Physician Leadership - the fundamental currency of leadership

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-leadership-currency-of-trustPhysician Leadership - the fundamental currency of leadership 

Physicians are at a distinct disadvantage when they assume leadership roles. The top-down leadership style we absorb in our training - where the doctor gives orders, the team is expected to obey and the patients to comply - doesn't work when you are leading a work team. Giving orders is a style that falls on its face when the people you are leading happen to be other physicians.

Becoming a quality physician leader depends on understanding the fundamental currency of leadership. This is all about a five letter word that begins with a "T".

Learn more in this week's video training "The Fundamental currency of physician leadership" below.


The fundamental currency of physician leadership is TRUST.

physician-leadership-trust-account_opt240W.jpgThere is a trust account between you and each of your direct reports.

Every interaction with your people can add to or subtract from your balance in this trust account.

Quality leadership and a happy, engaged team depend upon you maintaining a positive balance in this trust account - with every one of your direct reports. This is a day by day building process for one simple reason: every single conversation you have as a physician leader will either build trust or subtract from it.

Want to know where you stand with your people as their physician leader? Here is the "Look Up" Test.

Show up on the wing or ward of one of your direct reports so you can see their initial response to you being in their work space. When they first see  you, their eyes will point to your level of trust.

  • Do they look up and ask you how you are doing -  your trust level is positive
  • OR do they look down at their toes and mutter, "Oh heck, what did I do now?"

If your people look down, what is causing that to happen? The answer is quite simple. They are used to seeing you only when they are in trouble or there is a problem. Those are the only times you show up.

Here's the remedy.

No matter how many fires you must put out in your role as a leader and how many meetings choke your calendar ... putting out fires and sitting in meetings are not leadership. You must block out time to round on your people. Get out of your office. Go visit the wards and wings just to see how things are going.

Ask them how you can help. Tell your people you appreciate them for their hard work. See just how many times you can say, "Thanks for all your hard work. We really appreciate it." and honestly mean it.

The habit of rounding on your people and learning to say thank you early, often and sincerely is one of the key skills of leadership. It is guaranteed to build a positive balance in the trust levels between you and your direct reports.


Any time you must visit someone because of a problem, make sure to ask yourself this question beforehand. "How can I structure this conversation and what words can I use to deliver this message in a way that builds trust?" You can deliver even bad news in a way that builds trust if you are very intentional about your words and plan the conversation ahead of time.

Be that careful when planning every conversation with you people - every single one - when you are in the role of their physician leader.



What is your best example of a physician leader conversation where bad news was delivered in a way that builds trust? 

Tags: Physician Leadership