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How to Make the Decision to Lead in Healthcare

By Brian Hess, MD, MBA, TeamHealth Regional Medical Director, West Group

If you are thinking about becoming a clinical leader in a specific area, try answering the questions below.

  • Can you own this?
  • Do you want to own this?
  • Would you, at most times, really enjoy owning it?
  • Would you want to take accountability for how things proceed in the future?
  • Do you want to make it better to the point that you will not regret making sacrifices to improve it?
  • Do you believe in its importance so much so that you would give up time with family or friends to do it? (I am not implying that to lead you have to give up your loved ones, but most leadership positions will require some element of compromise with time away from current or potential commitments.)

In reality, these are impossible questions to answer definitively, but leadership starts with ownership.

If you make the decision to lead, it is helpful to start with small steps or focused projects to find the right path.

Start small(ish)

It is easier to have less variables to control when venturing into leadership. A motivated individual can succeed at taking a bigger bite immediately, but there are less mistakes and less growing pains if you are able to start small and ramp up.

I encourage you, with the support of your director, to take on an area of interest within your clinical setting that needs attention. Begin by joining a committee or leading a quality initiative.

For example, if you are passionate about airways, enjoy ensuring your team is equipped and value the positive impact an up-to-date airway cart has on patient outcomes, then commit yourself to this project. It’s a lot easier to decide to be responsible for making sure the airway cart stays stocked in the emergency department than managing the entire department.

Empower others

Collaboration is important. As a leader, put mechanisms in place to help you maintain balance. You do not want to be called at 3 a.m. because the 6.0 ET tube is out of stock, but rather empower members of your team so they know to how to find needed supplies. In addition, teaching members of your team to have ownership is part of being a leader. You are sharing information with your team, as an ambassador for the issue you care a lot about and helping others expand their skill set.

Leadership is not a sole proprietorship. Of course, the buck needs to stop with the identified and responsible leader. A clear structure and delineation is needed to manage differences of opinion, but a leader is more effective when they share and delegate to others. Not only does leadership require those that lead, but also those to follow. It is certainly acceptable to trade off who is doing the leading and the following regarding certain tasks.

A healthcare team or department with multiple people who support the same or similar areas helps to both further the mutual goals and strengthen skill sets.

Be optimistic

An optimistic outlook is helpful in overcoming challenges in leadership. I have experienced overwhelming challenges, but believing they are possible to overcome has been an essential armor for me. No matter the obstacle, I will find the solution whether it be through my teammates, the company or another resource. It may not be on my preferred timeline, but I will find a solution.

Barriers will present themselves, but this is often not representative of the entire journey. However, there are going to be leadership roles that are not a good fit. This is not always easy to determine, but in general, doing something for a year with full effort may be needed to decide whether a role is a good fit for you or not.

As clinicians, we are all leaders in our practice environments and care teams. If you find yourself wanting to make an even greater difference, start with a manageable project, empower others and be open to growth. Success will follow your effort.

TeamHealth supports you as a developing leader and helps you advance your career. Explore clinical leadership opportunities available nationwide.