Becoming a Better Leader

Two radiologists discuss honing management skills through emotional intelligence.

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Successful leaders possess a high degree of emotional intelligence, a term often defined as the ability to identify emotions in facial expressions, vocal intonations, and posture, as well as the ability to gauge the emotional nature of situations. However, to lead with social and emotional competence, one needs an array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance.

Understanding the importance of emotional intelli­gence and how it can benefit radiologists is the bailiwick of Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, FACR, executive vice presi­dent for health affairs at Emory University, and Cheri L. Canon, MD, FACR, chair of radiology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham. Both Lewin and Canon believe that as radiologists, daily challenges are best handled with emotional competence.

According to Canon, during a typical day in a busy reading room with an endless PACS worklist, there are many interruptions — some of which are for important patient consultations. Canon advocates for engaging in these types of opportunities to interact with patients, in addition to providing interpretive expertise. “No matter how chaotic things can get, one should think of emotional intelligence as an exercise, incorporating it into daily behavior to achieve emotional competency,” says Canon. “This is not only for better performance and engagement at work but also for self-improvement. The more emotionally competent, the better we are as physicians, colleagues, and friends.”

Lewin agrees. He believes that emotional intelligence often makes the difference between success and failure in managing a complex organization such as a radiology department or large division or in a larger context, such as a hospital, health system, or university. “Not a day goes by when I don’t lean heavily on empathy and compassion as guiding principles in my interactions, whether dealing with patients, community members, or trustees,” he says.

According to Lewin, while some people score natu­rally higher in emotional intelligence, regardless of innate ability, these skills can be significantly enhanced with focused effort and practice. “Much can be done through self-study, reading, and practice, although depending upon one’s level of self-awareness, a leadership coach might be required to best develop these skills,” he says.

While leadership can be a challenge to define and measure, both Lewin and Canon point out the usefulness of having a starting point, which can be obtained in a multitude of online assessment tests. “Assessment tools have shown that indi­viduals can improve their emotional quotient at any time as contrasted with intelligence quotient, which is established at a relatively young age,” says Canon.

Lewin agrees. “I’ve applied a 360-degree survey instrument, specifically focused on emotional intelligence skills, several times for my own self-improvement early in my lead­ership career and have offered it to my direct reports as a tool to help develop leadership skills over the years,” he says.

Lewin points to research endorsed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the Joint Commission. The studies note the value of these types of sur­veys, finding that two of the six core clinical competencies — professionalism and inter­personal/communication skills — require physicians to succeed in measures associated with emotional intelligence.1 Using feedback surveys to screen for improvement opportu­nities in the two core competencies enables organizations to selectively offer education to further develop physician emotional intelligence, which plays a key role in leadership, teamwork, clinical, financial, and organizational outcomes.

Canon believes that growing emotional intelligence proficiency and related leadership expertise is a lifelong process. She refers to it as a stepwise process beginning with self-re­flection and insight and ultimately progress­ing to effective leadership. Lewin agrees.

“Understanding where one has strengths and where one has gaps can be tremen­dously helpful as these skills are honed,” adds Lewin.

In the end, both Lewin and Canon believe that physician-leaders need to be well-versed in emotional intelligence if they are to truly care for their patients. “There is a patient behind the pixels,” says Canon. “We need to remember that no matter how challenging our day, we are taking care of patients who are often sick, perhaps dying, and their families. If we aim to keep them at the center of all we do, we remember the reason we entered into the field of medicine and our job becomes more rewarding.”


  1. Hammerly, M, Harmon, L, Schwaitzberg, S. Good to Great: Using 360-Degree Feedback to Improve Physician Emotional Intelligence. J Healthc Manag. 2014 Sep- Oct;59(5):354-65.

By Lori A. Burkhart, JD, freelance writer, ACR Press

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