How charisma can improve patient care

By its very nature, medicine involves close personal contact with others. Communication with patients, families, staff and colleagues is essential to success. All physicians have different ways in which they communicate — some more effective than others. The best communicators are able to inspire, engage, and cultivate trust. Everyone is born with different skill sets and communication styles may vary widely.

Recently, I came across an article in Inc.com that discussed the importance of charisma and how it can improve the success of leaders in the business world. Author Jeff Hayden goes on to describe 10 habits of very charismatic leaders. As I read the piece, I began to reflect on ways in which these tips could make me and my physician colleagues better communicators and better leaders in the world of medicine.

As we always do when tackling an issue in medicine, lets start with the available data.

Webster’s Dictionary defines charisma as:

1. A personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure
2. A special magnetic charm or appeal

So, how can this help us take better care of our patients? If we are able to inspire and produce excitement amongst our team — from nurses, to physician extenders, to support staff — both our patients and our employees will have a better experience when working with us. If we are able to appeal to our patients and their families we are able to provide much needed trust and are more likely to be able to partner with our patients in an effective way.

As we examine Mr. Hayden’s tips for charismatic leaderships more carefully, we can find insight into ways in which we can improve our own communication with patients, colleagues and staff (in each case below, I have listed Mr. Hayden’s tips and then applied them to our space as physician leaders):

1. Listen more than you talk. This one is tough for many physicians. In training we are taught to speak up when you know the answer. We are often motivated to provide quick results and to communicate them readily. We strive to quickly assimilate facts and produce a plan. However, much can be learned by listening — to patients, to families and to other healthcare team members. When team members see that their ideas are considered by the leader, the tend to be more engaged and more productive. It matters not who gets credit for the individual pieces of the puzzle — it is more important that the puzzle is completed successfully and the credit becomes a group effort.

2. Do not practice selective hearing. It is essential that physician leaders treat all team members with respect. Everyone has a role to play and it matters not what title or status a particular individual may hold in the team hierarchy. By including everyone (and making each person feel like a contributor) we inspire hard work and more participation. Ultimately the patient receives much better care.

3. Put your stuff away. In the age of mobile phones, iPads and computers on the hospital wards distractions abound. However, when leading a team and listening to others express opinions and ideas, it is essential to leave the digital media in its holster — nothing makes others feel more unimportant than a disinterested leader. Take time to engage each person on the team and avoid the distractions of a text, a phone call or a tweet.

4. Give before you receive. In medicine it goes without saying but be sure to put your patients and their families first. Within the care team, allow others to take credit and receive praise for a job well done before any is directed your way as the leader.

5. Don’t act self important. Medicine breeds enormous egos — particularly in world-renown academic centers. To be more effective, we must put ego aside — forget the fact that you may have published half of the manuscripts in the Medline search that the medical student just performed. Focus instead on others and what they bring to the team. Remember, we are all human — we are all connected.

6. Realize that other people are important. As Mr. Hayden states clearly, “you already know what you know  … you can’t learn anything new from yourself.” Listen to what others have to say — focus on their opinions and learn from their biases.

7. Shine the spotlight on others. Everyone feels validated by praise. There is never enough praise to go around. As the team leader make sure that you are adept at deflecting praise from yourself to those around you. Team members who feel that their work is recognized and appreciated as excellent tend to work harder and produce more.

8. Choose your words. How we go about asking others to perform tasks can greatly alter their perception of the task. If a task is presented as an obligation, it is viewed very differently than if it is presented as an opportunity or a privilege. By carefully choosing your words you inspire others and make them feel as thought their position on the team is a critical component for success.

9. Do not discuss the failings of others. Let’s face it, the hospital is a fishbowl and people gossip. However, nothing is more destructive to team dynamics that when a leader speaks negatively about a team member, a colleague or another physician. This behavior undermines morale and does not inspire confidence.

10. Admit your own failings. It is essential for teams and leaders to feel connected. Nothing promotes connection more than when a leader admits his or her own mistakes and failings to the group. However, when admitting a mistake it is essential that the leader set an important example — when admitting a failing also admit what was learned through the event and what corrective actions you plan to take to avoid the mistake in the future. This sets a wonderful example for self improvement for the team and at the same time promotes connectedness within the care team.

What’s the bottom line?

Effective communication and inspiring leadership are essential to the success of any medical team. When teams are engaged and focused on the ultimate goal — the care of the patient — outcomes improve. It is the job of the physician and other team leaders to motivate people and form cohesive, effective teams. As leaders, we can learn a great deal from the business and political world — charisma is a characteristic that can move markets and change the course of entire nations. Charisma allows a leader with a vision to effect change. Charisma can be the difference in connecting with patients, families and co-workers. Charisma can ultimately improve care and improve the delivery of care — the key is to learn to focus on them, not on me.

Kevin R. Campbell is a cardiac electrophysiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, MD.

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  • Suzi Q 38

    Good advice!
    I have one more:

    #11. Have a sense of humor.
    I may like you a little more if you are not only a competent doctor, but you make me laugh every now and then.
    Cancer and other serious medical conditions have made me sad.
    I would welcome the opportunity to laugh. Some physicians are just too serious all of the time.

  • SBornfeld

    I think it’s a bit like what they said in “Seinfeld” about grace: “either you have it or you don’t.”

    • Suzi Q 38

      So true.
      Sometimes, being beautiful or handsome is just not enough.