AHRA 2019: How to identify, inspire the imaging leaders of tomorrow

Wendy J. Stirnkorb, CRA, RT (R) (MR), MRSO (MRSC), began her presentation July 22 at the AHRA 2019 Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, with a few basic questions for the audience. First, she asked how many attendees in the room were leaders. Nearly every person raised their hand. She next asked how many of those leaders received an instruction manual when they got the job…and not a single person raised their hand.

Stirnkorb, the director of imaging services and dean of the School of Radiology at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, noted that leadership isn’t something most people just naturally excel at with no training. Being a strong leader is a skill, she said, and it must be learned just like any other skill. But in radiology, most leaders end up being thrown into the position and learning from a combination of “trial and error, trial by fire and drinking from the firehose.”

Some people who become leaders, Stirnkorb added, will fail. They will not have what it takes, even if they do have a fancy new job title.

“Positions of power do not mean you are a good leader,” she said.

Stirnkorb discussed her own experience becoming a leader with an entire team to organize, manage and guide to greatness. At first, she said, she focused so much energy on certain parts of the job that she ignored key areas such as human relations issues and contracts. Her supervisor pointed this out, but she reacted by unintentionally letting “the pendulum swing the other way.” She did eventually find the right balance, but it took some time and a lot of hard work.

With all of this in mind, Stirnkorb noted that all leaders will encounter certain “unicorn” employees who are so helpful and productive that you’ll wish everyone else on your staff was just like them. These are individuals you want to keep close and work with on a regular basis, she said, and identifying unicorns early on is a crucial part of being a leader in any industry.

There are seven key leadership qualities to look for in a potential unicorn, Stirnkorb told the audience. They are:

  1. Trust
  2. Respect
  3. Honor
  4. Passion
  5. Authenticity
  6. A teachable spirit
  7. A patient-centric attitude

Trust, for instance, includes being reliable, honest and fair. It also requires consistency across the board and the ability to remain transparent and open at all times.

And the teachable spirit is an especially crucial quality, one that Stirnkorb said has been present in her many mentors over the years. A teachable spirit means someone is “aware of the limitations of their own knowledge and abilities” and willing to ask for help or advice when needed. Someone with this attitude is also happy to leave their comfort zone and try something brand new.

So what should leaders do once they’ve identified a potential unicorn? Work with them, Stirnkorb explained, and challenge them to make a difference.

After all, if there aren’t going to be handy instructional manuals on how to become a leader, anyone who shows promise is going to need all of the help they can get.