to serve our community. The training builds tolerance and teamwork.”
  • “Clinicians can use funds from their continuing education budget.”
  • “New leaders automatically spend their first year in a leadership development program.”
This poll was conducted on May 14, 2019, with 1,202 applicable responses.

In today’s evolving healthcare environment, organizational success depends largely on the ability of its leaders to be skilled change agents, team builders, negotiators and visionaries. However, few clinicians moving into healthcare leadership roles receive formal leadership training.

While some individuals may self-identify as needing and wanting leadership coaching to improve their skills or prepare for future opportunities, the need may also be identified by organizational leadership due to less than ideal performance. Coaching and training physician leaders is vital to supporting them as they grow into the role but can be a considerable investment, depending on scope and structure of the program. Many organizations are not large enough to have in-house coaching programs, which is where external resources can help. When structured well, there have been tremendous gains achieved by physician leaders and their organizations by investing in these programs, not only in their outcomes but in personal satisfaction and growth in these roles.

There are four key components to establishing a coaching and training plan:

1) Identify areas for improvement through a 360-degree assessment
A 360-degree assessment obtains feedback from various viewpoints — physician’s colleagues, physician or organizational leadership, administrative team and selected staff — about the physician’s performance. Together, the 360-degree survey and self-assessment can provide tremendous insight on areas for improvement and evaluate the gap between the physician’s awareness of his/her own strengths/weaknesses and those with whom they interact. These assessments can be outsourced through a leadership development company or performed internally, in a confidential manner, through a simple survey. Both options can be done relatively inexpensively and quickly.  Assessments should include questions related to teamwork, communication, follow-through, execution of results, strategic visioning, engagement of others and decision-making by others specific to the leadership role or organization challenges.

Once the assessments are performed, it is strongly recommended an expert be engaged to help the physician interpret the results and develop an action plan. This is where focused-training, leadership coaching or both can help.

2) Define the type of program needed
There is a significant difference between coaching and training, but they can be complementary. It is important for the coach to be a good fit with the physician, so it is beneficial to engage them in the search to increase their commitment level and chances for success. A coach will work with the physician to interpret the assessment feedback and may also utilize behavioral or personality style tools (i.e. Strengths finder, People map, or DISC) to identify the physician’s innate tendencies. The coach can then work with the physician to analyze how those elements contribute to their interactions and perceptions of performance and collectively build a plan to modify approaches to drive the results and leadership capabilities they want. Typically, these engagements are 6 to 12 months.

As part of the program, coaches may also identify areas where training courses tailored to the physician’s career stage and his or her current or future role can be very useful. In general, training on business, financial and operational management at a high level can help new physician leaders understand funds flow, importance of revenue and other regulatory issues, and overall practice management challenges, which can strengthen their partnership with their administrative team. Additionally, skill-based training to improve their leadership skills and effectiveness are crucial for creating a culture of engagement and accountability and driving an organization through often-required change toward success. For example, if a physician leader struggles with difficult conversations, building rapport or ensuring accountability, a targeted training program could be very helpful.

3) Include mentorship whenever possible
Mentorship can also play a role in leadership development, often at a much lower cost. This likely involves matching the physician with another successful physician leader through a mentoring relationship from whom they can obtain guidance, learn proven techniques and strategize future actions to further develop their leadership skills. This can be complementary to the coaching program, as it provides more experiential learning.

4) Incorporate initiative-based training and feedback
When structuring a program, you need to consider time and money. The coaching engagement should be action-oriented, whereby the physician leads a priority initiative for the organization. This allows him or her to practice building engagement, defining optimal outcomes and resolving barriers along the way; in turn, increasing confidence and skill level for future leadership roles, while contributing to a positive outcome for the organization.
As we work with our physician leadership to prepare our organizations for the only constant in healthcare – change, investing in their success shows commitment to them and our confidence that they will drive our organization’s success.  With that, what could not investing mean to your practice?

Additional Resources
MGMA Stat is a national poll that addresses practice management issues, the impact of new legislation and related topics. Participation is open to all healthcare leaders. Results of other polls and information on how to participate in MGMA Stat are available at:

Learn more about MGMA Consulting
Learn more about MGMA Stat


Adrienne Lloyd, MHA, FACHE
Chief Administrative Officer, Opthalmology
Duke Health
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