Leadership styles that work in healthcare—and those that don’t

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 - Scott Hazelbaker, CRA, MS
Scott Hazelbaker, CRA, MS

Leaders often struggle with finding the best way to motivate and inspire their employees, and in healthcare, it can even be trickier than normal. What can leaders in medical imaging do to get the most out of their employees?

Scott Hazelbaker, CRA, MS, director of radiology at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, is giving a presentation about this very topic on Tuesday, August 2, at the AHRA’s 44th Annual Meeting and Exposition in Nashville, Tenn.

Hazelbaker’s session, “Leadership Principles That Will Help Create a Positive Environment,” examines various principles required to lead a successful radiology department. But Hazelbaker didn’t just learn those principles overnight—he says it took years of experience to understand what does and does not work when motivating employees.

“All of my leadership skills were learned on the job,” Hazelbaker says. “It was really a ‘jump in the swimming pool and learn how to swim’ situation. Most of it was through interactions with other leaders, especially early in my career as a new director working with CEOs and vice presidents who were extremely good leaders. I’ve also had experiences with leaders who didn’t have good policies for how to motivate.”

The bulldog, the detailed leader, & the micro manager

Part of being a successful leader is knowing what not to do. Some leadership styles show up again and again, but Hazelbaker said using any of them is a recipe for disaster.

The bulldog, for instance, is a bully who leads through fear and intimidation. Such a strategy often works in the short term, because new hires are vulnerable and will allow themselves to be intimidated at first. Maybe they just moved their family across the country, for instance—the last thing they want to do is rattle the wrong cage with so much on the line. Eventually, though, employees will move on, and it’s something Hazelbaker said he has experienced firsthand.

“Nobody likes to be bullied around,” Hazelbaker says. “In the long term, you’re going to get high turnover, and that’s what I’ve seen. People are going to be motivated, because they don’t want to be terminated, but they’re also going to find another environment—a positive environment—where they can excel.”

The detailed leader, Hazelbaker noted, is someone who really wants to drill down and reach the lowest expenses possible. Their primary goal is to save money and make the leadership they report to happy about lowered expenses. But this approach can create leaders who ignore one crucial element: the people they have been hired to lead.

“In order to be a successful leader, you have to connect with the people in your department,” Hazelbaker says. “It’s important to be a detailed leader and show to administration that you’re saving them a lot of money, but you’re also losing your troops, the people who report to you. It’s not very motivational. So if you get lost in the details, it’s better to maybe hire somebody to take care of the details for you.”

A micro manager, meanwhile, does exactly what it sounds like: they micro manage everything. This makes employees feel as if Big Brother is watching their every move, Hazelbaker said. It removes their ability to show that they can excel on their own; that they can do the job being asked of them without someone else checking up on them.

Hazelbaker thinks a leader should be a little more like a consultant, though one who is always there to help when needed.

“I will let employees be the CEO of their modality,” Hazelbaker says. “Whether it’s CT, MRI, ultrasound, or nuclear medicine, they run the show, but I’m accountable for the overall department. I think that style is more successful.”

The power of compassion

As Hazelbaker sees it, few quality traits are more important in a leader than compassion. If you don’t have compassion, he wonders, why even be a leader in the first place?

“It’s important that a radiology department is a positive place for employees to come to and work,” Hazelbaker says. “It’s a stressful environment, and we work with sick people with high anxiety who are being diagnosed with illnesses that could be terminal. We have to create a positive environment, and the only way to do that is to be a compassionate leader.”

In his 30 years in healthcare, Hazelbaker has worked with leaders who lacked compassion and didn’t seem to care very much about their jobs. He said this didn’t make sense to him at the time and it still doesn’t.

“If you step up to the plate to be a leader, you