Leading Up

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Readers might conclude that instruction at the inaugural Radiology Leadership Institute was provided by the many great leaders from radiology about whom I’ve written. This is not the case. Much practical wisdom was imparted by those leaders in brief talks that bookended each day, but instruction was provided by the excellent faculty of the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, under the direction of Joel Shalowitz, MD, MBA, director of the health industry management program.

Faculty included an expert in game theory, a psychologist, an expert in competitive analysis and corporate governance, a mediation attorney, and the former chair and CEO of Baxter International, who gave the final instruction on Values-Based Leadership, Harry Kraemer. Kraemer, also an executive partner with private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, is the author of a recently published book, From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-based Leadership, but we got the crash course in three hours. The book included in the course materials.

If you want to know what the four principles are, you will need to read the book. Because it struck a frustration nerve with many in the class, one of the ideas he discussed is worth airing here.

What do you do if you are working for someone who is not a values-based leader? What if you are working for an egomaniac or an incompetent who is getting in the way of what needs to be done?

What do you do if someone you work with but over whom you have no authority (a hospital employee, perhaps) insists on doing things the way they’ve always done them rather than the better way?

This is where Kraemer introduces the idea of leading up. “People get confused and view their job as making a manager happy,” Kraemer says. “We are wasting an awful lot of time, because an awful lot of people are doing things, and they didn't challenge why they were doing them.”

One of Kraemer’s great gifts is his ability to simplify, something he says all leaders must be able to do:

“I work for Joey who works for Harry. What I have to convince Joey as quickly as a possible is that I am not part of the problem, I am part of the solution. I have to convince him that no matter what needs to get done, I am going to help him out.

“What if Joey is not a nice guy? Can I convince Joey to do the right thing? If I can't convince him then I need to decide how much it matters. If it matters, I can say to him, I have a different view and I care enough about the organization that I'm going to talk to John.”

Kraemer says you only have so many silver bullets, so it better be important. He also says, “If I know Joey is going to do something and it's not the right thing and I don't do anything about it, then I'm not a leader.”

“What is the worst case?” he asks. “Worst case is I was going to get fired, and you know that I wasn't going to stay there anyway. I actually believe that a higher percentage of time than thought, the reason the boss is doing something that doesn't make sense is because he doesn't know it doesn't make sense.”

This ability to respectfully state your case in terms of what is best for the organization is a critical part of leadership, whatever your place in the pecking order.

“This whole idea of being able to lead up is huge, because a lot of the people who are in those positions should not be there,” he acknowledges.


Read More About the first Radiology Leadership Institute Meeting on Stat Read

The Stewardship PitchA Lion in WinterFollow the LeaderLeadership According to ImmeltBe a Person FirstPre-mortems and Decision-makingOutlining the FutureThe Inaugural RLI: Let the Course Begin