Leadership in Radiology

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What’s expected of leaders in radiology has changed, Frank J. Lexa, MD, MBA, informed his audience at the 23rd Annual Economics of Diagnostic Imaging 2008: National Symposium on October 24, 2008, in Arlington, Va. Lexa is clinical professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, and adjunct professor of marketing and East Asia manager, the Global Consulting Practicum, the Wharton School, Philadelphia. His presentation, Fundamentals of Great Leadership: Lessons for Success, examines what he describes as antidotes for the top 10 bad ideas in leadership and debunks the five most common leadership myths.

“Leadership is too important a function to be left in the hands of only one person. Everyone in an organization has the opportunity to lead, at some time and to some degree. In addition, all established leaders can take advantage of circumstances, as they arise, that allow them to help others in the organization become better leaders.”
—Frank J. Lexa, MD, MBA

It can be difficult to understand how better leadership skills in radiology should be developed, Lexa says, because the leadership needs of US businesses have altered over time. In addition to these new expectations, which may be unfamiliar, the more familiar ideas of what good leadership involves may be fallacies. Between the unknown new and the untrue old principles of leadership, both current and future leaders in radiology can be left on shaky ground. Their success depends not on their innate characteristics, Lexa notes, but on their willingness to recognize and develop fundamental leadership attributes.

Leadership, Lexa adds, must be evaluated in a context that is larger than the leader’s own skills and achievements. While Napoleon’s statement that there are no bad regiments—only bad colonels—holds some truth, even good leaders can have good or bad followers and can serve good or bad organizations. Leadership’s context also includes the business environment and broader economy, Lexa says, and today’s conditions will make leadership (or lack of it) more apparent than it might be in better economic circumstances. Today, it is more necessary to take risks in response to financial pressures, and a greater level of risk requires stronger leadership. The first step in building that leadership, Lexa says, is to erase the five most common myths that deter the pursuit of better leadership skills.

Five Fallacies

These destructive misconceptions, Lexa explains, are the legacy of old leadership styles that not only no longer apply in US business, but were never good policy anywhere. The first myth is that leadership is one person’s responsibility. Not only is leadership too important a function to be left in the hands of only one person, he says, but everyone in an organization has the opportunity to lead, at some time and to some degree. In addition, all established leaders can take advantage of circumstances, as they arise, that allow them to help others in the organization become better leaders.

The second myth is that leaders are not made, but born. This, Lexa says, is simply nonsense. The tasks and qualities of leaders can be described, so they are no mystery—and what can be described can also be learned. Many, or even most, people have the ability to carry out leadership duties, although they may require training that strengthens their aptitude.

The third myth is that leader is a title. It is, instead, a job, Lexa says, and it involves more than one’s position. In addition to providing both strategic and managerial leadership, the leader resolves conflicts, represents the organization and the individuals within it, negotiates both inside and outside the institution, and provides a role model.

The fourth myth is that coercion is leadership. Giving orders is not, in itself, leadership—whether those orders are good or bad. Leadership is not dictatorship; in fact, the more dictatorial a leader’s style is, the less respected his or her leadership will be. Leaders must treat people as individuals to be guided and inspired, while dictators treat them as objects to be deployed.

The fifth myth is that personal charisma is the source of leadership. For example, Lexa says, the celebrity CEOs who come and go at major corporations are publicity opportunities, not effective leaders. Long-term positive results are more likely to be associated with quieter leadership styles that do not substitute activity for achievement, and that