Physician Leadership …… Charting Your Own Path

Interview with JP Warner, M.D.

New Expectations and Demands

Much is being asked of physician leaders.  Clinical and academic accomplishments are only the starting point.  We expect them maintain academic and clinical excellence, AND to navigate complex industry, market, and organizational changes. 

(Why Doctors Need Leadership Training – HBR)

Successful leaders need high levels of emotional intelligence, communication, influencing skills, and business acumen.  Now we also expect them to display crisis management and motivation skills, team-building, the ability to think strategically, and to support their fellow physicians while also serving the larger, system. In short, the contemporary leader has to do something that can be impossible, namely manage up and down effectively at the same time.

(J3P Announces Partnership with the Academic Orthopaedic Consortium!)

The Perspective of a Dedicated Leadership Student

Jon Warner, M.D., is an orthopaedic surgeon and experienced leader.  He is the Chief of the Shoulder Service, Acting Chief of the Sports Medicine Service and Chair for  Quality and Safety  for Massachusetts General Hospital Orthopaedics Dept., where he also serves as a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

He’s held numerous professional society leadership roles and is recognized as an outstanding leader, mentor and educator. He’s the founder of the Codman Shoulder Society, the New England Shoulder and Elbow Society,  and The Boston Shoulder Institute. He is the author of over 100 peer reviewed publications, more than 300 book chapters, and 5 books.  For his full bio, see:

We have the pleasure of working with Dr. Warner on several fronts.  What is impressive about him, among many things, is his history of taking on the work of personal growth as a leader. He speaks frequently on leadership topics.  Here is a recent presentation on the concept of “Leadership Without a Title.”

We asked him to share some of his thoughts, and lessons learned, about taking ownership over your success as a leader:

JP Warner, M.D.

Does medical training adequately prepare physicians to lead?

Physicians can be outstanding leaders,  but expecting them to succeed without supporting their development at every phase of their career, is a disservice to them and to the organization they seek to serve.

Our training as physicians and surgeons can actually conflict with the concept of successful collaborative leadership in complex organizations.   Medical training emphasizes competition, more so than collaboration.  While healthcare is finally learning that success depends on building great teams, medical and surgical training may focus more on building a resume, than it does on learning to build consensus, and be part of a team.

Our training as physicians and surgeons can actually conflict with the concept of successful collaborative leadership in complex organizations.”  

What has driven your personal leadership education journey?

Everyone runs the risk of becoming stale and stuck in a perspective that dulls their senses and energies without challenge and the opportunity to grow. When one feels this, it is important to redirect or reinvent yourself. Learning leadership skills may not only provide the opportunity to create a better version of yourself,  but it allows you to pivot in your career. This has the potential to create value for yourself and others that is both material and intangible.

What are your thoughts on common leadership development options/tools/resources:

An MBA Degree –  Some people find MBA training to be valuable.  Many of my colleagues believe that these three initials after their “M.D.” will differentiate them and open more doors. Sadly, in my experience, many never use the skills they develop. In fact, it was suggested to me by one of my Harvard Business School professors that an MBA gives you tools and hard skills like accounting, but it’s other advanced programs in leadership help you learn how to take those tools out of the toolbox and use them with impact.

Executive Business Programs – The Executive Program at HBS (PLD) was a transformative experience for me even though it was late in my career. Unlike most MBA programs, this program was diverse in terms of business sectors represented, and the international distribution of my classmates. The focus was on self-awareness as a leader, and skills in managing yourself and others.

Internal, Organization-Specific Programs –  From what I’ve seen, if it’s done well, this approach can have a real impact.  For instance, the customized approach we’ve deployed with J3P Healthcare Solutions has allowed physician leaders to gain new knowledge and skills, while working collaboratively with colleagues to apply these concepts to our specific goals and challenges. 

It offers the chance to develop a more cohesive team, to grow as individual leaders, and to make real progress on important operational challenges.   I think we’ve all learned to re-think our role as leaders in a complex organization, and how much we appreciate working with each other.

Re: J3P’s Approach: “I think we’ve all learned to re-think our role as leaders in a complex organization, and how much we appreciate working with each other.

Self-Study – There are literally trillions of books, videos, and programs available to you. Out of all the noise what fits best for your own need? I’d suggest in the words of Warren Buffet, “A wise man in a boat does not test the depth of the water with both feet.” So, read, read, read, then test the water with some programs. I went to several wonderful short executive programs at Harvard Business School before I made a decision to do the broader Executive Alternative Program, PLD. (vs. the traditional MBA.)

Executive CoachingEveryone, I mean everyone, benefits from insight. The reflection you see in the mirror is not you every day. Having someone to help you with the nuances and steps to be a better leader is essential to your impact.  I would definitely encourage physicians, however, to find a coach who takes a practical approach, and who understands the unique challenges we face.

(Alan Friedman discusses keys to successful physician executive coaching:

Are there particular skills, attributes or concepts that are a challenge for newer physician leaders? 

Many individuals developed their careers in a “me first” culture and a “winner take all” environment.  They may have never learned the value of self-reflection,  or to appreciate that the message and manner of delivery can be more important than the strategy or solution. 

Effective leaders need to create faith and loyalty and much of this relates to messaging and relationships.   Moreover, many leaders are actually poor active listeners. Finally, leaders fail to understand the impact of showing empathy even in difficult circumstances.

Is there anything in particular that has been a lightbulb moment for you as a leader?

So many things to say here; however, the biggest realization was where my “Sweet Spot” is. I understand better what situations allow me to be at my best and those that don’t. This allows me to play to my strengths and partner with others who can do better some things I am not as effective with.  Obviously, this requires humility, and a willingness to move away from a traditionally autocratic approach to leadership – which is hard for some people.

What is going to be the biggest challenge facing physician leaders in the next 5 years?

We are in the midst of an unprecedented socioeconomic transformation in healthcare. Change management skills will be critical.

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