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The Higher You Go: A Physician Leader Shares Lessons Learned

By David J. Norris, MD, MBA, CPE
November 6, 2017

One principle seems to be constant: As you advance in an organization, your job gets more complicated and what is required of you grows. 

david norris

David J. Norris

I’ve learned many key lessons working with other physician leaders during my career. One universal principle seems to be constant in every leader’s life: As you advance in an organization as a leader, your job gets more complicated and what is required of you grows.  

The higher you go, the harder it gets.

As you grow as a leader, expect things to get harder, more challenging, more complex and more ambiguous. Whether you’re dealing with patient care, personnel, finances or process improvement issues, the gray areas grow. It becomes more challenging to know what the right decision is. You will realize there might not be one perfectly correct solution or answer. Your duty as a leader is to find the best answer that moves the organization closer toward fulfilling its purpose. You will learn that ambiguity is sometimes the best you can get. 

The higher you go, the more you will need to know.

Your journey merely begins as you transition into leadership. New areas of knowledge, such as finance, leadership and process improvement will be needed if you are to be as effective as possible. Emotional intelligence and communication skills will help you tremendously as you lead others into the future. As more is required of you, the more you will need to grow and expand yourself. Join a leadership organization and network with other leaders. Learn from others when you can. Work each day at improving yourself and growing as a leader. Leaders are made daily, not in a day. 

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The higher you go, the more you’ll give up.

As you grow into your leadership position, more time will be requested of you. You might be appointed to various committees, and your obligations to others will grow. Your schedule will begin to fill and you might begin to feel that you’re not in control of your calendar. Others in your organization will request more of your time and energy as they look to you for answers, help and guidance. You will need to learn to prioritize and protect your time and energy. 

The higher you go, the more unsure you may be in your decisions.

Leading others isn’t easy. It can be challenging to know what the best decision is. You will have many who want to “help” you make a decision. Your job as a leader isn’t to please everyone. Trying to please everyone will simply ensure you will fail as a leader. Your job as a leader is to provide vision and guidance to your people as the organization marches toward its goals. This is why it is critical to have a solid mission and purpose in mind. 

The higher you go, the more important your actions and behaviors become.

Everyone typically looks to a leader for guidance. They watch and observe the leader’s behavior. Do they cut corners? Do they say one thing and do another? I think this is one of the hardest areas for leaders. People will follow the example we set, so be a model of the behavior you want to see in your organization. If you want a culture of patience, compassion and excellence, then work on yourself every day to display those attributes in your life. It takes time for it to catch on in the organization but it will. As one of my mentors once told me, you cannot lead others if you cannot lead yourself. 

RELATED: Purposeful Leadership: When the Bottom Line Includes Ethics and Vision

The higher you go, the more important your “why” becomes.

Sometimes it isn’t much fun being a leader. Stress can easily creep into your life. People will bring their problems to you, looking for you to solve those problems for them. You will be pulled in different directions by the differing motives and agendas of others. If you don’t have mission and purpose to guide you, you can easily get sidetracked and set off course. To remain grounded, you must know who you are and why you are doing what you are doing. The best way to stay focused on your why is to join an organization whose why is aligned with yours. If you do that, staying on track will be much easier. 

The higher you go in leadership, the more rewarding it gets.

As with most things in life, the most rewarding activities are those that are challenging and difficult. Leading others is no different. It can be very challenging some days. Yet, at the same time it is one of the most rewarding activities you can engage in. If you’re a true leader, you not only help your people and organization get better and stronger, but also you grow and improve yourself.

David Norris, MD, MBA, CPE, an anesthesiologist in Wichita, Kansas, is also a partner with the Center for Professional Business Development and author of The Financially Intelligent Physician (Author Academy Elite, 2017). 

Topics: Leadership

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Now more than ever, physicians are leaders in their organizations and communities.

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