The Rule of Thirds

At one of the world’s most successful companies, executives devote their largest fraction of time to one single thing.july bulletin ge leadership

It's a universal truth of business that where we focus our investments is where we place our value. If you look at the way your own practice prioritizes investment, what patterns can you pick out?


At GE, time investment patterns bear out the organization’s emphasis on leadership development. Executives routinely spend approximately one-third of their time developing leadership among their team members. That’s more than the time most devote to any other single project.

Why such emphasis on leadership at GE, which in 2015 was number eight on the Fortune 500 list? “If you look at the world we’re in, there’s rarely been a more volatile time,” says Justin Holland, director of leadership development at GE. GE has seen its business change tremendously over the past 15 years, with technology transforming the landscape and a greater share of revenue coming from outside the U.S.

Similarly, radiology is no stranger to changing business climates and shifting revenue models. As health care in this country shifts, radiologists have been challenged to take the lead on navigating the new worlds of reimbursement, coordination of care, and health system models. The ACR’s Radiology Leadership Institute recognizes that leadership development will continue to play an integral role in the success of physicians and practice leaders.

What can radiologists take away from GE’s approach to leadership development?

Put it in writing. Make leadership a concrete part of your practice’s mission. And then act accordingly. When leadership is a named priority in your practice’s mission, it more quickly becomes part of the culture and mindset. Practice leaders will be encouraged to embrace development opportunities for themselves and their staff. And all practice members will be more open to taking on new roles as leaders. “Everyone needs to have a clear sense of the culture and a shared idea around how to accomplish the organization’s strategic priorities,” says Holland.

Prepare for a challenge. “Large business or small business, at some point we’re going to face a challenge or even a crisis,” says Holland. “And it’s in those times that the leadership capabilities of not just your executive staff but staff at all levels of the organization are really going to come into focus.” Whether your practice faces a lost hospital contract, a change to its business model (think a co-management relationship or emerging alternate payment models), or another roadblock, you’re going to need a strong cadre of leaders to bring your practice through.

Don’t delay succession planning. No matter how stable or employee-friendly your practice is, staffing will remain fluid. But you might be surprised by how many groups ignore this reality and find themselves blindsided when a valued practice leader announces a change. “In times of staff shuffle, such as a team leader changing roles or leaving, who’s the next person up? You’ve got to have a pipeline of ready talent,” says Holland.

Succession planning will take on even more importance in the years ahead as the baby boomer generation retires, leaving unfilled positions and a potentially unprepared workforce. “Once the senior leadership team begins to retire, you’ve got to have qualified people ready to step in to these roles. That means giving emerging leaders the right experience and testing their mettle earlier on,” says Holland.

Expand your definition of a leader. “At GE, we don’t reserve the term ‘leader’ for the person who has the corner office. You actually demonstrate leadership capabilities throughout your career, even when you’re an individual contributor,” says Holland. The same should be true in your group.

Offer your staff training opportunities, emphasize each of their vital roles in running an efficient practice, and ask them directly how you can help them achieve their career goals. Each member of your staff influences the climate, culture, and success of your practice. If you reserve leadership development training for only those at the top, you discount the power of individuals at all levels to positively effect change.

By Lyndsee Cordes, managing editor of the ACR Bulletin

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