High Impact Leadership in the Veterinary Clinic - The Veterinarian as a Leader, a Manager and a Coach
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2014
Betina Rama, DVM, EMCCC
Management Professor, Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Your time is limited. Also your knowledge is limited. Because you don't have all the answers and you cannot do it all is the reason that you are working with a team in the clinic.

When we start our careers, generally we start working as an individual contributor, but as responsibilities increase, we start managing others and that requires a different set of skills.

If you are leading a team, whether you have formal or informal authority, it is beneficial to develop team leadership skills to increase not only the team effectiveness but also the work satisfaction.

Leadership, manager and coaching skills are needed to access the ideas and knowledge of team members and draw out their collective best performance. Creating a high-performance team requires the ability to observe how the team is functioning and help it improve.

Individuals have needs and teams have needs too. Understanding both is a matter of practicing and genuine interest.

Taking time to know the team members and understanding personality differences could be a good first step to start to make sure individual needs are met.

Teams have some basic needs and if those are neglected, the results of the clinic will suffer.

 Planning needs. Are we clear on the goals? Do we have a shared understanding of our vision, mission, goals, roles and team norms? Do we have a strategy or a plan to achieve those goals?

 Execution needs. How does our team communicate, coordinate, collaborate and monitor its effectiveness? Are we aligned on the "how"?

 Interpersonal needs. What's the level of trust on the team? How do we handle conflict constructively? Are we motivated to achieve our goals?

All of the above needs are critical in the vet clinic. Some veterinarians and staff would feel more comfortable in planning, others in executing, and another ones in fulfilling the interpersonal needs, but all of them are critical.

That is why it is fundamental to learn skills to wear different "hats" in the clinic: the leader's hat, the manager's hat, and the coach's hat.

The veterinarian as a leader

 Develops a vision

 Identifies strategies to achieve the vision

 Aligns staff with the vision

 Inspires to achieve the vision

 Manages change

The veterinarian as a manager

 Sets goals and objectives

 Plans to achieve those goals

 Has a system in place to implement and supervise those plans

 Finds the right people for the job

 Communicates plans and priorities

 Solves problems and delegates responsibilities.

The veterinarian as a coach

 Communicates expectations

 Supervises and evaluates performance

 Gives feedback

 Works 1:1 to help people learn and develop

 Orchestrates resources and opportunities

In order to build a high performance team in the clinic, the 3 hats are needed:

 Managing is an assigned role.
Leadership is a skill.
Coaching is helping others to develop.

 Managing has to do with power.
Leading has to do with influence.
Coaching has to do with building capability in your team.

 Managing creates useful order.
Leading creates useful change.
Coaching creates useful skills and knowledge.

When to use each hat:

 When to use the coach-leader-manager hats will depend on the situation and the skills and enthusiasm to perform the task of individual or team.

Learning to wear different "hats" will increase the capability of the vet clinic and the personal and personnel satisfaction.

One easy tool to use is the "skill will matrix," a simple situational leadership model.

 "Skill" is about the capability and knowledge to perform certain task. The skill is the experience, training, and understanding of the individual.

 "Will" is about the enthusiasm and predisposition that the person puts in doing the task. It is their motivation, confidence, or desire to do it.

 The skill/will matrix is the original work of Hersey and Blanchard that derived in the Situational Leadership Model.

It is important to note that for one task one person can be in one quadrant and that same person for another task can be in a another quadrant. Therefore, the same person might need a different approach depending on the task.

For example, for a certain task like taking a blood sample, a nurse in your clinic could know how to do it and you can see that s/he always volunteer to do it. That would mean high skill (s/he is capable to do it) and high will (predisposed to perform that task). This means that for that task (taking the blood sample) s/he is in the "can" quadrant.

For another task, like answering the phone and making appointments s/he could be in another quadrant. S/he can also be in the high will/high skill, meaning that s/he answers the phone with a smile and manages to write the appointment in the correct place in the computer system. Or s/he does not want to answer the phone and when s/he does she does not greet the person by the name (low skill/ low will). This would mean that s/he cannot do it.

Also s/he might be very well predisposed to do it but when s/he answers s/he forgets to greet the person by the name, and write the wrong name of the pet in the agenda. That would mean that s/he is in the high will/low skill, therefore she "could do it" but needs help to be able to do it.

Another possibility is that s/he knows how to answer the phone but does not want to do it (high skill, low will). Then s/he 'could do it.'

To improve performance and help people increase their capabilities we need to treat people depending on where they are (for a certain task) in the quadrant.

If the person is an expert (like in the blood sample example), and can do the task, the preferred style is delegate and encourage to do more.

For example you could encourage him/her to teach other staff on how to take better blood samples and recognise him/her for the skills and for teaching others.

But if you would use a directive style with this expert person and instruct him/her on "the way you want to take blood samples in your clinic," that will have a counterproductive effect and will drive the person to the "could" quadrant.

But if for certain task a person is in the high will-low skill quadrant (typically an intern, very enthusiastic but does not know how to do certain things, but because of their enthusiasm might tell you that they can do it), the 3 Ts are important to avoid unnecessary risks: Tell, Train, and Team up with somebody who knows.

Using the wrong style can drive people down to a lower level of performance.

That is why it is important to adapt the leadership style depending on where the person is for that task and help them move up to the high skill-high will quadrant.

Diagnosing where your team members are and using the most appropriate style is a matter of practice.

The benefits of using the better style for the situation translates in a higher capability for the individual and the team.


Speaker Information
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Betina Rama, DVM, EMCCC, Dipl. Clin. Org. Psych. Management
Universidad del Salvador
Buenos Aires, Argentina

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