ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

Breaking the Mold

When leaders take input from the team, they make more balanced, well-rounded decisions for everyone involved.
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It’s an advantage to diversify your thinking as a leader.

—Taj Kattapuram, MD
December 12, 2019

According to Lakshmi Balachandra, MBA, PhD, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., we typically associate certain traits with leaders — assertive, authoritarian, and the one at the top who controls everything. “The problem is a lot of our leadership has been modeled by who has been in leadership roles traditionally,” Balachandra says. “It’s what we have been coded to believe leadership should look like. And it’s hard to get away from that.”

But just because someone can make a decision, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right decision, Balachandra explains. “You may think, ‘oh, they’re decisive,’ but if they’re decisive without really considering everyone’s perspective or coming up with a collaborative outcome, then is it going to be a good decision?”

Get to the Table

First, Balachandra notes, leaders should reflect those they lead — and this can only happen by increasing diversity within the leadership pool (read more on page 14). “Our decisions are influenced by a lot of factors that we are, frankly, just not aware of,” Balachandra says. “There are many terms for it — cognitive biases, decision-making heuristics, hidden biases, implicit biases, etc.” The point, Balachandra explains, is not to blame anyone but to recognize that these biases can’t be avoided. “Nobody is a blank slate,” Balachandra says. “So the only way to make a decision that isn’t purely from your perspective and your own biased lens, is to make sure you are including input from those around you — particularly those who bring different perspectives to the table, whether it’s race, gender, age, or even training.”

Taj Kattapuram, MD, a radiologist based in Arvada, Colo., and vice chair of ACR’s Council Nominating Committee, agrees. “What’s really important about having not only different ages but different cultural, educational, and work experience backgrounds is that people will bring all of their perspectives to the table,” she says. “It’s an advantage to diversify your thinking as a leader. Even if you don’t agree with someone, it’s wise to listen respectfully and acknowledge the differences in opinion. You’ll become aware of what is out there so that you know how to appropriately address it.”

Open Up the Conversation

A more diverse leadership pool makes more balanced, well-rounded decisions. Leaders can better reflect a diversity of opinions and perspectives, including those of their patients. Expanded parameters for who should be a leader can lead to a more inclusive and nuanced idea of what leadership itself means. The concepts of “old power” versus “new power” — expounded upon in the book New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms — center around a characterization of old power as held by few, jealously guarded, closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. New power, by contrast, “is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven.”1

Kattapuram believes embracing this new power thinking is part of the non-traditional model of leadership. “For me, I look at traditional leadership as being the ‘old power’ ways of leadership. It can be exclusive,” she says. “If you are not following a path that people, society or the company thinks is the way to get to that position, then you might, unfortunately — whether intentionally or not — be excluded.” But new power, as Geraldine B. McGinty, MD, MBA, FACR, chair of the ACR BOC, explained in a recent JACR® article, “means opening up the conversation.”2

Learning how to take everyone’s input, and be a collaborative, cooperative leader is best for everyone involved.

—Lakshmi Balachandra, MBA, PhD

Balachandra agrees that access to the arena is key. And sometimes that access comes from less formal channels that arise amongst friends — like playing a round at the local golf course after a work event, for example. If you’re not invited, you could miss out on some crucial networking opportunities. According to Balachandra, “At the end of the day, if the top decision-makers are all friends — and often we see
that where those in charge all have the same backgrounds or the same ethnic/gender diversity (or lack of it) — then those who are not of that same background, are not at the table.”

Listen and Lead

Antithetical to the traditional, old power style of leadership is the idea that sometimes being a good leader means knowing when to follow or delegate. “Learning how to take everyone’s input, and be a collaborative, cooperative leader is best for everyone involved,” Balachandra says. “You also get the benefit of many voices. Ultimately it’s the leader’s decisions, but without that input then who knows what the decisions look like?” Kattapuram agrees. “Great leaders don’t micromanage and nitpick,” she says. “Really good leaders trust their followers appropriately and foster the development of more good leaders. They know when to take a step back and let others lead.”


  1. Heimans J, Timms H. Understanding “new power.” Harvard Business Review. December 2014.
    Accessed November 7, 2019.
  2. McGinty GB. The ACR’s new power. J Am Coll Radiol. 2019;16(7)899–900.

Author Cary Coryell, publications specialist, ACR Press