Being an Effective Leader in Turbulent Times
The world of outpatient imaging changed suddenly when Congress passed historic legislation known as Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005. Almost immediately, professional organizations began lobbying efforts to delay implementation of this legislation for two years so that companies would have time to prepare for this devastating event. Most radiologists and entrepreneurs in the industry thought that cuts of this magnitude were never going to happen. In the end, however, lobbying efforts failed, and these cuts were implemented. This legislation made me recognize that what our profession needed was a new type of leadership to cope with the difficult and turbulent times ahead. As I began speaking with executives in other companies, I realized that our profession had very good managers who were focused on coping with situations that were going on in their practices. There were not a lot of people out there, however, who were initially able to cope with the change that our industry was facing that would have a negative impact on their businesses. This is the focus of leadership. In order to be an effective and successful leader in today’s outpatient imaging environment, you must develop several skills to carry with you in your leadership tool kit. Many people believe that leaders are born. This, however, could not be the further from the truth. Leaders are developed over time, with the proper skills and training. The following are some characteristics of a successful and effective leader. Do the right thing. How many times have you been confronted with a difficult situation in your practice and known exactly what the right thing was to do, yet you were told not to do it? I think that at some point in their lives, everyone has been confronted with this situation. If you haven’t confronted it yet, don’t worry; you eventually will. Doing the right thing can be difficult and daunting. Under the DRA, there have undoubtedly been some changes made in your practice that have had a direct impact on your employees. Whether it was due to the practice's decisions not to give raises or bonuses, to reduce benefits, or, in some extreme circumstances, to reduce the workforce, your employees have definitely been affected by the DRA. While these changes might have been difficult to implement in your practice, as the business executive, you have a fiduciary duty and responsibility to the organization to make and implement these difficult decisions. While everyone likes to be perceived as being the good guy and desires to be well liked by the staff, there are times when decisions must be made that are for the greater good of the organization and its continued survival. Be courageous. When the DRA was announced in 2006, how many business executives immediately went to their radiologists to break the bad news and how many took a wait-and-see attitude? When something bad is likely to happen, it is in the business executive's best interest to bring it to the attention of the business owner, along with plans for how you are going to deal effectively with, and attempt to overcome, the challenge or situation at hand. While it may seem, at times, that the challenge is too great and the task is too enormous, business leaders must display the courage and fortitude that are necessary to solve the problem and overcome the difficult situation. Reimbursement cuts are likely to continue into the foreseeable future, and it is going to take some out-of-the-box thinking and courage to determine how your organization is going to deal with this issue. Show respect for the staff. Many of us get so wrapped up in running the business and dealing with day-to day problems that, at times, we forget to recognize and reward the most important assets in keeping the business running: the employees who carry out the missions and visions of our companies. Employees want to do a good job; they have great ideas and want to be part of the decision-making process. As managers and leaders, however, we sometime forget to ask employees what their thoughts are regarding a particular problem or situation. Next time you are confronting a difficult and complex situation, ask someone else on the executive team how he or she would deal with the situation, if it is feasible to do so. When others are involved in the decision-making process, it sends a message that you truly value their input and respect their opinions and the contributions that are being made to the organization. Take the initiative. To be an effective leader, you must take the initiative to bring about change within your organization and must have the ability to mange the changes that are happening. In a very dynamic and turbulent health care environment, this is perhaps the most important thing that you can do, and it is an area where you should spend a lot of time and attention. How many times have you heard someone in your organization say, “That is the way it has been done around here for many years?” Proceeding with the status quo and doing things the same way in your company today as in the past are not steps likely to equal success in the future. The more effective you are at bringing about change and helping the various stakeholders in the organization understand why the changes are happening and why they are necessary, the further it will go toward preventing chaos and uncertainty in your organization. As you are transforming your skills from those of a manager into those of a leader, keep in mind that all problems are manifestations of the organization's corporate culture. In order to get to the root cause of the problem, take a look at your group's culture. This is where you will get to the direct source of the problem, and it will be the fundamental area where you can bring about long-term, meaningful change. Leadership is a very broad and complex area. It is good to keep in mind that leadership is a journey that is dynamic and that will continue to change, over time, as you mature and as your values and perspectives on life change. Adopting the right techniques and putting them in your leadership tool kit will put you on the road to becoming a successful leader.