Understanding & Considering the Interpersonal Traits of successful Physician Leaders

As a physician mentor, I can tell you that knowing their why is far from the only hire-worthy trait the right candidate should possess. There are others that the selection committee should underscore as well, such as the following:

Connectedness. The ideal candidate is connected to their original purpose that drove their decision to pursue a career medicine. They know the strengths that make them the right person for the job and the areas where they need support and training.

Vision. The right leader has a big-picture vision and can articulate it compellingly, with passion and verve. They begin with the end goals in view and know what steps to take to get there.

Hands-on. The ideal person isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty to understand better the roles of everyone who would report up to them. They step into other’s shoes to learn how they can help cultivate and motivate the workforce in efforts to build others and guide them to success.

Respect. The ideal candidate has a genuine and abiding respect for patients, colleagues, employees, and authority.

Kindness. An effective leader shows concern for everyone they encounter, from the receptionist to CEO.

Communication. It is imperative that a medical leader actively listens to others as well as articulates their messages clearly — equally important aspects of excellent communication.

Integrity. There is always honesty in their dealings and a demonstration of a strong moral tone in the organization.

Empathy. An effective medical leader not only sympathizes but also empathizes with others, always assuming the best until proven otherwise.

Compassion. A worthy physician leader cares about the “person behind the scrubs.”

Decisive (but not authoritarian). The leader invites conversation but knows how to respectfully convey a firm opinion.

Teacher-student. Medical director candidates should instinctively be teachers, but they also recognize that the best teachers are lifelong students. They are always willing to learn from those around them.

Servant leader. Your leader is a servant first who makes sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being met.

Problem solver. Ideal medical leaders can solve problems calmly and with composure even under extreme duress and pressure. They acknowledge and emanate the infamous saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Culture builder. The best medical directors know how to create a patient-service oriented culture while encouraging collaboration between clinical and non-clinical staff through shared objectives.

Creativity cultivator. Pursue a physician leader who also establishes a culture where creativity and innovation are cultivated and rewarded.

Facilitator. This individual appreciates various perspectives, approaches problems from many angles, and brings diverse voices into a room to help tackle an issue or capitalize on an opportunity.

Motivator. Find that person who knows how to motivate people into action without sending them into a flurry.

Proactive. An outstanding medical director is agile, dynamic, productive, and organized — but one who is human at the same time—not a machine.

Wisdom. Go beyond “smart” and look for someone who is also wise — a person who can handle uncertainty without anxiety. This person knows when to “sleep on it” and wait for the right time to make crucial decisions.


Medical training, experience, and clinical skill notwithstanding are all necessary traits. However, perhaps the most essential factor to consider in recruiting and choosing your physician leader, especially in telemedicine, is character.


We operate in a virtual world, where PTO is unlimited, the staff is judged by their work product and timely deliverables, compared to tracking productivity between the traditional hours of 9 to 5. The average regional medical director works from home and often will fly to the client rather than sit in an office and delegate to support staff.

Trust must be established.

Establishing mutual trust between the organization and physician leadership is essential in telemedicine today. That said, well-rounded telemedicine physician leaders are disciplined, direct, mobile, accessible, tech-savvy, self-starting, committed to healthy life choices, educators and mentors by nature, physician advocates, risk conscientious, passionate about patient care, respected by their peers, have a firm grasp of patient logistics, and aspire to inspire the world around them. The ideal physician leader is not motivated primarily for the money or the fame but for the sheer satisfaction of knowing they contributed to a higher purpose.

Your future physician leader is a team captain or coach. One who leads their team of physicians towards victory via coaching, mentoring, team building, continuous medical education, and community building.

Ultimately, the demonstration that millions of dollars spent on the development of clinical guidelines, training portals, workflows, legal fees, support staff, staff turnover, project managers, and work plans are only successfully implemented and eventually profitable if the optimal physician leader was selected to lead that charge.


“Show me your physician leader and I will show you what kind of health care organization you are.” Surveyor-Auditor

“Don’t judge a physician leader by their CV and a few strategic references.” CMO

The Physician Unicorn

Your Physician Leader is someone who knows their why, exhibits concern for others, and will look out for the welfare of their staff, while responsibly, maintaining the best interest for all parties. Yet is unafraid to make tough, unpopular decisions when necessary or financially responsible. They often lead by example and possess the characteristics of a well-disciplined athlete or coach.