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Developing Physician Leaders

Arne Pedersen, MBA, FACMPE
Vice President of Practice Management, Anesthesia Business Consultants, Jackson, MI

An increasing number of physician groups struggle with getting the younger partners engaged in leadership roles. This problem exposes several other issues within the group such as a concern over the transition of leadership from one generation to the next, unbalanced workloads that result in overworking a few partners and a stale approach to group management.

While there are no silver bullets to address this issue, there are practical steps to ameliorate the problem including identifying emerging leaders, creating a development plan, finding opportunities and providing feedback.

Identifying Leaders

Identifying emerging leaders begins with physician recruitment. Every year medical students complete their residencies and begin to work in a variety of settings such as private practice, academic practice and, to a lesser extent, the United States Military. How groups recruit this young talent speaks volumes with the identification of future leaders of the group. Recruiting is both science and art. Executive and physician recruiters are highly trained at the recruiting process including developing a recruiting plan, interview guides, developing an interview team and sifting through the volumes of resumes. While most groups don’t use a professional recruiter, the process, tools, skills and judgment are still needed.

In the book, Hire with Your Head by Lou Adler, the author describes a four step process for performancebased hiring. The process includes performance profiles, talent-centric sourcing, evidence-based interviewing and integrated recruiting.1

  • The performance profile is a compelling job description that describes the real job needs. In short, you want to tell a compelling story about your practice, the specific job you have to offer and include the leadership development expectations as part of the culture of your practice.
  • Talent-centric sourcing is the process of designing every aspect of sourcing to attract top people. In short, this is how you reach the top talented candidates you want to interview with the placement of exciting job descriptions, how to get referrals and when you make phone calls. 
  • Evidence-based interviewing is organizing the interview to access competency and create opportunity at the same time. 
  • Integrated recruiting is making recruiting, negotiating offers and closing a natural part of each step in the hiring process.

Development Plan

After the group has hired the new physician, the next step is to create a development plan which will help the younger physicians understand the leadership development process and set proper expectations. The development plan includes the ultimate goal for each individual physician, the steps along the way, reading lists, writing opportunities and community participation.

There are a variety of approaches to leadership development. In his book, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day, John C. Maxwell, concludes that a daily regiment of reading, reflecting and meditating will help to develop a leader on a daily basis.2 Another approach appears in my book, Lead with Intent, where I state that a leader needs to have a development plan that includes seeking additional responsibility in tough and challenging jobs, engaging in self-study and taking additional course work.3 A third approach featured in a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Growing Talent as if You’re Business Depended on it,” the authors offer a succinct checklist for leadership development:

  1. Outline the leadership development process and communicate it throughout the company (your practice)
  2. Create leadership development programs that fill holes in your talent portfolio
  3. Utilize tools to help manage the process
  4. Have the board oversee the leadership development initiatives 
  5. Reshuffle rising stars ensuring you trade A players with other A players
  6. Make sure your leadership development program is aligned with your strategy, reinforces your brand, and has support from all constituents.4

Finding Opportunities

Finding opportunities can be tricky. An approach to leadership development is to look for smaller project opportunities early on that will expose these young leaders to various facets of the practice. Moreover, these opportunities will provide them the opportunity to interact with their colleagues, partners and business support staff. The opportunities will need to graduate to more complex roles along the way such as committee members to committee chairs to board member and finally to a physician executive role.

Certain physicians in the group will covet the role of Medical Director. Training for this role is very important and may include some basic hospital or ambulatory surgery center operations training. Fundamental business training in budgeting, finance, human resources and negotiations would be useful.

Another avenue to help develop young leaders is participation in community or not-for-profit boards. Physicians will be exposed to mid-career and seasoned executives who might help them to better understand the business aspects of running an organization that can be applied to the practice.

Providing Feedback

One of the keys to successfully developing leaders is providing timely and constructive feedback. This is not a time to rant and rave, but to objectively observe and provide thoughtful feedback that will help them grow. A wellstructured and thoughtful feedback approach includes:

  • The development plan
  • The current role/opportunity
  • Interviews
  • Observations

This approach will help the developing leader see strengths and weaknesses in a variety of settings and better address their decision making and interactions as a leader.

Not all groups have the capacity to execute a formal feedback process. In these instances, the mentorship approach works well in smaller group settings. It is best to assign a senior leader in the group to mentor the newer and younger physicians. These tend to be informal. The principles of objective and thoughtful feedback are still core to the feedback process.

In conclusion, leaders don’t just naturally appear in groups. They must be identified, developed and given the opportunities to learn, grow and prepare the way for the next generation.

1 Adler, Lou, Hire With Your Head, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc 2007, pp22 - 23
2 Maxwell, John C., The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2000, pp 35-48
3 Pedersen, Arne, Lead with Intent, Indianapolis, IN: Indianapolis Business Journal, 2007, pp 101-103
4 Cohn, Khurana, and Reeves, Growing Talent as if Your Business Depended on It, Harvard Business Review, October 2005, pg 67

Arne Pedersen, MBA, FACMPE, is a client and consulting services executive for Anesthesia Business Consultants (ABC). Mr. Pedersen is also a Fellow with the American College of Medical Practice Executives (FACMPE), a distinction among peers in the Medical Group Management Association. Mr. Pedersen was a highly decorated commissioned officer in the United States Army and is a Desert Storm Veteran when earned a Bronze Star Medal. Mr. Pedersen earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University and his Master of Business Administration, cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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