Becoming a veterinary leader

Becoming a veterinary leader

Break lazy management habits by identifying how you've grown complacent—it's uncomfortable, but necessary.
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Feb 01, 2014

On my first day back in class this past fall, I chatted with a classmate who has a senior position at a marketing company. I asked her how she felt about school so far, and she gave the one word that exemplifies my feelings as well: humbled. Now, five months into my executive MBA program, I am constantly reminded of how humbling the learning experience can be.

I have learned that unless I have something concrete to offer with good reasoning behind it, I can't expect people to change their behavior just because I think they should. In a recent class exercise, I totally failed to convince my group to change our course of action. Up until then, I was fairly smug in my ability to lead people. It seems to work at our company most of the time (unless I am way off-base!).

Then it hit me. My co-workers follow my lead because I am the head of the company. I sign the paychecks! As long as what I want is fairly reasonable, they will go along with me. What an eye-opener. It seems very obvious that was the case as I write this, but when one is in the midst of a situation and has been for a long time, the actions of others are rarely questioned. Not only was I humbled, but I also felt like I've been letting my co-workers down all this time. Instead of giving direction with real reasons behind my thoughts, often I've simply said, "Let's do this," and they of course attempt to do what I ask. How much wasted effort has gone into poorly thought-out plans, or how often have I confused them with sudden shifts in strategy? Now, it isn't all doom and gloom, but I haven't given my team the proper leadership they deserve. What is also galling is the laziness of my thinking. Instead of preparing a thoughtful plan, I skipped that step and went straight to the easy part. It is much easier just to say, "I want to go there," rather than, "We should go there and this is why and how we are going to do it." I wouldn't plan on performing a dental procedure without knowing why and how I am doing it. That is part of what makes a trained professional.

There is never a better lesson than the one that is personal. As a business leader and veterinarian, I have become complacent in my role as leader. What this incident taught me is that sometimes you have to get in a very uncomfortable situation to learn the best lessons. The medical errors I have made still linger. When I do certain procedures, the mistakes I've made in the past while doing the same thing are front and center. I have been in similar situations with the business side of things too, but those lessons seem to come less often—probably because I have rarely pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. I won't be that complacent again.

So here's to being very, very uncomfortable. It's humbling, but it's worth it when a lesson can be learned.

Dr. Mike Pownall has owned McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Campbellville, Ontario, Canada, with his wife, Melissa, since 2002. This was adapted from a longer blog of his at http://www.veterinarybusinessmatters.com/.

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