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In the last From the Expert’s Mouth, we discussed the formation of values as the backbone of a veterinary practice. Once you’ve laid this foundation, how can you build upon it by creating open working relationships? Trust. In this section, the experts discuss the importance of trust in veterinary leadership.

A veterinary business is built upon and entwined in many relationships: between the leader and the team, the veterinarian and the client, the veterinarian and the patient, not to mention the relationship between the client and their pet. For all veterinarians, managing such relationships can feel like a fine art, especially when you have to balance relationship building with managing expectations.

However, underlying all of these relationships, especially between leader and staff, should be trust. Without trust, a relationship can crumble. Trust is key to generating motivation within a team, increasing productivity, improving morale and opening up potentially difficult conversations. 

How can trust be created? Ultimately, this will come with time and through repeated action, not words alone. There must be a sense of transparency, the involvement of staff in key decisions, and a psychologically safe culture. The development of trust will make personnel management so much easier, even enjoyable!

Furthermore, remember that trust works both ways. There must be mutual trust between the leader and staff. Finally, to trust your employees is to show your human side. Everyone has a personal life, will encounter extraneous events and will make mistakes. Trust is about recognising this, showing support and realising an employee’s true capabilities. Trust them to get the job done, and they will flourish.

Below are some comments from experts on the subject of trust in veterinary leadership

Dr Brent Mayabb, Chief Medical Officer at Royal Canin comments on the impact of not having a trustworthy leader:

“In some ways, trust is the currency within the team, and it’s most essential for the leader. Within a team where there’s no trust in the named leader, sometimes you’ll see the group look to one of their peers who is very trusted and who becomes a de facto leader.”

Dr Peter Orpin, Director of Myhealthyherd suggests a link between trust and problem solving:

“Trust is ultimately a binary position. You cannot ‘half trust’ people. If things go pear-shaped then always try and get to the truth (which is often not what your first instincts or emotions tell you). Tease out the issues. Be prepared to forgive as all of us are human and make mistakes, but unfortunately if a leader is untrustworthy, unreliable or inconsistent this seldom ends well.”

Dr Dave Nicol, Founder & CEO of VetX International posits trust as a key component of open practice culture:

“Ultimately, a team that doesn’t trust it’s leader is one step from a mutiny every day. That’s not a fun place to be as a practice owner. Where there is a lack of trust, problems are often not shared. Thus, how can they ever be resolved? Creating a culture of openness goes hand in hand with being a trustworthy leader.”  

Trust should be woven into the fabric of your day as a veterinary leader. It is not instantaneous, but must be weaved over time. Similarly, it must be constantly maintained. Building trust is about having honest conversations with your team, creating a symbiotic dialogue. 

We have seen Drs Dave Nicol and Peter Orpin link trust to problem solving. If there is a dispute within your team, or a behaviour you do not agree with, this can only be resolved within a trustful relationship. By generating a form of mutual exchange and mutual trust, you are creating a system whereby problems can be solved quickly and with honesty. Furthermore, you are creating an open and psychologically safe culture which will hopefully go some way to fulfilling your values.

Remember to stay tuned for the next discussion in the series, where experts will comment on the third principle of veterinary leadership. In the meantime, if you found this edition in the series useful, you should check out the VetX Leaders programme, a comprehensive course designed for success in veterinary leadership.

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