Leadership's Secret Language

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Regular readers of this column know that throughout the past year, I have written about various aspects of leadership in an attempt to identify our profession’s next generation of change agents. Mere management, even unusually competent management, does not equal leadership, although great leaders can be found in the ranks of managers in all medical imaging settings. I have been fortunate enough to meet several terrific leaders in my travels around the country.

Among those characteristics true leaders have in common, primary is the ability to communicate effectively with various constituencies and diverse audiences. The ability to capture attention, maintain interest, and motivate people to take action is a hallmark of successful leaders in every industry, and ours is no exception.

This notion has found a voice in a recently published book on the subject. Written by Stephen Denning, The Secret Language of Leadership (published by John Wiley & Sons/Jossey Bass, San Francisco) outlines the ways in which leaders share an ability to use narrative to accomplish great things. Storytelling has always been integral to the development of cultures, and in the formalization of the narrative process one can find a gem of an idea about leadership.

This is especially true, according to Denning, of transformational leaders (that is, those leaders who are thrust into the wake of turbulent times, markets in transition, or tectonic shifts in culture and society). These are situations that require a supreme ability to articulate vision and align groups of people around big ideas that are based on change and, often, metamorphosis.

This brings us to medical imaging today.

We can all agree that these are very difficult times in which to operate. It is especially difficult to predict what direction the profession will take, given myriad opportunities for new models and the relative complacency with which practices have operated for many years. There is much more scrutiny, massive competition, regulatory chaos, and a talent pool that is, in many ways, untested, as well as unready for the impact of these elements.

This is why we need leaders who will step up and take their places instead of remaining among those who remain stunned by the turn of events—events that require innovation, change, vision, and an ability to tell the stories necessary to galvanize people and motivate them to act. As we move into 2008, it is clear that medical imaging will continue to experience tumult and uncertainty, giving those in leadership positions an opportunity to emerge and lead the way through to success by effectively communicating their vision to their respective audiences.

We can be sure of this: Total US expenditures for health care will be more in 2008 than they were in 2007. That’s right. We still operate in a growth market—one in which increases in utilization and in total dollars spent will expand, rather than contract. That means that despite regulatory scrutiny, new competitors entering the market, radiology benefits management firms controlling utilization, and referring physicians buying scanners, market-share growth can be achieved in a number of ways. That, however, will require creativity, focus, and an ability to communicate.

There is cause for optimism, with plenty of reasons to get up each morning, go to work, and make your way through the issues; there are more than enough tools available to us with which to build, develop, and succeed.

Stephen Denning’s book is but one of the newest, and I urge those who aspire to leadership (and those who now lead) to put into practice their ability to use the power of narrative to communicate their visions. It is indeed a secret language, but the secret is now out in the open and is yours for the taking.