Cultivating leaders in veterinary medicine (as in, you!)

April 11, 2019
Kristina Guldbrand, CVT, BS, CSP

Kristina Guldbrand grew up in Austin, Texas, and graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in biology with a concentration in neuroanatomy and physiology. She worked as a certified veterinary technician for 12 years before becoming an account manager for Veterinary System Services. In her role as a manager and helping clinics with their staffing needs, she discovered her love of leadership and wellbeing. Since starting work with VSS, she has received training through the International Coaching Federation and provides workshops, leadership and wellbeing coaching as well as teambuilding for practices. She continues to expand her knowledge on perfectionism, neuroleadership, adult learning techniques, communication and organizational psychology to provide up-to-date and effective techniques to her clients.

You dont need a leadership role in your veterinary practice to act like (and be seen as) a leader. Heres how you can hone in on this special skill today.

stock.adobe.com/Andrey Yalansky

“There are way too many leaders in here,” said no one ever. Leadership has little to do with the title you carry and everything to do with the influence you have with those around you. Which means that anyone can be a leader, even if you lack a lead position. Here are a few skills that will aid you in your journey.

Evaluate and increase your level of emotional intelligence

Does the word “emotion” send a shiver down your spine? For most people working in a group, emotions just seem to get in the way of productivity. However, they are a part of our lives-all day, every day. Emotions come in different forms and vary in intensity. And while they are a bit of an inconvenience, just like a Chihuahua that rarely gets its nails trimmed, you have to manage them.

Physiologically, we have to process our emotions before we can access logic. Senses enter the brain and have to pass through the limbic system, the emotional center, before they make it to the logical center in the front of the brain. Emotional intelligence is a way to measure the communication between the rational and emotional centers of the brain. There are four components that make up emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: knowing what your triggers are and why

  • Self-management: using logic to process your emotions so you can react to situations calmly and rationally

  • Social awareness: using empathy, active listening and nonverbal communication when interacting with others

  • Relationship management: showing people you value them by communicating clearly, without blame and seeking understanding

Emotional intelligence is one skill that, when practiced, has shown higher salaries and job satisfaction across all professions. Increasing your level of emotional intelligence will allow you to gain awareness of your thoughts and feelings while managing their impact. It will help you cope with negativity and is the building block of creating psychological well-being for you and your team. And a psychologically safe workplace has been shown to increase profits and limit turnover.

Because of neuroplasticity, or the ability of our brain cells to reorganize in response to our changing needs, you have the power to change your thoughts and therefore your feelings. Even just thinking about how you have reacted to situations in the past is enough to start the change. So be that one in a million Chihuahua that doesn't try to eat your face off during a nail trim. You are the Chihuahua that knows that nail trims really mean loads and loads of cookies!

Discover your blind spots

Blind spots: You don't know what you don't know. When you're going 100 miles an hour just trying to get through your day-to-day obligations, it's hard to see what you're missing. This is one reason there's so little leadership in the veterinary community-our leaders are so busy, they don't have the time to work on their leadership skills. Discovering blind spots is a great way to build trust with your team and build these crucial skills.

Discovering your blind spots will be a challenge and is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to be vulnerable-like, a lot of courage. To get you started, try asking for feedback. Even this can be a lot to take in right away, so if you need baby steps, start by talking to someone you are close with, like a friend or family member.

Ask them:

  • What are three things I do well?

  • What are three things I could improve on?

  • What is something missing from our relationship?

  • What is something you've always wanted to tell me but never felt you could?

Lots of EQ talk here

They didn't teach us emotional intelligence in veterinary school.

What's your emotional intelligence?

Resources: Boost your practice's emotional intelligence.

Go back to a learner's attitude

Someone wise once said it's the journey, not the destination-a philosophy that can be difficult if you're a goal-oriented person. But if you can find the courage to give up the ego and return to the idea that you still have so much to learn, those words become clear. If you truly want to lead a team to be aware, self-sufficient, responsible and happy, you have to constantly be striving for the same in yourself. To go back to having the learner's attitude do these things:

  • Start reading about leadership (don't forget, audio books are a great way of utilizing down time while sitting in traffic!)

  • Share your knowledge with others

  • Find a leadership mentor or group to talk through difficult situations

Becoming a powerful leader requires constant personal growth. It's easy to ask other people to do the hard work of being responsible and aware of themselves. Unfortunately, if you don't lead by example, you run the risk of perpetuating your current culture. However, if you start to cultivate leadership yourself, it's likely that others will follow. And the result will be a highly productive and responsible team that will set your hospital apart.

Kristina Guldbrand is an account Manager and leadership/wellbeing consultant for Veterinary System Services in Denver, Colorado. Kristina loves drawing veterinary cartoons, practicing yoga, and traveling the world.