The 7 deadly sins of practice


Don't let these business mistakes corrupt your practice.

You've heard of the seven deadly sins, but have you ever applied them to your business?

The word sin comes from the sport of archery and means to "miss the mark." It can be helpful

W. Bradford Swift

to look at our practice from this perspective to see if we've missed the mark in any of these seven costly ways.

Pride is defined as the excessive belief in one's own abilities. In other words, it means taking all the credit. How might this sin show up at work? One obvious way is that you or someone else on your team claims full responsibility for positive results that actually come from the whole team. Or perhaps you discount the effort of certain team members as less valuable than that of others. A less obvious and more sinister expression of pride is the attitude, "Well, it's her job. Of course she's going to do her best." This mindset can lead to a lack of authentic appreciation and acknowledgment—key lubricants that help your business run like a well-oiled machine. In fact, sincerely giving credit where credit is due is one of the main antidotes to excessive pride. Spread the appreciation around and everyone will have a reason to be proud of where they work without anyone becoming overly prideful.

Overcoming pride

It's important not to get stuck in either-or thinking. You want to do Certainly it's important to make a profit. Otherwise the doors don't contribute to making the world better.

Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation. Do you ever look down the street at another veterinary hospital and wish you had that nice building, large clientele base, and well-managed staff? Welcome to envy. Or perhaps you have an imaginary picture in your mind of what the perfect veterinary practice looks like and each time you compare your own practice to the imaginary one, you find yourself becoming resentful and jealous. While it can be helpful to imagine your perfect practice filled with perfect clients and team members, watch out that you don't use this vision to undermine yourself or others. Making comparisons such as this leads to envy and becoming envious is a clear sign that you're missing the mark.

Overcoming envy

Gratitude can be a powerful cure for the deadly sin of envy. Be grateful for what you have, even if you envision new possibilities for yourself and your practice. Allow that vision to inspire you without getting caught in the trap of unhealthy comparisons.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than one requires, and many of us have developed this deadly sin as a way of life. Because of the messages we're bombarded with, we often view ourselves not as citizens of a country but as consumers in a materialistic marketplace. Unchecked, this desire for more and more material things leads to gluttony. In a veterinary practice, a gluttonous attitude can be displayed as always needing the next new technological toy, whether or not we can justify it as a sound business investment with a fair return. Will the next flashy gizmo really help you provide better care to your patients, or are you being sold on slick marketing?

Overcoming gluttony

Lust is an exorbitant craving for the pleasures of the body. And although we often deny it, we have a human tendency to develop complex relationships with our co-workers, whether emotional or physical. OK, they say that confession is good for the soul, so here goes. In my younger days in practice as a bachelor, I found myself in a number of challenging relationships—complicated by the fact that they were with co-workers. I'm not saying that office romances can't work, but I am suggesting that they can make life difficult, not only for the people involved in the relationship but also for the rest of the team.

Overcoming lust

Abstaining from such complex relationships is the best approach, but if you find yourself involved in spite of everything, set clear boundaries. For example, I now work with my wife, Ann. She's an integral part of our business. She's also my best friend and the mother of our child. So we have four different relationships.

If I have a recommendation or correction to make regarding work, it's important that my wife and I both be clear about which relationship we're in at that moment as we have the conversation. One of the boundaries Ann has implemented to help keep our relationships distinct is to reserve business-related conversations for the office.

When we lose sight of the bigger picture of why we're in practice in the first place, it's easy to get fired up over the many details of running a business.

Anger is defined as a strong feeling of displeasure and antagonism. As one of the seven deadly sins it's often thought to be found in individuals who spurn love and opt instead for fury. I often see anger in practices where a team member has lost his or her sense of purpose and has begun to operate from a state of fear, lack, or struggle.

Overcoming anger

When we lose sight of the bigger picture of why we're in practice in the first place, it's easy to get fired up over the many details of running a business. Anger can become a common byproduct of this loss of perspective. The cure for this type of anger is to get back in touch with what you love about practice. Think about why you entered the profession in the first place. I think of love as the universal attractive force that connects us to all life. It's this affinity for life in all its rich and joyful forms that makes dealing with all the details of maintaining a practice worthwhile.

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain. It's easy today to think the one and only reason for being in business is to see how much material wealth we can acquire. For far too long, we've bought into the erroneous belief that the only reason to be in business is to make a profit. But consider this perspective offered by leadership expert and Fortune 500 consultant Lance Secretan: "The primary purpose of an organization is to help human beings grow, express their creativity, contribute to their life-source, and make the world a better place. The purpose of an organization is to inspire a person's soul."

Overcoming greed

As you try on this different perspective, it's important not to get stuck in either-or thinking. You want to do good and do well. Certainly it's important to make a profit. Otherwise the doors don't stay open and no one gets to express their creativity or contribute to making the world a better place. But cultivating a both-and way of thinking keeps profit in its place and is a great countermeasure to greed. In other words, you don't have to choose between providing a fulfilling workplace or making a profit. You can do both.

Sloth is the avoidance of work. I've never met a veterinarian who wasn't willing to put in the physical work to make his or her practice a success. Unfortunately, I know too many who have become slothful when it comes to doing the spiritual work.

Overcoming sloth

Consider a definition borrowed from Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz's book The Power of Full Engagement. Spirituality is "the connection to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose beyond one's self-interest." Becoming clear about your core values and life purpose is a key first step to overcoming spiritual sloth. The next step is to bring your veterinary practice into alignment with your values and purpose. The bridge between your purpose and your practice is a vision statement for your business that reflects your core values and your life purpose. With your values and purpose at its center, your practice becomes a reflection of your vision.

People who are burning out often feel too tired to put in the physical work necessary for maintaining their practice. The connection between physical energy and spiritual energy is well summarized by Loehr and Schwartz: "The quantity of energy we have to spend at any given moment is a reflection of our physical capacity. Our motivation to spend what we have is largely a spiritual issue. Fundamentally, spiritual energy is a unique force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It is the most powerful source of our motivation, perseverance, and direction. Anything that ignites the human spirit serves to drive full engagement and to maximize performance in whatever mission we are on."

Have you seen any of these seven deadly sins lurking around the halls of your practice? If so, just by recognizing them, you've already taken a great first step to making the necessary correction. After all, even the best archers miss the bull's-eye from time to time. But the really good ones know to use their misses to help them hit the mark with their next shot.

Dr. W. Bradford Swift is the founder of the Life on Purpose Institute and empowers professionals to live true to their life purpose through his writing, speaking, and coaching.

Dr. Swift will speak at CVC East in Baltimore on April 30 about:

  • creating a coaching climate

  • becoming a masterful coach

  • how to get relief from staffing headaches

  • hands-on coaching for specific staff challenges.

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Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
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