Passing the Baton: Raising Up Leaders in Anesthesia Practices

-->September 3, 2019Billing & Compliance Alerts

    So many of the client groups we serve are fortunate to have strong and able leaders.  We see evidence of this as we meet with our clients, listen to their aspirations, and see the fruits of their success.  Running and growing a successful anesthesia practice requires a unique set of skills.  Not every anesthesia provider is going to naturally gravitate to such a role.  Most clinicians want to focus on their professional specialty.  They don’t necessarily wish to be saddled with the extra burden of being business managers.  However, in most groups, there are those few (or that one) who have both the desire and acumen to take on the added mantle of leadership.

    What happens, however, when that leader goes away?  Let’s say you’re in a group that’s thrived under the stable leadership of a sole individual over the course of several years—the stalwart captain of a straight-sailing ship.  He or she has been manning the helm year after year, but now that person is no longer there.  People do step down.  They retire.  They resign their post.  What happens now to your vessel?  Does it suddenly veer toward the shoals of confusion, contraction or outright disaster?  The purpose of this article is two-fold: to bring your attention to the current need for leadership development within your group and to provide insight on how that might be accomplished.

    Decide on a Model

    Not every group has the same management model.  Some have a long-term president who handles the majority of the daily decisions, drafts the meeting agendas, and provides a large measure of the strategic thinking on behalf of his or her colleagues.  Other groups may operate on a more delegatory model where the various business-related responsibilities are shared among a core group within the larger entity.  Still others have a practice administrator or, in the case of a hospital-employed group, a facility executive who takes on a large measure of the non-clinical tasks.

    Regardless of the model employed, anesthesia groups cannot thrive or survive without sound and savvy leadership.  So, ultimately, this is going to come down to putting the right people in the right positions.  If your group model allows for promotion from within, then you need to implement a systematic training program to build up your leadership pipeline.

    Develop a Program

    Here, we will not be providing a simple 5-step strategy, a one-size-fits-all training program, or a boilerplate “blueprint for better leaders.”  While such items can be purchased from a consultant or obtained from a website, they are likely to prove ineffective and create future resistance to a program that will actually work.

    Some time ago, the president of a large and growing “supergroup” based on the west coast went through several off-the-shelf leadership training modules.  None of them worked—at least not for his group and their specific set of circumstances.  So, he tried a different approach.  He brought his colleagues together and asked for their suggestions and recommendations for a training program that would conform to the needs, structure, and dynamics of their group.  In other words, he got buy-in from the very individuals who would go on to become the focus of the program.  Together, the group hammered out a plan that was customized to their unique circumstances.  The results were nothing short of staggering.

    The two takeaways of this supergroup’s success story are that any leadership training program is going to need (a) group buy-in, and (b) customization.  One size does not fit all, and getting others to weigh in gives them skin in the game.  It creates unity, a spirit of joint-mission, and that leads to enthusiasm.  This, alone, will help reduce costly turnover and produce motivated learners.

    Deliver the Goods

    Ultimately, it is going to be up to the current group leadership to get this ball rolling.  Personal interests will have to be subordinated to the greater good and long-term well-being of the group.  So, what’s your game plan?  How do you get this party started?  Here are a few suggestions:

    • List Your Own Ideas.  Since you’re the leader, you probably already possess the gift for strategic thinking.  I’m reminded of the scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou? where, in response to the question of who should take on the role of leader, Everett says, “Well, Pete, I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought.”  If you’re the leader, chances are you’re already an idea person.  Jot down those ideas.  They may end up being among the best submitted.
    • Outline Items to Discuss.  Before calling a meeting of the group for the purpose of kickstarting a leadership training program, the current group leader should cobble together the meeting agenda, to include the purpose of the meeting and the general parameters to be discussed.  Those might include:
      • Proposal for a training program, generally
      • Reason for such a program
      • Program goals
      • Best methodology for achieving program goals (e.g., shadowing current leader, mentoring program, monthly training sessions, committee appointments, attendance at business meetings)
      • Timetables
      • Balancing training with clinical responsibilities
      • Compensation issues
      • Discussion
      • Next steps
    • Consult with Others.  Before calling a general group meeting, you—as the current leader—may want to share your plan, vision and ideas for the program with a select number of group members for their feedback.  Once their input is received, you may decide a few tweaks to your ideas are in order.  You are now ready to move forward with your recalibrated plan.
    • Schedule and Hold a Group Meeting.  Here is where you lay out the problem and your vision for resolving it.  It will be up to the leader to determine the extent to which his/her own plan particulars should be considered.  Again, to get buy-in, this meeting should include an adequate segment of time devoted to discussion, allowing the members to throw out their own ideas. You may want to consider including this meeting within a larger group retreat or long-term planning session.
    • Finalize the Plan.  The initial group meeting may not allow enough time for members to adequately consider and generate ideas relative to each of the program’s components.  Ask them to submit their ideas by a certain date.  You will then need to decide how the final shape of the program is to be determined (by you, group consensus, board vote?).
    • Implement the Plan.  Once the plan is finalized, pick a date for the commencement of the new training program.  Start it.  Stick with it.  Don’t slack off on it.  Consistency is the key.  If you run into unanticipated kinks, don’t be afraid to adjust some of the program’s parameters.

    Once more, the overall goal of such a plan is to build a cadre of up-and-coming leaders for that inevitable time of transition.  Groups need to start grooming potential presidents and decision-makers from within their own ranks—individuals who have the right stuff and who can step in when the current captain steps down.  This is a matter of long-term group prosperity, but it is up to current leadership to make it happen.  As your business partner, we encourage you in this effort and stand ready to assist in any way we can.

    If you would like assistance in preparing for a leadership training meeting or an overall strategic planning session or retreat, please contact your Medac account executive.

    We want to hear from you. Do you have a topic you would like to see covered in a Medac eAlert? Please send your suggestions to