Physician leaders need to learn the language of C-Suite

Physician leaders I know who are willing to lay their souls bare will admit that they don’t feel comfortable in the C-Suite (or near the C-Suite for that matter). One principal reason reported by physicians is:

“I don’t understand their language and they know that.”

Just as the typical CFO will not know the language of the surgery suite in action, physicians are often intimidated by C-Suite environment; its culture, cadence and language. Much of the apparent psychological distress stems from the language of finance. It could be a discussion of weighted average cost of capital (WACC) or returns on assets, strategic project financing options or contribution margin analyses. Some physician leaders will be lost at sea with such discussions and they may never catch-up.

So what’s the treatment for the disease? Two paths are possible. The first is go learn the “stuff”; growing proportion of practicing physicians (and other clinicians for that matter) are seeking graduate-level training in the business of healthcare or business in general. The second pathway is physicians bringing unique value to the C-Suite:

  • the science, art and language of continuous quality improvement;
  • the science, art and language of total cost of care management;
  • the science, art and language of population health;
  • the science, art and language of clinical service line management;
  • the science, art and language of adoption of evidence-based clinical best practices, and
  • the science, art and language of clinical services process improvement.

Physician (clinician) leaders should be expected to bring new, and perhaps unique, value to the C-Suite. Their value is not in providing more of what is already there.  
Daniel Zismer, Ph.D.2013