Exploring leadership competencies in established and aspiring physician leaders: an interview-based study

J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Jun;23(6):748-54. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0565-5. Epub 2008 Mar 8.


Background and objectives: Academic health care institutions have become interested in understanding and supporting current leaders and preparing leaders for the future. We designed this exploratory study to better understand specific perceived leadership needs of physicians from the perspective of "aspiring" and "established" leaders within our institution.

Design: A qualitative, inductive, structured interview-based design was used to examine the study questions.

Participants: A purposeful sample of current and aspiring leaders was obtained, sampling across specialties and levels of leadership.

Interventions: All participants were interviewed by the same investigator (CT). Five open-ended questions were developed as prompts. Two of the investigators independently analyzed the transcripts, using an open coding method to identify themes within the narratives. Inter-observer comparisons were made and discrepancies were resolved through discussion.

Results: Four themes emerged from analyzing the responses to our questions. Aspiring and established leaders agreed that "knowledge", "people skills" or emotional intelligence, and "vision" were all characteristics of effective leaders and critical to the success of aspiring leaders. Established leaders in our sample added a characteristic of "organizational orientation" that extended the description of "leaders" to include an understanding of the institution as well as dedication to its success (a trait we have called "organizational altruism").

Conclusions: Our findings validate others' regarding leadership competencies while extending these findings to the specific context of health care and physicians. Important implications for curricular design include: inclusion of emotional intelligence competencies and reducing formal didactics in favor of programs that are both interactive and problem-based.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Leadership*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician Executives*
  • Physicians
  • Professional Competence*