Physician Leadership Skills - The #1 Habit of the High Trust Physician Leader

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

Round On Your Peoplephysician-leadership-round-shadow-your-people-number-1-skill-build-trust-dike-drummond-physician-leadership-coach-Opt-300W

It is as simple as that ... and here is the monumental tragedy of current healthcare leadership behavior.

I have asked thousands of physician leaders - both physicians and non-doctor senior leaders - if they schedule time to round on or shadow their people. Their response is always the same. Just yesterday in a room of 30 CEO's and CMO's from independent groups around the USA, I asked that question -- and how many hands went up do you think??

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ZERO - not a single one

The next words out of my mouth were "shame on you." I am sure that is something they have never heard from a speaker before -- and yet they knew my critique was spot on.

Two Leadership Consequences of NOT Rounding

1) Any leader who does not round on their doctors regularly cannot understand what they do in their daily jobs and the stresses they are under.

Even if you are a doctor in a leadership position who still sees patients part time, if you don't round on different locations and with different specialties, you can't understand what your colleagues are going through.

If you don't round to see things first hand, you are clueless, out to lunch, in the dark, just like one of the blind men and the elephant. You are relying on 

  • Industry surveys - things like the MGMA staffing survey which as I have written previously is a proximate cause of the physician burnout epidemic
  • Other people's opinions - from other leader's feedback in meetings to water cooler gossip
  • and spreadsheet numbers - and we all know how well your financial and quality reports represent conditions in the front lines (which you have not witnessed first hand)

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2) Any leader who does not round on their doctors regularly is not trusted by them.

They know you don't have their back! Trust can only be built through positive interactions when no one is in trouble. Rounding is something you do routinely.  No one has to be in trouble. Each of these "how can I help" touches builds trust. 

Without regular rounding it is nearly impossible to build adequate levels of trust between doctors and their leaders. This increases physician burnout and has negative effects on patients and staff and even rebounds to increase stress on the leaders.


Here is the single most powerful physician leadership habit:


  • Book an absolute minimum of one half day, twice a month out of your schedule.
  • Defend it with your life
  • In that time, get out of your office and round on your direct reports
  • Rotate the rounds so you cover all your direct reports in the course of 3 - 6 months.


  • The most useful structure is pick a provider and let them know you want to do a couple of things:
  • Shadow them in silence (be prepared to take notes)
  • Then debrief with them afterwards


  • How was that chunk of the day seeing patients for you? Was it typical? Was it atypical and if so, how?
  • What worked and what didn't?
  • How can I make things work better and lower your stress?
  • Anything else?
  • As your leader, what would you like me to Stop Doing, Keep Doing, Start Doing?

physician leadership dirty little secret

Have too many direct reports to make this happen?

This means you have HOLES in your physician leadership Org Chart.

No one should have more than 6 - 8 people as direct reports at any level of your leadership structure! This small number allows you to execute on the rounding plan above and connect with each of your direct reports no less than quarterly.
(I know, you probably have 25 or more, that is extremely common and a key source of leader burnout!)

The tragedy just how normal this disconnect from the front line providers has become.
Only 1% of physician leaders have the habit of rounding on their direct reports
The rest think that sitting in meetings and putting out fires is leadership ... it is not

Until rounding becomes "the way we do things around here" as a leadership team

  • Trust will be low
  • Burnout will be high - for you and your people
  • and you will be frustrated in your leadership role



Do you round on your people?
If you don't, when will you get started??
(this article contains everything you need to plan and execute on a high quality shadowing habit and become a MUCH more effective leader!!)

Does your physician leader round on you?
If your leader did round on you, what "stupid stuff" would you show them that has to change??

Tags: Physician Leadership, stop physician burnout