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Are you a veterinary practice owner who is struggling with team management? Or are you considering taking the leap to becoming a veterinary team leader? Owning a practice is exciting because it offers you the chance to draw on your past experiences as a veterinarian and establish something new. Becoming a leader can also inspire senses of freedom, responsibility and potential. However, it can also feel daunting as hurdles begin to emerge that weren’t visible from the start: the paperwork, personnel management, marketing, and more. The question is, with all this in mind, how can you excel as a veterinary leader? 

In this insightful new series, Leadership: From the Expert’s Mouth, experienced veterinary professionals explore five of the most important factors common to great leaders. Read on for some advice from the front lines of veterinary leadership. Ready to take on your next challenge? Let’s begin. 

Veterinary practice teams do some of the most valuable work on the planet, work that truly matters to the people they serve. However, such work is much, much harder to complete as a team successfully without a clearly defined set of values. 

Unfortunately, many people do not actually take the time to consider their values before they embark on a leadership role. The term ‘values’ is all too often pushed aside and misunderstood as vague, fluffy, nondescript. Really, values should be at the root of all your leadership decisions.

In other words, values are linked to integrity. As a leader, if your actions do not match your core beliefs, then there has been a hiccup in the road between intention and action. When creating your list of values, think broadly. Start with a personal feeling and then create a statement that can be applied to the business. For example: ‘I value collaborative problem solving’, ‘I value the fostering of community’, ‘I value democratic decision making’, ‘freedom’, ‘intellectual growth’, ‘personal development.’ 

If your thoughts seem scattergun at first, do not be alarmed. From this thought process can come prioritisation and refinement. Values drive behaviour. Thus, once articulated, they can be put into practice to channel the behaviours you wish to promote as a leader. 

Read below experts’ comments on enacting values as a veterinary leader.

Dr Olly King, Founder and CEO of Your Vet Network views values as the backbone of a veterinary practice:

“It all starts with values. Think about the kind of leader you aspire to be and the culture you want to promote. How will you do business as defined by these values and behaviours? Learn the skills necessary or employ the skills in others that you need to execute this strategy.

With your culture as the backbone, recruit specifically for the talent you need to bring about your vision by finding those who share your values. Do this whilst embracing the diversity of talent out there who will bring not only a wider skill-set but wider life values. Already, you will be building a more inclusive culture.”

Dr Rebecca Maudling, Co-founder & Director of International Location Safety posits the values as an important factor in team relations:

“Stay true to your values when making leadership decisions and don’t be afraid to show your human side. Be approachable, ask questions and listen. I learnt about the concept of a ‘toxic employee’ the hard way. Happy to say we now have a wonderful team who are all driven by our mission and values.”

Dr Helen Swift Veterinary Surgeon at Brentknoll Veterinary Centre continues:

“I became frustrated with a corporate practice because there was no training or induction, no interest in the people, no off-rota time allowed. Values presented at the top did not seem to filter down to the team.”

Dr Peter Orpin, Director of Myhealthyherd explains his views on enacting your values as a leader: 

“What I believe is really important is ‘walking the talk’: basing your business values and actions on what you believe in. Unless you can adopt this approach all authenticity and trust is lost. This is evidently the challenge with when a corporate player purchases a practice. How can they ensure that the values are maintained? 

Once the leadership loses its genuine heart and passion, it is all too evident and filters down to the team. Whatever you do, make sure you clearly define your personal and business values and that they are aligned before you start the journey.

Not nearly enough time is spent on value driven leadership in my view. Doing what is right and fair for the team is key. Although sometimes it might not be universally popular, it is important.”

It all starts with values. They should be the glue that binds a team together, providing motivation, purpose and cohesion, as well as reducing chaos and conflict.

Values are tied to leading with integrity. Think about your past veterinary experiences, the leaders you have encountered, the qualities you wish to emulate. These will be your blueprint that every decision and action can be answerable to. Your practice may grow and you will develop as a leader, but your values should remain a sturdy core, to be used to guide almost every element of decision making from who you hire, what you reward, what equipment you buy, which clients you choose to do business with. 

Remember to keep an eye out for the next discussion in the series, where experts comment on another core factor of great leadership, trust. In the meantime, you could check out VetX’s latest leadership blog post.

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