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Taking stock of one’s leadership style, strengths and weaknesses can pay dividends in managing a busy radiology department or practice.
Are you an effective radiology manager? How do you know? In today’s climate, increased productivity and efficient use of existing facilities have become a necessity. Whether it is dealing with the strain of budget cuts, increased expectations with value-based care or the impact of increased consumerism, leadership abilities are more important than ever in radiology.
Your abilities as a leader will not only impact your performance but the effectiveness and work lives of your direct reports as well. Accordingly, I would like to share a strategic framework with six key steps for improving leadership skills.
• Identify your leadership style
• Identify your weaknesses
• Request feedback
• Practice self-discipline
• Manage your self
Your self-management – or lack of it – directly correlates with the success of your department. Do you know that inefficient management can create a 5 to 10 percent drag on productivity? Subpar leadership can inhibit synergy, foster toxicity, and decrease morale, all of which lead to poorer performance. Disengaged staff, high turnover and decreased efficiency all have financial ramifications. In today’s consumer-driven health-care environment, you need high-performing staff who positively contribute to patient satisfaction more than ever.
So how can you improve your effectiveness as a radiology administrator?
1. Identify your leadership style
The first step to managing yourself is to identify what kind of leader you are. Here is a good resource that describes various leadership styles, and the pros and cons of each. (You might have seen different labels for these styles.)
Identify whether your leadership style is amongst the mostly commonly known autocratic, laissez-faire, authoritative, transactional, transformational, or situational. You might feel that you have a mix of leadership styles, but it is likely that you have one innate style that you most often gravitate to. For example, although I gravitate toward authoritative at times, my primary leadership style is situational.
Identifying your leadership style is the easy part. Now you begin the hard work of managing yourself. To be successful, you need to master levels of self-awareness and self-management. We’ll start with self-awareness, which involves four steps: introspection, identifying your weaknesses, requesting feedback and practicing self-discipline.
Introspection is the ability to examine your thoughts and behaviors objectively. This is where you cultivate the ability to see yourself and your blind spots. This involves identifying your behaviors and how they positively or negatively affect those around you.
Begin by asking yourself: “What are the common complaints I hear from my radiology staff?” Reflect on the areas or topics that you often feel resistance or apprehension from direct reports. When do you see people shutting down? What situations are most likely to lead to mistakes for your staff? Then reflect on your behavior, tone, and delivery in those situations.
3. Identify your weaknesses
Many of us focus on our strengths. However, identifying your weaknesses will make you much stronger than identifying your strengths. For example, I know I have a horrible memory. As a director of multiple departments, I have a lot of irons in the fire, and I am presented with many requests and issues throughout the day that I need to address at some point. I developed a process where I send myself email reminders from my phone – and I schedule those emails to be delivered to me on the day I need to address a particular task. This is one example of how I manage one of my weaknesses.
Not all your weaknesses will be obvious, and you might not be weak in it every day. It might be an issue that comes up only in a particular situation. Reflecting on your weaknesses and identifying them can be uncomfortable. But if you don’t identify your weaknesses, they may continue to make you a liability to your radiology department.
4. Request feedback
Requesting feedback requires humility. You are asking someone to be honest with you about your shortcomings and how others perceive you. However, after doing your introspection work and spending time to identify your weaknesses, you will be prepared for the negative feedback. If you are completely shocked by the feedback, I question the sincerity of your introspection.
As you listen to feedback, remember that weaknesses do not mean that you are failing. Rather, these are opportunities to improve and become a better manager.
At times, you might think that the person giving feedback is wrong or misinformed. That does not matter. The truth is that is his or her perception of you. You may ask for clarifications but your role in this step is to listen and hear, not to respond.
Which direct report should you ask for feedback? Start with the one who is always honest and often speaks up, even when you don’t want to hear it. Most of us have an employee like this on our staff. However, don’t ask the employee with whom you have a bumpy relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable asking a direct report, ask one of your peers or someone you directly report to. Also, you can ask your HR department to orchestrate a blind feedback process. Remember, if you don’t want to know, don’t ask. Also keep in mind that you will not grow if you do not ask.
5. Practice self-discipline
This step requires active intention. You have set a goal that you want to be a better manager. Now you need to put it into practice. This requires you to step into an uncomfortable zone and examine your moods and reactions. Explore what rattles you. Does your staff know what buttons to push to get a response from you?
How are you handling being a patient’s punching bag these days? A lot of us are often in this situation. COVID-19 restrictions are keeping family and visitors away from patients, and patients are more upset and frightened. Practicing self-discipline means understanding that patients are upset overall and not with you personally. Self-discipline may mean allowing disgruntled patients to vent within reason without the venting affecting your reactions.
Similarly, your staff might be lashing out at you, or they might be short with you. Like your patients, they too may be under a lot of stress from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing changes it presents. Practicing self-discipline will help you pause and consider the real concerns of your radiology staff. It will also allow you to formulate an appropriate plan rather than reacting quickly in a way that causes even more stress.
6. Manage yourself
Now that you have gone through the steps to self-awareness, let us explore areas for managing yourself: organization, prioritization, self-regulation, accountability and continuous learning.
Organization. How many unread emails are in your inbox? If you have 100 or more, how can you be an effective leader? How can you manage yourself if you can’t manage your inbox? How do you know you aren’t missing something important that is a concern for your staff or a patient? An inability to delegate, or being inflexible or unorganized, are red flags that must be addressed.
Prioritization. Create a list of which tasks need to be done first to keep your perspective. Understand what is most important and what is due first. If you work 8 to 10 hours a day and feel like you didn’t get anything done, then you likely need to work on prioritization.
Self-regulation. Be in tune with yourself. Practice pausing, breathing and collecting yourself throughout the day so you can intentionally respond rather than react. Take the actions and time you need to collect yourself whether it’s a walk, a call to a friend or just closing the office door for a while. I made a commitment to myself to block off 30 minutes a day to eat my lunch and take time for myself.
Accountability. Own your actions. Admit when you are wrong. You can’t expect your team to be open and transparent if you project a vibe that you don’t make mistakes. Accountability also is about setting clear expectations for your radiology team. You can’t expect compliance from them if you have not clearly communicated what is required of them.
Additionally, when you are tired or overworked, take accountability and tell leadership you need help. This may be in the form of a deadline extension, help from others, or a day off. Accountability is an exercise in empowerment and shows you are effective leader by first and foremost knowing how to effectively manage yourself.
Continuous learning. This is necessary for your personal growth in creativity and strategic development. Learning can happen informally through coffee or phone calls with colleagues and mentors. It can also be more formal, like taking an online course. Check with your HR department for development opportunities offered by your organization.
Regardless of the sector, leadership capabilities have always been a challenging characteristic to identify in others. Although seemingly obvious and somewhat basic, identifying your leadership skills can help ensure that you are consistently moving your team in the right direction.
A successful radiology department requires a functional and effective leader who is fluid and flexible in his or her approach. An effective leader is necessary to consistently move your team in the right direction. An effective leader understands the power of, and necessity for, contextual leadership. Only those leaders who can quickly recognize and adapt their methods to the situation at hand will be successful over the long haul. Remember that the most important leadership skill you can ever learn is how to lead yourself.
Dr. Weatherly was formerly the Senior Director of Radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. She is currently Vice President of Imaging at Ochsner Health.
Editor’s note: This article has been adapted with permission from its original publication on Carestream’s Everything Rad blog.