In this article … Working together, academic physicians and administrators can build effective teams and attain organizational goals.

Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal said that leadership is the “single biggest reason organizations succeeded or failed.” In his book My Share of the Task: A Memoir, McChrystal observes, “I used to tell junior leaders that the nine otherwise identical parachute infantry battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division ranged widely in effectiveness, the disparity almost entirely a function of leadership.” Leadership is a lifetime undertaking and a continuous learning journey made up in part by developing one’s own self-management skills and in part by understanding and refining the leadership tools that will inspire others to follow. Great leaders are not born; rather, they develop and grow the necessary skillset by constant improvement and self examination. In building your own leadership toolkit, you should be continually evaluating your own successes and failures.


Let’s begin at the beginning with self-management tools.

Communicating and Listening

Leadership demands empathy. You need not have the same background or social status as the people you lead, but you must understand their hopes, fears, and desires. Only by asking and listening can you learn what resonates with them.

An unfortunate representation of leadership perpetrated by television and movies is that of leaders making all the decisions and barking out orders to subordinates. In fact, great leaders ask questions and listen to the answers. They surround themselves with good people whom they trust and listen to. Through communication and listening, leaders build trust.

Collaborating and Networking

Great leaders don’t lead by telling others where to go or what to do. Great leaders recognize, build, and influence teams of capable individuals. In your journey toward being a great leader, work on your ability to collaborate with others and to understand how to help teams move in the direction with the best possibility of success.

However, you must understand the motivations and points of view of those whom you would persuade to accept your direction. Great leaders are followed by those who believe that the leader understands them and is leading them toward a goal that will fulfill their needs and aspirations.


Gaining Knowledge

Great leaders understand the skills and technology necessary to accomplish their goals. This is not to say that leaders must be expert in all the tasks involved in reaching a goal, but they must have knowledge of those tasks. Great leaders are constantly learning and educating themselves.

It’s not surprising that many leaders report that their time spent reading and learning is one of the most important parts of their job. Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. Warren Buffet spends five or six hours a day reading. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks. Leaders are on a constant quest to improve their knowledge and understanding. Find the time to read and learn even when you are extremely busy or overwhelmed.


Effective teams have a sense of loyalty to each member and all loyalty starts at the top. Loyalty is leading by example, providing your team unconditional support, never throwing a team member under the bus, and letting them know they are being heard and appreciated.

The first step in building a team is having a conversation about what needs to be accomplished and why. With clear agreement, academic physicians and administrators will be able to visualize and assemble the required team.

Goal Setting

The academic physician and the administrator typically have complimentary, but not necessarily the same goals. Working together, they can consolidate their goals into a statement that can be clearly communicated and embraced by the team responsible for execution.

In some cases, one will take on the role of leader and the other will follow that lead. The best leaders know when to let others lead.

Regularly Scheduled Meetings

Teams should meet regularly to continually validate that everyone is working toward the same goals. Meetings need not be long, nor should they be, but they should be scheduled regularly. The academic physician and the administrator should have a clear understanding of and an agreement about the goals of each meeting. The meetings should include the entire team; anyone who is left out will naturally conclude that they are not viewed as an essential member of the “team.”

Open the meeting with a brief review of success and status of previously set goals. Where success has been achieved, give credit, don’t take it. Identify the individuals who’ve been key to the success and be specific about how their actions have contributed to the success.

If a previously set goal remains a work-in-progress, update the team on the status; be truthful and realistic. If some plans have failed, take responsibility for failure; don’t blame others. In fact, when leaders take responsibility, it becomes normal for other team members to take personal responsibility for their tasks and to identify ways to do better.

Ask for and actively listen to the reports and contributions of team members on accomplishing outstanding goals. Introduce new goals and their purpose and direction, then seek input and ideas from the team. The decisions as to the method will ultimately be made by the physician and administrator, but the active input of all team member allows them to participate in the process.

Adhere to your schedule. Constant cancelling or rescheduling sends a message that meetings are not important, or even worse, that the teamwork culture you have tried to instill is a myth.

Tasks and Timelines

Goals and objectives have timelines. Wanting to increase your billings by 20% is not a goal unless it is accompanied by a completion date and progress markers. With a target date in place (e.g., “we will increase our monthly billings by 20% per month by the beginning of next year”), you have a goal that can be managed and tracked. Be prepared to explain how that goal helps fulfill the desires and needs of the people who will execute the task.

Let’s consider advertising as a component of this goal. Will this goal require an increase or change in advertising? Who will be responsible for the advertising? When will the new advertising start? Will it be similar to your current marketing materials or be different? If different, how will it be put in place?

It’s usually a bad idea to “tell” the responsible party what the timeline is. Instead, guide the team to self-select the best individual to take responsibility for the elements of the change in advertising. Instruct the team or the responsible individuals to select the timelines based on your leading questions to see their function within the overall strategy. If you need to accelerate a timeline, ask the responsible team member what the team requires to meet a more aggressive goal. Each element of the advertising should be associated with a responsible party and timelines for execution.

Seek and acknowledge input from all members of the team. Only then will all members of the team feel invested.


The team members must assume responsibility, authority, and accountability. Making team members responsible and accountable for tasks without granting them the authority to take the necessary steps is a recipe for disaster.

Likewise, assigning a series of tasks without the input of team members sends a message that they are not really part of the team. You must confirm with the team members that the tasks can be accomplished as envisaged, or alternatively that the tasks can be better accomplished in other ways.


An organization’s culture is made up of values, behavioral expectations, priorities, and relationships among employees, and all organizations ultimately take on the characteristics of their leadership. It’s for this reason that the values and ethics of leaders must be clearly communicated and authentically implemented.


Leaders should be continually learning and improving their leadership skills. There are many insightful books about the characteristics of great leaders. Reflect on the habits of leaders and mentors that you have been fortunate enough to encounter. Most importantly, practice and continually evaluate your successes and failures. Remember that you lead by example and earned respect — cultivate them.


Nicola Hawkinson, DNP, RN, is the CEO of SpineSearch LLC, in Huntington, New York.

Angela L. Moore, MHA, is the chief admin officer in the Department of Urology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, New York.

This article appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of Physician Leadership Journal.


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