And how you can avoid them
I have previously spoken about getting off the hamster wheel as a veterinary leader. If you haven’t checked out that podcast, I encourage you to do so as well as reading this post. The Hamster Wheel aka ‘the clinical grind’ is something I’ve seen veterinary leaders become embroiled in countless times. It’s when you continue to focus on your clinical duties, leaving no time for actually leading your practice and people!
Now, this is one part of the three biggest mistakes most veterinary leaders make. Being a leader is a great position to be in and you should be proud that you’ve made it! However, if you don’t avoid these, you could be in danger of sinking this next step of your career. Oh Captain, my Captain!
If you are a new leader, you have much to learn. Wait! This is a good thing. Learn these three things to avoid now, and you stand a good chance of becoming a great leader from the start.
The Elusive ‘Plan’ and a Descent into Chaos
Many veterinary leaders get promoted because of their technical prowess, but often remain stuck in this task-focussed, clinical mindset when leading. Unfortunately, the skills you have acquired so far in your career are not the same skills you’ll need to become a successful leader. You must learn how to lead your people.
I know, you are a veterinarian to the core, and you care deeply about your patients. But, if you are not able to lead your team effectively, this can lead to confusion…and descent into chaos. Ultimately, your team will not be able to look after the animals to the best of their ability if you cannot give them clear direction.
Therefore, you must have a conversation with your boss to establish exactly what is expected of you. This way, you can set objectives for yourself and your team. Establishing a plan will kick you into leadership gear. It’s often the leaders who do not have a clear set of objectives that become sucked into the hamster wheel of clinical work. They don’t know what’s expected of them as a leader, so they stick with what they do know – the clinical stuff.
‘I’ll just do it.’
Because you’re the leader, you’ll be asked a lot of questions by your team. I mean, a lot. This could be simple things, like double-checking which button to press, or tricky things like asking for a complete run-through of an operation.
At times, it can feel like you are being faced with a barrage of questions, and your banks are about to burst! However, please don’t just do it yourself. I have witnessed the time poor leader ‘just do’ the little things that their vets ask them, instead of teaching them, because they think it will save time.
This is a fallacy.
Doing those things for your staff is a huge waste of time because they will never learn how to do it themselves. The last time you checked, were you being paid for doing a bit of everyone’s jobs?
No, you’re being paid to be a leader. And, part of being a great leader is coaching your team. If you take the time to show your vet how to use the machine properly, that’s another skill they can add to their growing list. It’s a win-win situation: spend the time now passing on your skills and helping your team to grow, so you can truly focus on being a leader in the long-term.
You’ve Reached Isolation Station
The reality of being a veterinary leader is that it can be isolating. If you’ve been promoted at your current practice, you’ve likely gone from being ‘part of the gang’ to leader of the pack. Leading your ‘mates’ or individuals that you’ve had close working relationships with can be difficult to navigate in this new dynamic.
Keep the trust. If you show yourself to have favourites you will lose trust of most – if not all – of your team. Remember to treat everyone equally and stick to your values (which, by the way, every good leader should have).
As a leader, you are providing an example to the rest of the team. This may sound like I’m putting a lot of pressure on, but really, this stuff is fundamental to many human relationships. For example, if you start venting about how you think clients are obnoxious in front of your team, this is the general attitude you are projecting. Before you know it, the whole team is ranting every lunch time about how awful clients are. They never thought to work on their own communication with clients, because their leader instilled in them a resentful mindset.
The extent to which behaviours and attitudes can filter through a whole team is surprising.
There you have it. The three mistakes to avoid as a veterinary leader. I hope you found these useful and wish you the best of luck in your new role. Remember, this is just the start of something great! If you haven’t already done so, you should take a look at our leadership blog series designed for leaders like you. We have curated comments from the top leaders on the frontlines of veterinary leadership, read them below: