What's With the Attitude?

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At least half of the elements of various success formulas, in business and in life, relate to one’s ability to keep a positive outlook—especially when circumstances make it most difficult to do so. It is so easy to succumb to the temptation to curl up in a fetal position in the face of adversity. Frankly, there is something to be said for the comfort that can be found in simply turning away from tough and formidable situations. Why do they always seem to turn up like ants at a summer picnic? The medical imaging profession has recently had its share of these tests of resolve and character, and I applaud those who are staring down the bad stuff that keeps popping up; many, however, are wringing their hands and getting weak in the knees.
Why does it seem that no one of national influence seems concerned about rampant self-referral and the resulting meteoric rise in imaging utilization? Why do the legislators persist in attempting to balance their budgets on the backs of physicians and medical imaging services? Why is imaging under assault by the payors, many of whom have robust balance sheets themselves?
The list goes on and on: It seems that today’s imaging executives are faced with an endless stream of adverse conditions within which they are expected to succeed. Wall Street calls them headwinds, and they are blowing steadily these days. The point is that, as leaders, we all have choices about how we are going to handle these daily setbacks and tests. We can either let them overwhelm us, stress us to the point of debilitation, and build anxiety within us that rubs off on those we manage, or we can dig deep and find the inner resources necessary to build confidence among our stakeholders—confidence that will lead to a sustained winning attitude. It is a unique characteristic of successful leaders that they seem to exhibit an infectious confidence that creates a reservoir of support when it is most needed. In his new and fascinating book George Washington on Leadership (Basic Books), author Richard Brookhiser outlines many of the ways in which our nation’s founding father (and, according to the author, also our founding CEO) used such confidence to win against unimaginable odds. It is clear that we would not be the United States today, were it not for General Washington’s incredible resolve in the face of adversity that most of us would have found to be simply too much. Although we learned a bit about our first president in US history classes, it is clear that we can learn much more from his amazing life of dedication, commitment, perseverance, and knowledge, as well as from (dare I say it?) his attitude. His lessons, as they apply to the business world, are especially prescient. General Washington paid attention to every detail, inspired soldiers to follow him based on his confidence, persevered, remained highly visible, was decisive, had a vision for a better future, understood his adversaries, nurtured key relationships, and otherwise understood every single aspect of his mission and role in life. Apparently, he never let anyone see him sweat or wring his hands in anxiety. Let’s see: We work in one of the top professions, in terms of professional satisfaction, income, intellectual capital, scientific advancement, interesting people, and long-term sustainability. We live in the greatest country in the world. We go about as we please from place to place, have ample time off to enjoy all of it, and have quite an array of options for how we would like our futures to unfold. It’s not a lot to complain about; is it hard work? Yes, it is. Is it frustrating that we cannot seem to get everyone on board with the program? You bet it is. Is it downright unfair that many of the slings and arrows seem to be headed our way most recently? It is, indeed. In spite of this, we have the magic concept of opportunity. We can take charge of our destinies in ways that many people around the world cannot. We have a growing population, have increased annual spending on health care, have a marketplace primed to respond to and use our services, and are in a profession that will see overall growth in demand. We are valued, and we can make a difference while also earning a good living. It’s a dream profession, really. We are currently knee deep in one of those market cycles that tests everyone’s resolve. Market positions are being reshaped, buyers and sellers are trying to figure each other out in new ways, many are waiting for the next shoe to drop, and there is a general understanding that we are officially in a new and untested era in medical imaging. How each of us comes out the other side of this trough will depend a great deal on the attitude that we carry with us throughout this period. My suggestion is to find ways to apply the wisdom of the very first CEO of the United States. You could do a lot worse, when it comes to role models.