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American Association for Physician Leadership
American Association for Physician Leadership


Developing a Leadership Mindset for Wellness

Learn key techniques for physician wellness through changing your perception.

Wellness - Mindset
A mindset is defined as someone’s established set of attitudes and how they evaluate certain people and situations. For instance, one’s general mindset may lean toward being more of an optimist or pessimist – a mindset that might even shift and evolve from one moment or day to the next.

At the American Association for Physician Leadership, we often say that all physicians are leaders, whether or not they’re in official leadership positions. Leadership is not only a powerful force that can spark change within organizations, but cultivating the mindset of one can also create a sense  of personal wellness that can positively affect your entire team. 

In order to embrace this role, you need to shift to and develop a leadership mindset. The following are mindsets that have helped physicians transform their view of themselves, their work, patients, and colleagues in order to feel a sense of wellbeing and perform like a true leader.

The Servant Leader Mindset

Leaders support their employees as they grow and explore, and actively seek and value others’ contributions and ideas whether they’re the CEO or the most junior employee. Leaders acting in this manner demonstrate the qualities of a “servant leadership” mindset . Servant leaders are humble and believe their key role is to create and maintain a supportive environment for their team. They display humility and actively tap into the expertise of others because they understand that holding a formal leadership position doesn’t mean they have all the answers. To cultivate a servant leadership mindset, consider doing the following: 

  1. Give employees a sense of control – Physicians who feel they have no control over their work environment often experience stress or other symptoms of burnout. One way to mitigate these feelings is to invite your team to create a set of agreements that form a team charter . Defining clear expectations and providing input can increase a person’s sense of control and self-worth while reducing stress.
  2. Ask employees how you can help them do their job better – Someone with a servant leadership mindset frequently seeks feedback on how to better serve their team. Whether during one-on-one meetings or at group round tables, emphasize that this is a non-punitive conversation, listen to them, and then follow through. Make sure this isn’t a one-time conversation, either, as the needs of your employees will change over time.
  3. Create an environment of wellness – Show your team that you care about their well being and that you know stressed-out teams can’t perform at their best. Encourage employees to take vacations with the promise they won’t be interrupted with work-related requests and unrealistic deadlines will be adjusted so as not interfere with their rest and rejuvenation. Make sure employee benefits and resources are easily accessible and solicit feedback about what benefits would be most useful.

The Optimistic Mindset

Stressed-out employees tend to respond negatively and pessimistically to setbacks and mistakes, leading to increased stress, a higher risk of burnout and even more mistakes. The healthier alternative is to display optimism which is another crucial element of the leadership mindset. Even in the face of chaos and uncertainty, it’s still possible to cultivate an optimistic mindset that reframes setbacks as learning opportunities. In fact, researchers have found that optimists make more money , perform better in their careers, and are more likely to be promoted than pessimists.  Try the following methods to build an optimistic mindset:

  1. Seek progress not perfection – Physicians typically are perfectionists and can get overly stressed over minute details. Set goals that are realistic, work hard to achieve them, and refuse to disparage yourself if optimal outcomes aren’t reached. Reframe these outcomes as learning opportunities to do even better next time.
  2. Practice gratefulness – Even the worst days often have silver linings. At the beginning or end of each day, list at least three things that you’re grateful for and why. Practicing this regularly can truly transform your mindset and make even the most stressful days seem brighter.

Adopt a Growth Mindset, Not a Fixed Mindset

Researcher and professor of psychology Carol Dweck asserts that there are two common mindsets:  fixed and growth . People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talents are static, fixed traits that people “are born with” and, therefore, attempting to develop or improve these qualities is pointless. Conversely, those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, talent, and other qualities are fluid and can be improved with practice. It’s no surprise that those with the latter mindset tend to be more supportive, optimistic leaders who enable their teams to thrive. While innate talent is helpful, it doesn’t beat hard work. Practice developing a growth mindset using the following techniques:

  1. Stop saying you’re ‘not good’ at something – It’s easy to say, for example, that you’re “not a math person,” “not a writer” or “not mechanically inclined,” but that sort of mindset doesn’t acknowledge your potential for growth. Next time you’re tempted to admit you lack skills in a certain area, instead acknowledge your capacity to learn and your opportunity to improve.
  2. Cultivate your purpose – Completing tasks without knowing how they connect to your career or purpose can lead to increased stress and burnout. Even if your first attempt at a task or launch isn’t perfect, consider that it’s just one part of your journey that connects to your overall purpose.
  3. Seek inspiration from and celebrate others – Don’t waste time feeling jealous or intimidated by the success of others. Those with a growth mindset know that mastering a subject is difficult and deserves celebration. Go out of your way to congratulate others on their successes and remind yourself that you can get there, too, with time and practice.
Mindset is crucial to success, so next time a setback or challenge presents itself, challenge yourself and your team to reframe it in a positive light which, regardless of the outcome, will be a valuable learning experience for all of you. Before you even realize it, having a leadership mindset will simply be second nature.

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For over 45 years.

The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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American Association for Physician Leadership®

formerly known as the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE)