Clinicians As Leaders: Advancing The Expertise Of The Team

If I had to summarize the ONE thing that is most powerful in predicting an organization’s ability to change and improve, it would be this: Define clinicians as team leaders, and develop them to lead locally to engage their clinical micro-system. I realize that’s more than ONE thing…but you get my point. What clinicians do and say to their care teams will heavily influence how their teammates show up. As clinicians go, so goes the team. As teams go, so goes the organization. There is no doubt that every team member counts and is critical to the function of the whole. But how clinicians lead and engage their teams heavily influences how a team operates.


An important thing I have learned over the years regarding the engagement of care teams is that it is a local event. Though the senior leadership team is often focusing on engagement as a priority and tracking annual engagement surveys, workforce stability, talent retention, and turnover, it is not the senior leaders’ actions that fuel the experiences of frontline individuals that prompt them to stay, go, engage, or disengage. The engagement of people is determined by the people at their elbow and their immediate leader. This is where local clinician leadership is critically important in an organization’s culture and engagement journey.


When clinicians remind the team why we are here to bring compassionate care to every patient, others will follow. Those actions spread when a clinician appreciates and celebrates teammates for great work. When a clinician taps the ideas of others to raise the intelligence of the team, the team activates. When a clinician asks for help to manage a challenging family, others know it is OK to do the same. When a clinician expresses hope and belief in the team, the team feels honored and valued. When a clinician brings a learning mindset and sees failures as a chance to get better, others replicate the approach. When a clinician gets to know the goals and ambitions of teammates to support them, their teammates stay. When a clinician taps their clinical knowledge to advance their team’s expertise, others improve. When a clinician leads “what it means to be us” through an authentic and witnessable example, others will do the same.


This is the clinician as a team leader, and it reflects the real dividend of high clinician engagement. We become a force for good where we are and contribute to a team that is valued, honored, appreciated, developed, and challenged to bring their best. High clinician engagement means that we use our voice and influence to engage our teammates who look to us for cues. 


The bigger question is, how do we actually manifest clinicians as team leaders? Here are a couple of things to think about:

  1. See clinicians as local team leaders. Many clinicians do not have hire-and-fire abilities with their teams and mistake that as an inability to lead and take action. We have to change this perception. Independent of hiring and firing rights, clinicians have a profound influence on the team and should be seen as such to unleash positive influence.
  2. Develop clinicians as team leaders. How we engage the people we work with is known and predictable. There are leader actions that are known to engage others. We must develop clinicians to lead locally with the proven skills to lift their teams.
  3. Engage clinicians. Clinicians’ willingness to become local ambassadors for an organizational future state cause is fully dependent on how they are led. The very same actions that clinicians deploy as local team leaders to engage their people are the same things leaders can do to engage their clinicians–listen, respond, include, develop, value, compassion, collaborate, and appreciate.

Clinicians, as local team leaders, empower others to help build the kind of team they want to be part of–cultivating a culture that acknowledges every care team member’s influence and autonomy over their work. To achieve this, organizations must be willing to have clinicians lead their teams, develop them to do so, and, most importantly, engage them to foster a willingness to lead where they are.


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