Mixing it Up – When to Practice, Lead, Manage & Delegate
Having an integrative medical practice for which you are the owner, sole decision-maker and “grunt worker” can sometimes seem unmanageable. If you are considering starting your own practice, the thought of everything that must get done or trying to figure out where to begin can be overwhelming. There is so much to do and not enough time in a day. With this lack of time, it’s no wonder many practitioners fall into the trap of managing the day-to-day instead of leading their practice.
If you are like most practitioners, patient care is likely your comfort. Therefore it is natural for you to feel uneasy about trying to lead your practice to achieving its business goals while still managing the daily business operations AND seeing patients.
Dike Drummond, MD author of Stop Physician Burnout, likens your position to that of an automobile manufacturer CEO who is “the only person who can put the doors on the cars in the assembly line.” This creates “the biggest bottleneck” in a practice. As the sole practitioner, “you are the leader and the piece worker on the line at the same time,” says Drummond. Learning which “hat” to wear at what time will help prevent a bottleneck in your practice.
There are many ideas of what leadership is. In On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis offers a list of the differences between leader and manager. He proposes that the manager has a short-range view: plans, organizes and coordinates, and always has his or her eye on the bottom line. Bennis states that the leader has a long-range perspective with an eye always on the horizon.
Defining Roles: Leader vs. a Manager
A practice leader has the vision and creates the steps necessary to achieve his or her dream. The practice leader is always thinking of ways to improve the practice. The leader’s eyes are wide open always looking for opportunity. In the practice environment, they set the focus of the practice and communicate it clearly to staff and patients. This leadership vision prevents you from losing sight of the big picture and getting lost in the minutia of the day-to-day practice management.
Once the vision has been clarified, the direction set, and goals established, it is the manager who should carry out the plan. But, wearing both the leadership and business manager hats at the same time can be exhausting. This is where delegating can skyrocket your practice and your quality of life.
Delegating: Why, How & to Who
Delegating can be tricky and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it is critical. Delegating can free up time for you to do what you were trained to do – see patients.
Successful delegation requires a solid team. There are several directions you can proceed when hiring staff. The direction you take will depend on your practice style and what type of work you would like to delegate. Key initial staff might include a receptionist, medical assistant, billing person or office manager. When deciding who to hire first, it might be helpful to consider your office routine. What happens once the patient enters the door? What staff is needed to take that patient from start to finish? The following example shows how a normal clinical practice might operate.
From the above graphic, it is evident that there are times when no staff is needed, when only you the practitioner are needed, and when tasks can be completed by someone else. In this example, a solo practitioner just starting out may decide to hire a receptionist first. The receptionist could register patients, take patients to the exam room and check patients out. Depending on the skill set of the receptionist, he or she could manage billing as well.
Another option might be to hire a medical assistant. The assistant could serve as the receptionist and when the patient is taken to the exam room, could take vitals when needed. If the proper resources are available, perhaps both a receptionist and medical assistant would be worthwhile to hire.
Whether you are a small practice owner or a solo practitioner, understanding and learning how and when to wear the hat of a leader and that of a business manager, as well as when to delegate, is important for your practice success. The information provided here is only a short introduction to the intricacies of being a practitioner, leader and practice owner. To learn more and improve your leadership and entrepreneurial skills, consider; hiring a business coach, finding a mentor, reading books, blogs and articles about these skills, signing up for a class or event. Taking this initiative up-front will bring you one step closer to creating a successful practice.
You can also learn about this topic and many more by attending Emerson Ecologics’ annual IGNITE Conference.