President’s Blog

Madhav Swaminathan, MD, FASE, ASE President

October 2019 –

Leadership lessons from a ladder

Several years ago, a senior colleague asked me whether I had thought about who would be next in line to take my position as section head. All sorts of thoughts instantly materialized. Was my job in danger? Was I already being replaced? After all, I had been in my current position for only about four years. Surely this wasn’t the turnover timeline. Was I doing a bad job at work? I was bewildered, baffled, worried and perplexed. Yeah, all of them! Guidance though, came from an unexpected source – a ladder.

I was on a stepladder trying to change a ceiling lightbulb at home. When trying to get closer to the object, my bottom foot got caught on something on the step it was on. As a result, I couldn’t take the next step to get to the lightbulb. There was some old adhesive on that step from a previous project to which my shoe was stuck. Obscured by the annoyance of the adhesive was a positive leadership message. You cannot get to the next step on the career (or any) ladder without letting go of the step you’re on. As I was contemplating advancing my career, I needed to introspect whether there was something keeping me ‘glued’ to the step I was on and preventing me from moving up. Applying it to my most recent career dilemma, two messages emerged: the value of letting go, and the need for succession planning.

The wisdom of letting go

A great deal has been written about the value of detachment, mostly from Zen philosophy. Letting go is difficult, especially when you feel you’ve worked so hard to get to a particular position. You’ve earned it, haven’t you? How can the thought of giving it up cross your mind? Strange as it may seem, that actually may be the most important strategy for advancing your career. Academics are notorious for hanging on to their possessions. Whether authorship on a document, management of a project, leadership of a group, or guidance of a mentee, we can be quite passionate in our pursuit of perfection. I realized somewhat early on that there was only one outcome if I didn’t let go. I would either drown in everything I said yes to, or nothing new would come my way. Could it be that what I thought was ‘mine’ was actually what I needed to be detached from and was the ‘glue’ holding me back? Like a wise one once told me, your hand cannot accept something with a closed fist. Letting go may seem scary at first, but can be quite liberating.

Whether a manuscript authorship, a project leadership, or a governance position in a society, think about the next place you’d like to be, and think of what’s holding you back. And what’s best for that manuscript, project, or governance. Staying in the same role also perpetuates the ‘old boys club’ phenomenon where the same people are seen in the same or similar positions year after year, project after project. Lack of humility is easily diagnosed in others and often under recognized in ourselves. But humility can be an invaluable asset. Part of being a leader is committing to the development of other leaders. That can’t happen without letting go of that step you’re on. It’s a control thing…

One reason we simply cannot let go is the lack of control we perceive (“What will happen?”) if we relinquish stewardship to someone else. That’s where the value of succession planning comes in.

The leadership pipeline

‘Succession management’ is gaining traction in corporate circles as a strategy to ensure continuation of a positive trajectory in an otherwise unpredictable environment. In fact, a Pricewaterhouse Cooper study found that lack of a succession plan may have cost shareholders in large companies, on average, an estimated $112 billion in the year before and the year after their CEO turnover. But even when thinking about your own, rather than a CEO position, succession planning has its advantages. Fresh ideas and different perspectives can add more value. You place a greater significance on the project than yourself. When considering succession, there’s a tendency to pick a ‘safe’ choice, or a ‘likeable’ person. That’s when we are most at risk of succumbing to our implicit biases. Regardless of the methods we use to hand off the step we left to the next climber, the ‘letting go’ part is helpful to both. The step will continue to offer support, agnostic of the stepper.

What it means to us

Ladders are all around us. Even at ASE, there are abundant opportunities to contribute as volunteers and excel as leaders. There are also opportunities to mentor, help, and encourage fellow echo enthusiasts. It is important to recognize that these are steps on that ladder of success, whether at ASE or in your own career. Staying put on that step may seem like a safe choice, but it does two damaging things. First, it stops you from taking your next step, and second, it stops someone else from taking their next one. Think about that for a while. Letting go can be hard. But it is the right move to make.

Ten years after my senior colleague asked me about my succession plan, I can see why it was a wise question. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things. My successor has too. But more importantly, the section I once led is thriving. Just as I had always wanted it to.

You may reach me at any time with questions, suggestions and concerns, at, or follow me on Twitter @mswami001.

Madhav Swaminathan

September 2019 –

People helping people

“Time is money!” You may have often heard that expression. It is true in the sense that time is of immense value to all of us. It is its own master, irreverent to our presence, agnostic of hierarchy, and unforgiving if poorly managed. Efficient time management seems to be this seemingly insurmountable challenge that often plagues early career professionals. Indeed, committing the appropriate amount of time to meaningful and productive activities can be challenging – starting with trying to figure out what is meaningful and productive. In a professional society like ours, commitment of time to society activities may seem like a burden, especially when considered in context of our day jobs that generate income.

Let’s consider this a little more closely. We spend most of our time with our work colleagues (if you discount the hours spent sleeping). Then there’s time needed for necessary household chores. The remaining time to rejuvenate is distributed variably between community and family in activities that aren’t necessarily revenue-generating. Community could take the form of a place of worship or a community of like-minded people, while family time includes vacation and time spent in self-care. All of these focus on wellness and enhancing resilience. These, essentially, are our coping strategies for the stresses we face.

Committing volunteer time for service to a professional society can have multiple benefits. First, you get to spend time with people who share your passion for your profession. That, in itself, is personally rewarding and intellectually stimulating. Second, you get to advocate for your profession, thereby improving its visibility to the world and making your own job more meaningful. Third, your career gets a boost with the networking and collaborating opportunities. You also get a chance to shape the future of the profession, and every small step is meaningful in that effort. Finally, you learn from others by sharing experiences, and help others move ahead in their careers. The overall reward is one of meaningful engagement with your profession, with simultaneous benefits to your own career. Service to your professional society is similar to service in any other community setting. It’s a volunteer effort that drives a community forward. Reminds me of the phrase, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

In the almost 20 years I have spent as an ASE member, I have come to realize the value of service to a professional community. While it may not have been clear at first, it certainly became obvious as I worked in many ASE committees, councils and task forces over time. The most visible value is in the more nuanced understanding of the difference between individual excellence and collective effort. You can see how an entire specialty benefits from the simple concept of community. Whether in advocacy, guidelines, education, or membership, I have learned much from my colleagues – both from giants in the field, as well as rising stars and legends in the making.

Making a difference can seem like a daunting task. It does, though, begin with a simple construct – people helping people. And over time, professional colleagues become a community and an extended family, and become another source of personal strength, resilience and wellness.

So, when the time comes to decide what activities are deserving of your time, think about what is meaningful to you. That’s when service to a community can be a part of your strategy for personal and professional growth. For me, it’s always been ASE! So, the next time the opportunity to volunteer for ASE presents itself, don’t ask “Why?” but rather, “Why not?”. It will be well worth your time.

You may reach me at any time with questions, suggestions and concerns, at, or follow me on Twitter @mswami001.


Madhav Swaminathan

August 2019 –

Giants and their shoulders

I have often said that it is easy to stand on the shoulders of giants. It is adapted from Sir Issac Newton’s 1675 expression, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”[1]

I have had the extraordinary fortune to have had many giants, on whose broad shoulders I humbly stand. Many great leaders at the ASE supported and encouraged a plan to not just endorse, but live a core value of diversity by choosing an anesthesiologist lead the Society. I am, but the result of that effort. Foremost among them is Pamela Douglas, MD, FASE, who became ASE’s first woman president in 2001. Her commitment to diversity in leadership is unparalleled. She has been a fantastic mentor to me as I traveled this path towards the presidency. Neil Weissman, MD, FASE, another ASE past president, truly believed that this was the right move for the ASE to make. Susan Wiegers, MD, FASE, and Joseph Kisslo, MD, FASE, added their support behind this effort. But none of their efforts would have been possible without those who paved the way for anesthesiologists to be visible and respected contributors in the team sport of echocardiography. Joseph Mathew, MD, FASE, Sol Aronson, MD, FASE, and Jonathan Mark, MD, FASE, were pioneers in the field and made perioperative echocardiography prominent enough to be recognized by the ASE as a valuable addition to the team. Robin Wiegerink, ASE’s CEO, who is the most tireless champion for excellence in the field, has been a pillar of strength for the ASE and its leaders, and the glue that binds the organization.

People often ask me what it is like to be ‘the first’ at something. I assume they are referring to my reaction to being the first anesthesiologist to become the ASE president. There are several emotions that emerge – excitement, hope, gratitude, and of course, anxiety!  Excitement from imagining the possibilities for the Society and its members, and for new opportunities for growth, education, and global impact in cardiovascular ultrasound. Hope from a confident optimism of positive outcomes for all our initiatives. Gratitude towards the sheer number of mentors and supporters who encouraged me to take this unique path to serve the ASE. Finally, anxiety about the unknown that lies ahead, but confidence in the vibrancy and resilience of this organization that will lead to an exciting year ahead.

There are several initiatives that are ongoing and planned at the ASE in the coming year that I hope our members will experience. The ASE Cares initiative is one that is central to my vision for the coming year. As we move forward, this campaign will help us create a more caring Society for years to come. This month, we have also been busy planning the 2020 Scientific Sessions in Denver, CO. Don’t forget to register early for this unique gathering of echo professionals. #SeeYouInDenver for more #EchoFirst education at #ASE2020.

If you aren’t on social media, and if these hashtags don’t mean much to you, you probably aren’t, I encourage you to join in and engage with the global echo community. Twitter is a fun yet immersive platform to learn, educate, grow, and communicate with fellow echo professionals. So, join and follow @ASE360. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much there is to learn and network, especially with our Twitter Journal Club (#ASEchoJC).

The ASE continues to go from strength to strength. Our current strategic plan is in its final year. In November, the ASE leadership gathers to develop our Society’s next five-year strategic plan. It is imperative that we hear from our members and ensure that you help shape our collective future. This is critically important, especially to our advocacy efforts as we battle to promote the value of echocardiography and preserve its valuation by payers. In addition, we will set our strategic sights on promoting growth in membership, innovation and research in technology, and setting standards in the practice of cardiovascular ultrasound. While we get busy with these tasks, we will also commit to developing our next generation of leaders. The ASE Leadership Academy enters its second year in existence. As it continues, we will see the emergence of young echo professionals with leadership skills that will be important not only to their own careers, but also to the future of the ASE.

Mentorship continues to be the cornerstone of our professional development and career advancement. If you’ve been mentored well, recognize your mentors. If your mentees have done well, recognize their accomplishments. But above all, become a mentor to someone else. We have all been successful by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Now, we must be those shoulders on which others find it easy to stand.

You may reach me at any time with questions, suggestions and concerns, by email at, or follow me on Twitter @mswami001.

Madhav Swaminathan


July 2019

Writing my first blog as the ASE president, I am excited, enthusiastic and humbled by the role and the possibilities. The ASE is an extraordinary organization. The world’s largest society of cardiovascular ultrasound professionals is fortunate to have an abundance of talent, skill and passion among its members, staff and leaders. Each of these characteristics were on full display at the scientific sessions in Portland, OR last month. As we joyously celebrated innovation and science at our 30th annual meeting, we also recognized that we must face a new challenge to our professional and personal well-being – burnout. This pervasive problem in healthcare is now a recognized diagnosis under the International Classification of Diseases 11th edition (ICD-11) by the World Health Organization.[1] Many organizations are responding to this crisis with programs to increase awareness and develop strategies to address this phenomenon. As a society of over 17,000 professionals, the ASE is committed to creating a community that works together to combat this burden.

This year, on May 20th, we launched the ASE Cares campaign. This initiative is designed to address challenges to our collective resilience. A task force, headed by Erin Michos, MD, FASE, will spend most of the coming year developing strategies to provide resources for our members through position statements, website resources, physical resources at our educational meetings, and foster closer connections with each other – creating a caring society. This year, for the first time, we made childcare available to young parents who were attending the Portland meeting. In addition, there were special secure pods available for nursing mothers. Networking events and career advancement opportunities added to the manner in which our members felt welcome within the professional community they love. While we develop these initiatives and increase engagement to erase burnout, we must recognize that the road will be long, and the journey arduous. Outcomes are hard to measure. Interventions are known to have mixed results that undermine the enthusiasm with which they were adopted. Nevertheless, any effort aimed at improving civility, enhancing professionalism, and promoting self-care should lead to a positive experience in the community.

We hope that ASE Cares increases awareness of burnout, promotes a conversation on resilience, and creates pathways to help people find joy in the important work they do.

As we progress through the coming year, I will seek your counsel in helping me understand how the ASE and its leadership can serve you better. The ASE promises to focus on all echo enthusiasts, demonstrate our commitment to making burnout a thing of the past, and help us become happier and more effective practitioners for the benefit of patients with cardiovascular disease.

You may reach me at any time with questions, suggestions and concerns, at