Respect Is the Key: Treat Your Team Like Family

By Andy Smith | AAPL
April 28, 2018

Dr. Paul DeChant, of IBM Watson Health’s Simpler Healthcare, believes that respect for people is the most important leadership principle for achieving success in turbulent times.


Would you lay off your spouse or child if your family was having cash-flow problems? That’s the question Paul DeChant, MD, MBA, FAAFP, asked during his peer presentation in April 2018 at the AAPL Physician Leadership Summit in Boston.

And if your answer is no, then why would you lay off staff when operating expenses exceed revenue? Doing so, he says, decreases the personal safety of surviving staff members and negatively impacts commitment and loyalty to the organization.


Dr. Paul DeChant says one of the biggest challenges for physician leaders is to develop everyone as a problem-solver. | AAPL

As the deputy chief health officer at IBM Watson Health’s Simpler Healthcare, DeChant is an advocate for workplace culture and physician wellness, and believes that respect for people – which includes treating every member of your team as family – is the most important leadership principle for achieving success in turbulent times.

The key principles of this lean management style, he says, include:

  • See systems, not people, as the source of problems or errors.
  • Go where the work is done to observe, learn and seek feedback without offering solutions.
  • Their opinion counts. Develop and empower everyone as a problem-solver.
  • Create a culture of personal safety.
  • Address the drivers of burnout, such as work overload, loss of control and conflicting values.

The key assumption all physician leaders should make, DeChant says, is that “people want to do the right thing.” Don’t ask what is wrong with the person doing the work that they can’t do correctly; ask what is wrong with the way the work is designed that makes it hard for people to do it correctly.

“Despite our best intentions, sometimes things go wrong,” he said.  “But when you step back and think about it, all of us are trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

DeChant said one of our biggest challenges for physician leaders is to develop everyone as a problem-solver.

“People deserve appreciation,” he said, emphasizing the need find solutions collaboratively. When people feel they and their opinions are valued, they feel empowered “to use my own creative juices.”

DeChant suggests reading Everybody Matters, by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia, as well as Preventing Physician Burnout: Curing the Chaos and Returning the Joy to the Practice of Medicine, which he co-wrote with Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH.  


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