April 9, 2015

Three critical skills for clinicians moving into executive roles

Daily Briefing

In this period of "unprecedented transformation" in health care, clinical leaders need to develop a new set of skills to succeed as managers and strategists, Sachin Jain, chief medical officer at Anthem's CareMore Health System, writes in the Harvard Business Review.

The rising number of innovative startups in health care has created new demand for clinical leaders outside of patient care. "Maximizing the effectiveness of physicians and nurses in these new positions, however, will require different skills than the ones they developed during their clinical training," Jain writes.

Through his work in the pharmaceutical industry, government, and care-delivery organizations, Jain has observed three skills that clinical leaders need to develop in order to be successful executives.

Understanding operations management

While "many physicians and nurses excel at operations management because it requires the same kind of detail and complexity that is required to effectively manage a large clinical load," Jain says there are management nuances that are not typically acquired through clinical work.

The one skill most managers need to go from 'good' to 'great'

For instance, Jain writes that many clinicians have trouble distinguishing "between urgent tasks and important non-urgent tasks." New clinician executives need to "learn to act with urgency and ownership to build an organization's workflows and address its problems." Clinical leaders who think systematically can "make sure that tasks are appropriately triaged by priority level," Jain writes.

Staff leadership

New clinical leaders may "have never hired or fired anyone in their life," Jain observers. Clinicians are predisposed to be compassionate, which can make managing human capital particularly difficult for executives coming from a medical background.

"To accelerate the development of their people-management skills, clinicians should partner closely with fellow business leaders and HR professionals," Jain says. By leveraging their colleagues' expertise, new clinical leaders can more quickly develop their own skills and build high-performance teams.

From our experts: The skill many physician leaders are missing—but need the most

Strategic thinking

Clinicians' "deep frontline knowledge" of health care is an asset when thinking strategically, but clinical often leaders have trouble with the inherent tradeoffs, Jain writes.

"Strategy is both what we choose to do—and what we choose not to do," Jain writes, adding, "Clinicians must work to develop organizational strategies with this simple and important maxim constantly in mind" (Jain, Harvard Business Review, 4/7).

The takeaway: Clinical leaders moving into an executive role need to cultivate operations management and strategic thinking skills in order to be successful, one expert argues in HBR.

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