How to be a positive radiology leader in times of crisis

Garver KA, Young AM, Fessell D, Dombrowski JC. How to Be a Positive Radiology Leader in Times of Crisis [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jun 16]. Acad Radiol. 2020;S1076-6332(20)30301-9. doi:10.1016/j.acra.2020.05.022


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed examples of extraordinary leadership and less than stellar leadership in our institutions, communities, nation, and around the world. In some instances, we have been inspired to bring forth our very best selves and give far more than we ever thought capable of. In other instances, we have felt demoralized, depleted and overwhelmed. Sadly, many of the same mistakes made by leadership during the current crisis also occurred during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Precious time was lost while leaders denied the severity of the situation, social distancing measures were delayed and inadequate, and needed resources were lacking for those who became ill. The importance of effective leadership cannot be stressed enough, especially during times of crisis. In fact, the quality of leadership during pandemics such as these is truly a matter of life and death.

The Army describes leadership as “all about influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation—while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.” In addition, the Army’s simple yet powerful leadership model is “Be, Know, Do.”

Positive organizational psychology is the discipline that inspires and enables leaders to build high-performing organizations that bring out the very best in their people. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are shaping the culture of our departments for years to come in how we show up to lead our departments during this time. Not only is the virus contagious, but so are our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

During these times we come face to face with the challenge of responding quickly without a well-worn game plan, enough information or the time we would normally take to build consensus. Right now, our faculty and staff need our guidance now more than ever as we are called to come together in extraordinary ways to accomplish tasks previously considered impossible with little time and lack of complete information. Although positive leadership is important all of the time, it is particularly important in times of crisis. How we decide to show up will determine how they decide to show up.

At the University of Michigan Department of Radiology, we have been working with the University of Michigan Ross Business School Center for Positive Organizations to learn best practices and measure the effect of positive leadership in our workplace. From our learnings, we have generated a list of positive leadership qualities and given concrete examples of how they have been used in our Department during this COVID crisis.


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