Lifelong Leadership Learning

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Ben-Feril2By Benjamin G. M. Feril

May 2013—As a diehard fan of the old 1970s television series Star Trek, I always got a kick when Doctor McCoy, the star ship ENTERPRISE’s crusty doctor, told Captain Kirk, “Damn it Jim, I’m only a doctor.” The good doctor would often remind the  captain of his station in life, especially when the ship was under attack from some alien force, or when the “away team” was facing a life or death situation on a planet far, far, away.  “Bones” McCoy’s banter with his friend Captain Kirk made for good television and movies; however, in real life clinicians are leaders.

As a hospital administrator, I don’t feel I have to tread lightly on this topic as many clinicians know they are leaders in their own right; but what I want to address is how “clinical leaders” need to further develop their leadership skills and embark on a program of lifelong learning (present company included).

Those new to the field believe that by virtue of having completed a graduate level program, they are qualified to immediately step into a leadership role shortly after graduation.  Those of you who have been knocked around believe otherwise (and have the scars to prove it).  The bottom line is that clinicians need to develop this skill set in order to become successful as they progress in their careers.

In their book The Truth About Leadership, authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner state that lifelong leadership learning begins with the notion that the “best leaders are the best learners.”1 They believe, regardless of your professional abilities and training, that leadership can be learned – especially if individuals “engage in activities that help them learn how.”1 Further, they state that those who succeed in mastering leadership abilities throughout their careers demonstrate a desire to excel and have the willingness to dedicate themselves to “continuous learning and deliberate practice.”1

How does the clinical leader embark on a lifelong journey of learning leadership?  Well, as Kouzes and Posner articulate in their book, one must “adopt a growth mindset.”1Today’s clinical leader is inundated with information on new technology and is challenged to maintain currency with professional journals, as well as email and other electronic communications – not to mention the daily challenges of running a department, managing personnel, and meeting patient’s needs, etc.  To start, the clinical leader needs to make learning a priority and understand that “leaders are made and not born.”1 It does sound easier than it is in practice, but to successfully learn and further develop leadership abilities, the clinical leader must become agile and flexible in their thinking and attitude in order to absorb new information and material, and to translate it into performance.  It does take time and patience, as well as trial and error.

Also, as clinical leaders embark on a journey of lifelong learning, they should find successful role models and mentors.  These individuals should have a successful track record as both clinicians and leaders who can impart information, lessons learned, and wisdom to protégés as they progress through their careers.  Role models and mentors also can lead to networking opportunities, and as a whole can serve as an invaluable resource for those wanting to improve their performance as well as those they lead.

Two way communication is vital as a means of improving one’s clinical leadership skills.  Clinical leaders must be able to have enough courage to ask for feedback from their customers, peers, and most importantly their staff.  How else will they know if they are meeting stakeholder goals and expectations?  Many leaders don’t ask for feedback either because they “know it all,” or fear what they will hear.  The good clinical leaders should “risk” asking for feedback so they can evaluate the work place and provide staff with opportunities to provide input.  I do admit that this could be viewed as a slippery slope, but if the clinical leader is mature and patient, he can discern the real issues from the complaints for the sake of complaining.

Finally, clinical leaders must be able to address their weaknesses.  All leaders have weaknesses, but the difference between good and bad leaders are the ones who take the time to deal with them. If they identified weaknesses in their clinical leadership portfolio, they should take time to improve upon those areas.  This can be accomplished by seeking guidance from mentors, attending seminars/webinars, and drawing upon your network.

The CRA credential is the best way for imaging leaders to imaging to show their commitment to lifelong learning. Being a CRA means that you have validated high-level experience as an imaging manager and have proven your knowledge of the fields of human resource management, asset resource management, fiscal management, operations management, and communication and information management. CRAs are strong leaders who are committed to their profession and continuing on a path of lifelong leadership development and learning. To maintain the credential, CRAs are required to continue their dedication to learning by earning 36 continuing education credits every three years.

Learning leadership is an investment in time and effort.  It also means building relationship with mentors and fellow professionals. For clinical leaders who realize they are in their respective professions for the long haul and choose to adopt a growth mindset, their journey, as well as those of their staff, will be much more fulfilling.

To show your commitment to lifelong leadership learning, consider registering for the CRA exam. Applications for the fall exam are due September 3, 2013. For those planning to take the exam, there will be a CRA Exam Workshop at AHRA’s Annual Meeting in Minneapolis this July and at AHRA’s Fall Conference in Baltimore this October.


1. Kouzes J, Posner B. The Truth About Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2010.

Capt. Benjamin G. M. Feril, MSC, USN is a member of the United States Navy currently serving in Bethesda, MD as Director for the Joint Medical Planners Course (JMPC) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, J-4/Health Services Support Directorate. He is also the RACC’s Public Commissioner. He can be contacted at


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