While recently swapping elderly parent health issues with a colleague, also a caregiver for her mom, we aired our frustrations with the medical system in general and the specialization of doctors specifically. Medicine, like many areas of life, has become uniquely specialized. If you break your arm, you see an orthopedist. If you have breathing issues you see a pulmonologist. And, of course, within those specialty areas there are sub-distinctions: joints vs musculature, knees vs backs, etc. Troubles arise when, due to compounding health issues, you need to see multiple specialists over a longer timeframe. My question is – Who oversees and considers the whole body health?

Enter the horror stories of prescription overdosing, medicine compatibility, and incorrect treatments. Consider the example of my mother breaking her arm recently. In a discussion with the orthopedist I asked if he could prescribe immediate physical therapy (PT). He said the broken arm wouldn’t be ready for PT for another few months. When I pointed out that her broken arm would require the need for lifting herself physically out of bed one-handed (she struggles when using both hands), navigating the use of a rolling walker one-handed, not to mention muscle atrophy in her legs due to prolonged sitting and lying in bed, he realized his error and recommended therapy. While I can be an advocate for my mother, not to mention my own health, who is the adviser and medical sounding board for me? From a medical perspective, the answer is a general physician. This is the professional with whom you can collaboratively work to blend all the diagnoses, monitor the multiple medicines prescribed, and consider how one health dysfunction might affect and be affected by others.

During the conversation I realized that a significant part of my job as a change and organizational effectiveness consultant is that of a general physician. In today’s world of hyper-information, systems specialists, and consultants with alphabet soup lettering after their names, someone needs to serve in the role of advisor and general physician to leaders regarding the whole health of their organization. They need someone who has deep knowledge and expertise with organizational dynamics, working knowledge of the multiple functions that comprise the business system, a healthy dose of curiosity, fascination with patterns and systems integration, and an unrelenting quest for making the complex simple.

As our society and organizations become ever more complex and specialized, leaders need to relentlessly search out those individuals who can serve in the role as advisors and generalists. Don’t forget that bringing someone in from outside the organization to periodically serve in this role will encourage and support new movement for those atrophied muscles.