DR. CUMMINGS: M.D. leadership

November 10, 2013 

A doctor who is a leader. Is this an oxymoron? Doctors take care of patients and leave the leadership to business people, don’t they? Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta has hired Mercer’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies to teach leadership to all their doctors, and then hired four of us to give each physician individual coaching and guidance.

Will it work?

Doctors are leaders to all their patients; we know that. If my doctor says: “You need to lose 30 pounds,” I’m going to follow his advice. He can lead me to health. But can he lead the other doctors and nurses and techs and administrators to create a better hospital? Leaders must want to be leaders. Do doctors want to do this?

The answer is “Yes.”

Granted, doctors have never been trained in leadership. Unlike businessmen with their MBA’s, a doctor works his way through medical school and residency with his focus on patients. The thought of someday leading groups of people to follow his vision never enters his mind.

He has no time for political ambitions; no time for “climbing the ladder;” no time for standing on the top podium and inspiring a group of people to follow his lead. But once they’re asked -- both men and women -- respond.

The answer is “Yes.”

Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., founded the largest for-profit hospital company in the world and led his company to great success. His son, Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., followed him in that leadership position and is the father of Dr. Bill Frist, who served as the Majority Leader in the United States Senate for four years.

Doctors make great leaders. And they do it in five ways:

1. They walk the talk. They have a way of clarifying their core values and then setting the example.

I have seen the Nexus group of anesthesiologists at The Medical Center of Central Georgia make it very clear that “transparency” is their core value and they do this not by giving speeches but by responding truthfully to every question -- no matter the consequences.

2. Their vision is inspiring. The Frist family of doctors had a vision of establishing a capitalistic -- not a socialistic -- group of hospitals where patients would receive such fantastic care that they would gladly pay to go there. And they do.

3. They take calculated risks. The doctors who become leaders do not take risks with their patients, but they take a lot of financial risks in their new leadership positions, and they make them work.

4. They learn how to delegate. One of the toughest tasks for any leader is to pull back and delegate to someone else, and I think physician leaders find this almost impossible at times. They have been trained to “do it yourself.” Yet I have seen surgeons increasing a nurse’s self-confidence by delegating certain tasks to her. And I have seen the same kind of leadership skills in the Piedmont doctors I am coaching.

5. They celebrate successes. Doctors are geared to success, in the lab, in the operating room and in the recovery room. They know what success looks like, and when their team makes new strides in patient satisfaction and infection control, they know how to throw a party.

Every community needs a constant flow of new leaders. For years we have overlooked a ready pool of highly educated, extremely motivated and totally dedicated physicians. Piedmont in Atlanta has begun to tap into their own pool.

How about Middle Georgia?

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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