The AHA Physician Alliance frames all resources and services within three fundamental values: Lead Well. Be Well. Care Well., and through its Five Questions with Clinician Leaders podcast, regularly engages physician leaders on these three values.

Lead Well focuses on improving the health of the enterprise and developing collaborative teams to move organizations forward. Below are three leaders who participated in the AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust’s training on ways adaptive leadership can change static clinical/leadership dynamics and transform organizations. Join the next training, July 17-18 in Denver. Learn more and sign up here. To listen to these podcasts as well as others in the series, visit

Adaptive leadership is practical framework to manage change. It’s hard and takes practice. 

Adapted from Five Questions with Clinician Leaders: Jay Bhatt, D.O., senior vice president and chief medical officer, American Hospital Association and president, Health Research & Educational Trust in Chicago

Adaptive work is hard. A powerful benefit of the adaptive leadership training is learning to manage uncertainty and local culture as you move from point A to point B – because it isn’t always a linear journey. Often, you deploy intervention, learn something, and adjust intervention. There are a lot of patterns of behavior in groups and you don’t necessarily see it when you’re in the midst of the action. Getting off the dance floor and seeing it on the balcony allows you to see what’s happening from a systemic point of view. You then can intervene and dance differently, then see how that impacts the system, then try another intervention. Stepping back is a skill that takes time and practice, and this intensive training helps teams learn that skill. We bring together administrative and clinical teams to work through the fundamentals of adaptive leadership in which they bring their own experiences to case-based learning that gives teams the chance to practice these necessary skills.

Sometimes better care solutions aren’t diagnostic at all, but personality conflicts that must be overcome. Adaptive leadership equipped our team with skills needed to move forward and improve. 

Adapted from Five Questions with Clinician Leaders: David Ryerse, CEO, Daniels Memorial Healthcare Center in Scobey, MT

We hadn’t been getting the feedback we needed on administrative rounding. People weren’t comfortable telling us everything so we took an adaptive leadership approach looking at individuals and process, applying diagnostic root cause pieces to dig up what’s happening in each department, our facility and perceptions that were getting in the way. Part of that diagnostic work was considering underlying causes – sometimes not clinical at all but personality conflicts – and identifying how we develop staff with coordination and teamwork skills, working with people with whom they may not want to work. Through the adaptive leadership process, we have staff step back to think how their role – what they do day-to-day – impacts our organizational mission. Today, we have a much more active, more engaged staff and get real-time results. 

Know you’re not alone. When we showed up we thought we were the only ones with this problem, but we found out we shared similar challenges with leaders across the country. 

Adapted from Five Questions with Clinician Leaders: Ward VanWichen, CEO, Philips County Hospital in Malta, MT

While everyone in health care is trying to reach the same goal, and that goal is always to better care for our patients and communities – my observation as both a clinician and administrator is that timelines drive a lot of frustration. Clinically, things move pretty quickly, but administratively the necessary practices and processes make those timelines longer. Adaptive leadership skills helped our organization overcome some of the negativity tied to that frustration. It gave us the skills to shift perspective as a team and go beyond regular communications which hadn’t been enough. Fundamentally, we all approach challenges and concerns assuming positive intent, pausing to look at others’ perspective, be diagnostic to better assess, interpret and intervene and perhaps most important, take care of ourselves and help each other do that.

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