Sowing Seeds of Change

The RLI launch event honors leaders and discusses leadership fundamentals.sowing seeds

Leaders and aspiring leaders in radiology who attended the Radiology Leadership Institute's (RLI) launch event in July were awed not only by the picturesque Northwestern University Campus in Evanston, Ill., but also by the high caliber of speakers and instructors, the networking opportunities, and the compelling content.

The group of approximately 150 radiologists, residents, and other imaging professionals explored topics ranging from ethics to taking non-clinical risks in their organizations. Among the many highlights of the event were the RLI Leadership Luminary awards dinner and the keynote speech given by Jeff Immelt, CEO and Chairman of the board of General Electric.

Leadership Luminaries

The most moving portion of the event was the first RLI Leadership Luminary awards dinner, in which Harvey L. Neiman, MD, FACR, ACR CEO, and James H. Thrall, MD, FACR, former ACR Board of Chancellors chair and president, were honored for their hand in establishing the RLI program as well as exemplifying the role of leadership in radiology. The Leadership Luminary Award represents the pinnacle of the RLI program. It is an honorary designation given annually to radiologists and related professionals who possess exceptional experience and demonstrate an unusually high level of leadership in radiology or organized medicine.

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Although Neiman was unable to attend the dinner due to illness, he prepared a poignant statement that his wife, Ellie, read over the phone to the audience. "I have always incorporated my colleagues into the leadership arena, giving them responsibility, accountability, and confidence in themselves to get the job done well," she read. "I believe that the mark of a true leader is one who empowers those around him to excel in their own right."

Thrall, who gave a heartfelt speech during the presentation, stated, "It always bothers me a little bit when we honor an individual, because what we do is a team sports." Tearfully, he added, "I'm very grateful to get this, but I want to accept this on behalf of all the people who contribute to our wonderful specialty." (For more about Neiman and Thrall, visit

"Culture eats rules and policy for lunch. It is the single most important leadership challenge." — James Thrall, MD, FACR

Immelt in the Spotlight

Following the awards ceremony, Immelt gave his keynote speech. His remarks about leadership were divided into six leadership characteristics:

Have a Point of View. "We live in a time of unprecedented uncertainty," he said. "We are in a reset as profound as any five-year or ten-year period in the economic history of the country." Despite the ambiguity surrounding the economy, he noted, you should adapt and keep a positive outlook, making sure that your employees know that you have a plan in place to make your organization better.

Have Metrics. Immelt noted that whenever he has to replace a leader of a department, he notices two things that contributed to the leader's failure: First, there are no measures of success; Second, members of the department are unsure who they work for due to a sowing seeds of change 3complicated organizational structure. "One of the things I think a leader needs to do is define success, even in a small business," said Immelt. "Even doctors can be measured."

Know How Work Gets Done. Although he heads a company of 300,000 employees, Immelt said that he "basically has an idea how every job at GE gets done." He continued, "If you came into my office, you wouldn't see Norman Rockwell prints or stuff like that. You see jet engines, MR devices, pictures of factories, and people doing work. I think leaders fail when they don't have an in-depth understanding — a hands-on understanding."

Know How to Drive Change. Immelt acknowledged that many medical practices are driven by what he called "inertia." Nevertheless, "you have to be the one that knows how to listen, knows how to learn, knows how to drive big change within your organization." Immelt has established several goals to help his company improve but cautioned against choosing too many goals. He noted, "If you pick too many, it drives your people crazy, and they get defocused." He suggested that everyone should find a way to improve. "If I were in radiology, I would work on a cycle-time reduction program," he said.

Be Willing to Take Risks. "I always think that risk is about risk-reward. You think about being able to balance between what risk you are willing to take versus what the upside is," he said. As an example, Immelt said he would risk $200 million to develop electricity in Nigeria because GE stands to gain $10 billion if the venture is successful. In contrast, he said he would not risk constructing a nuclear power plant in the U.S. because he would gain $100 million if everything worked right and lose $20 billion if one thing went wrong. "You have to have a good nose for what is the right balance," he said. Immelt further cautioned that those individuals who don't take risks may face serious consequences. "If you were in [radiology] from the mid-1980s to the 2000s ... you couldn't miss doing ok. That's not the world we live in today," he said.

Know How to Develop Culture. "People count, but the social norms — culture — also counts," Immelt said. When GE recruiters go to college campuses, he notes, they explain the GE culture. "We are mission based," he said. "We believe in the products that we sell. We think that we are creating great features for our customers, and we believe that whether it's in health care or aviation." Additionally, GE employees believe that there is unlimited room for improvement. "If you are 65 years old and you still want to learn, you are a value to us," Immelt said. "If you are 25 years old and you think you know it all, you are of no value to us."

"If you do these six things," Immelt concluded, "you'll run a pretty good organization in pretty tough times." In a tremendous coup for the College, Immelt has consented to chair the Leading Radiology Into the Future capital fundraising campaign for the RLI.

"Some of us are leading our lives upside down, and no amount of education will ever rescue us." — Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, FACR

Class Act

In addition the awards dinner, participants also attended three days of courses and case studies on management fundamentals by the talented faculty of the Kellogg School of Management. Topics covered included leadership fundamentals, risk management, decision-making skills, reputation strategies, and dispute and conflict management.

The Kellogg faculty's presentations were supplemented by such radiology leaders as Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, FACR, who sowing seeds of change 2discussed leadership ethics by describing the efforts of John Wooden, an Indiana and UCLA basketball coach who is remembered and revered for his leadership skills. "He was a man of genuine love and enduring love," Gunderman said. "Leaders are not people of great skills or technique. Leaders are creatures of human character."

Attendees were excited and pleased with Gunderman's presentation as well as the rest of the course. "I was very impressed by the content and quality of the program," commented one attendee in a post-course survey. Another stated, "I consider the leadership issues in radiology vital to our success and one of the things that we can control."

For more information about the launch event, and to get information about future courses, webinars, or other related events, visit the RLI website at To find out more about the launch event's presenters and topics, view the program brochure at

By Brett Hansen

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