What does it take to be a strong leader in the imaging department?
April 23, 2021
by John W. Mitchell
, Senior Correspondent
Kernesha Weatherly’s journey to leadership has its roots, in part, in not being heard as a frontline radiology technologist. That frustration, along with a love for learning, launched her journey to earn her master’s degree in hospital administration/operations and just recently, a Ph.D. in healthcare quality and analytics. She advocates that leaders need self-awareness about themselves and tolerance for different styles, in order to thrive in the diverse space of imaging leadership.
HCB News: Please tell us about your leadership journey.
Kernesha Weatherly: I started as a volunteer in our organization, which led to my going to UAB as an undergraduate student and attending their radiology school. I wanted to be on the front line, taking care of patients. My co-workers and I would have questions about the work process, and I decided early on I wanted to be part of the change, which meant being a leader — you can't just sit around and complain. Thankfully, leadership wasn’t foreign to me — I had been in charge when I worked in the retail sector. Eventually, I wanted to do more. I went from working as a technologist to being the clinical educator for the department. After only eight months, I was offered a management position to help evolve an imaging department. My director at the time said, “Hey, I want you to go into mammography and make changes.” And together, with the physician support, we transformed the mammography into an inclusive breast imaging department. After two years, I got the opportunity to be the director of inpatient imaging services and breast imaging. Throughout that experience, I went on and got my master's and just recently my Ph.D. A lot of what I have learned in those programs has helped me throughout my career. Our senior director recently transitioned to another department, and my colleague and I were granted the position of interim department co-leaders. My trajectory in the past ten years had been amazing and I feel fortunate to be able to enact change a little more in each position that I’ve been in. I think I offer a lot as I’ve moved into leadership positions with hands-on, frontline experience. I can impact change at a whole different level.
HCB News: What are some of the most important skills a leader should model, and is there anything unique to medical imaging?
KW: For any leader, integrity and self-awareness are essential. I can't stress how vital self-awareness is when you're responsible for other people. When a person doesn’t know who they are and who they can be, they go from being an asset to a liability for a department and ultimately, an organization. Self-awareness allows you to identify your weaknesses to make them strengths. Everything we do is based on a delicate balance between perception versus intent — how your peers, colleagues, and superiors perceive you. If you’re not self-aware, it’s a form of tone-deafness and lack of emotional intelligence that can negatively impact change and impede your department's productivity. Which is why I say a leader can make or break your division. For example, when I started working, I would see some of the things other leaders were doing and how it would negatively impact their surroundings. Leaders need to be authentic and present, and that requires self-awareness about weaknesses. I realize leaders are busier now, more than ever, however, something as simple as listening to their staff’s needs can easily be tied to the department’s productivity.
HCB News: Conversely, how does poor leadership manifest itself in the imaging department?
KW: Imaging services all the other areas — ortho, cardiology, neurology, etc. — and if, for example, a CT scanner goes down, you're not just impacting imaging, you're affecting the whole hospital's operations. People who feel heard and informed will rise to the day-to-day challenges as a well-oiled machine. Poor leadership can affect the overall morale and manifest in high turnover. Employee empowerment is vital. I have more than 10 people directly reporting to me, and I have to respect their differences, as we have to create a culture where they can work together for a common goal. Transparency and being honest is an essential part of good leadership — and that starts with self-awareness.
HCB News: Tell me about the different managerial types and what self-management means?
KW: Self-management starts by establishing baseline metrics for each department. I'm not an overbearing or micromanaging leader, but I do ask my direct reports to own whatever they decide. I require all my new leaders to go through an onboarding series through the UAB leadership development team. I also created my own imaging training plan so every leader — no matter their leadership style — learns base-level expectations and standards. I have no desire to change any of my managers from their authentic self. My goal is to help them be effective and implement necessary change, while navigating fluid situations. This cannot be done without self-management.
HCB News: Are there certain hallmarks/metrics of a department with excellent leadership?
KW: I would say the most important metric is to actually have access to palpable metrics. For example, if someone asks what is your next available MRI appointment, can you tell them? Do you know the employee turnover percentage for every department? What are your trends or highest use? What are your areas of opportunity and how long has this been a trend? Often, people don't know their story, to adequately make a case based on the data. They go off emotions, and you can’t make cases to senior leadership or present emotions in a PowerPoint presentation.
HCB News: For leaders who recognize the need for change in their department, what first steps can they take to improve?
KW: It goes back to introspection with which most people are not comfortable. Leaders have to ask themselves what they are not doing well. I suggest anonymous 360 reviews. But you have to be able to receive it, and that can be uncomfortable. I personally do this often for myself as I like feedback on how my actions may be affecting others. However, when you do this, you’re stepping out there and allowing people to unload on you. And once received, pick a couple of things and be honest and transparent with yourself on the validity of their claims. Although you may not agree, can you see what their saying? This process can also apply to evaluating operations within a department, and is one of the reasons I rely on quarterly Stoplight Reports for all managers. I tell my managers to connect with the person in their department who is the most vocal and let them vent. Let them know you might not make every change they think is needed, but the act of just listening to them can and does go a long way.