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From surviving to thriving: The 4 P’s of positive leadership

dvm360dvm360 November 2021
Volume 52

A certified compassion fatigue professional shares his framework for leading flourishing veterinary teams.

doctors huddling together

PiyanatBoon / stock.adobe.com

In veterinary medicine, people often deplete themselves more than fulfill themselves, according to Josh Vaisman, CCFP, MAPPCP, cofounder and lead consultant of Flourish Veterinary Consulting. In his lecture today at the Fetch dvm360® virtual conference, Vaisman said that everyone in the veterinary profession deserves sustained fulfillment, and positive leadership is the key to unleashing meaningfulness and bringing out the best in people, teams, and organizations.

“I’m on a mission to empower veterinary leaders with evidence-based skills for positive leadership so they can enable positive cultures into their practices and bring out the best in themselves and the people that they lead,” he said. Here are Vaisman’s 4 P’s of positive veterinary leadership that you can implement at your clinic to cultivate a nurturing environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and have a “want to” attitude. (You can also check out this podcast to hear Vaisman talk about the topic in detail.)

1. Psychological safety

Psychological safety means creating a practice culture that views mistakes as learning opportunities. Results from a 1988 study examining psychological safety in the workplace revealed that it is absent in many workplaces. In the study, higher-performing teams with the best patient outcomes reported more medical errors than the teams with the worst patient outcomes. How can this be? It turns out that the high-performing teams weren’t actually making more mistakes—they were simply more likely to honestly admit to making them.

The bottom line? “If the environment makes it unsafe or dangerous to take intrapersonal risks, we will withhold those things. And when we withhold we are not learning, we are not growing, we are not improving, as an individual, as a team, or an organization,” said Vaisman. “We have to have psychological safety in our teams to achieve the level of candor necessary for success and growth.”

According to Vaisman, psychologically safe teams believe the following:

  • If I make a mistake, it’s not going to be held against me.
  • I can discuss difficult topics with my team.
  • On my team, everyone’s opinion matters.
  • It’s safe to ask for help and admit to a lack of ability.
  • New ideas are welcome.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

Vaisman discussed RACI, a tool that can help clarify roles, responsibilities, and decision-making authority at your clinic. For each task or project that you are trying to accomplish, answer the following 4 questions:

  1. R—Who is responsible? This is the team member (the “doer”) who does the work to complete a task. A task may have more than 1 responsible party.
  2. A—Who is accountable? This is the person who owns the final decision on whether a task is completed successfully. “The buck stops here.”
  3. C—Who is consulted? These are the people (“in the loop”) to whom questions and concerns about the task should be directed.
  4. I—Who needs to be informed throughout the process? These are the team members who need to be kept abreast on task progress and completion (“keep in the picture”).

2. Purpose

Purpose is the reason something is done or created. Purpose is also a powerful tool leaders can use to unlock meaningfulness, said Vaisman.

When an environment generates meaningfulness, employees are much more positively engaged in their work. Having a high level of purpose and meaningfulness is also the No. 1 way to prevent burnout, said Vaisman. He suggested 2 ways to enable a sense of purpose and meaningfulness at your veterinary practice:

  1. Routinely show that all work matters. We’re often good at pointing out the big things like saving a patient’s life, but the small moments, such as cleaning the exam room between each patient, matter too, said Vaisman.
  2. Connect all work to a higher purpose. When purpose is vivid, team members feel that their work matters, they matter, their work is meaningful, and they get to do meaningful things every day, he said.

3. Path

Path is about clarifying to empower, said Vaisman. “From a leadership perspective, clear expectations are very much about putting a pin on the map. Positive leaders enable clear expectations and help teams develop clear expectations internally,” said Vaisman.

When the path is clear, team members agree with statements like:

  1. “I know what is expected of me.”
  2. “I have meaningful control over my day-to-day work.”
  3. “I am consistently able to contribute to achieving our goals.”
  4. “I have the resources I need to succeed.”

4. Progress

Progress is about enabling people to experience meaningful growth, contribution, and a sense of value and work, said Vaisman, suggesting these 2 ways to bring progress to life:

  1. Show appreciation: Celebrate all things big and small, and reward positive behavior and not just positive results. Express gratitude, especially during challenging times.
  2. Provide support: Build relationships and connect with your team in meaningful ways, giving them a sense of belonging. Use growth-minded language and productively address shortfalls.

When people are appreciated (feel valued) and supported (they feel like they matter), “we are telling them, ‘You are capable. I believe in you,’” said Vaisman.

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Adam Christman
Senior Bernese Mountain dog
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