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Resilient leadership: 3 essential components to lead through any storm

Article

Flamingo Images / stock.adobe.com

Flamingo Images / stock.adobe.com

Content submitted by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner

Over the past 2 years, veterinary leaders have had to significantly adjust to staff shortages, reduced employee productivity and morale, and increased client demands. To weather the storm, many shifted their strategic plans and moved from a business growth mindset to a business resilience mindset. While business growth is certainly vital to the long-term health of any organization, in times of crisis, good leaders know resilience can be an even more important business focal point.

In fact, during the pandemic, companies that outperformed their competitors were those that saw far beyond the COVID-19 crisis.1 The leaders of these companies not only considered which metrics would get them through the next 3 or 4 quarters, but instead, chose a course of action that would enable them to capitalize on all market changes in both the short- and long-term. Their strategic course of action often included moving from focusing solely on business metrics (eg, sales revenue, sales growth, cost of customer acquisition) to an emphasis on people metrics (eg, employee satisfaction, engagement, retention).

The leaders who specifically excelled during the pandemic were also those who remained flexible. These leaders demonstrated strategic agility, which is one’s ability to respond swiftly and tactically, or initiate change while also maintaining focus. Leaders who demonstrate strategic agility have a clear vision of the road ahead by utilizing market trends—finding advantages and improvising as crises unfold. They are also not afraid to pivot when necessary and are able to define clear, innovative strategies.

Strategic agility is both an intuition and a skill that leaders can develop and then deploy. This trait should be encouraged by leadership, as a company is only as agile (and resilient) as the people who are behind it. While strategic agility is the trait successful leaders hold, there are 3 core areas that must be prioritized by leaders to create a resilient and sustainable business:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • People

Let us take a closer look at what each of these entails, and how they can improve your business resiliency.

Leadership: exuding contagious positivity

With the pandemic taking a considerable toll on the health, well-being, and energy of many people, positively energizing leaders are more crucial than ever before. Positive relational energy is the positive feeling and sense of increased resourcefulness one feels after engaging with another person. Simply, it is the transfer of positive energy to another. Research has continuously shown that this transference of energy allows people to feel nourished and rejuvenated. In organizations, these effects can be amplified by leadership.

As Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron noted in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, "The Best Leaders Have a Contagious Positive Energy2":

“In particular, there’s usually one person at the center of these networks who’s responsible for most of the forward motion—not to mention well-being—of all the rest. We call them positive energizers. Energizers’ greatest secret is that, by uplifting others through authentic, values-based leadership, they end up lifting up both themselves and their organizations. Positive energizers demonstrate and cultivate virtuous actions, including forgiveness, compassion, humility, kindness, trust, integrity, honesty, generosity, gratitude, and recognition in the organization. As a result, everyone flourishes.”

The authors go on to contend that this phenomenon—an uncontrollable draw to positive energy—can also be found in nature. This process is coined the heliotropic effect. The heliotropic effect is the process by which plants naturally turn toward and grow in the presence of light. Much like plants, human beings will gravitate towards other humans that emit life-giving and life-supporting energy.

More specifically when leaders of organizations emit positive relational energy, the organization displays increased3:

  • Innovation
  • Teamwork and workplace cohesion
  • Financial performance,4 including productivity and quality

And employees have greater:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Well-being
  • Engagement
  • Performance5
  • Relationships with family

As the HBR article argues, the most effective leaders are those who exude vitality and demonstrate qualities they envision for their employees and company culture.2 In the time of great resignation, when burnout and fatigue are widespread, leaders must be attentive to the changing needs of their workforce, and most importantly, lead with humanity. People do not want to be just an employee number serving a faceless hierarchal structure; they want to be human beings who work for other human beings—human beings who like themselves have fears and desires, and experience pain.

Here are a few ways you can lead with and exude positive energy:

  • Support conversations that address individual and collective “whys.” Do your professionals know their why? Do they understand the company’s purpose? If not, reengage employees by sharing your why and how this connects you back to the company’s purpose. Then open the floor to hear their individual whys. This not only humanizes you but also allows for open dialogue.
  • Create safe spaces. Make sure all voices are heard, and that the proper channels are in place to achieve this. Not only does this breed inclusivity and a place of belonging in the workplace, but it cultivates diversity of thought, innovation, and operational growth.
  • Communicate and demonstrate authenticity. One way to do this is by holding monthly townhalls that offer employees the opportunity to pose questions and receive direct feedback from leadership.
  • Do not be afraid to ask the important questions: What are your practices current struggles? What are the potential solutions? Does your practice offer the necessary resources for supporting a compassionate, collaborative community? While some questions may be tough to ask, this will help you become a stronger, more involved, and more dedicated leader.

Culture: demonstrate the 3 pillars

There are 3 pillars behind every company culture: mission, vision, values. These pillars shape the beliefs and behaviors of employees as well as serve as a foundation that leaders and their employees can lean upon in times of crisis or upheaval.

To be a resilient leader, it is important that you not only know but demonstrate your organization’s 3 pillars. When employees see that their leadership truly lives the company’s mission, vision, and values in their everyday actions and behaviors, they will be inspired to do the same. Another way to build a purpose-driven, people-led culture is to give recognition to those employees who also live the company’s pillars. You can do this by spotlighting their stories on internal forums. This helps build employee morale and emphasizes that across all levels of the organization, your why is the same and you are a community of one.

Leaders must also clearly know the culture they wish to create or maintain. If you seek to create a more inclusive culture, where every employee has a seat at the table, then a top-down leadership structure will not work. For an equitable and inclusive environment there must be channels open for two-way dialog. Two-way communication not only signals to employees that leadership has agreed to take accountability, but that they are committed to ongoing, transparent conversations.

Lastly, protect and support the cultural elements that allow your company to succeed. If you are a people-driven company, top-down leadership at any level will not work. Weave your 3 pillars into your strategic plans across functions and make sure all leaders are practicing what the company preaches. At the same time, do not hesitate to change or eliminate those parts that are barriers to achieving the culture you seek.

People: expanding opportunities to advance

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), feeling valued at work brings better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation. The APA survey also found that half of all employees who reported not feeling valued at work intended to look for a new job in the coming year.6

So, how do we as organizations and leaders maintain healthy, productive, value-based relationships between employer and employee? Through organizational investments in employee training and development programs and by fostering an environment of continuous learning. Employee training and development programs may include programs to advance in education, technical or on-the-job training, career pathing systems, and mental and emotional well-being resources. In the veterinary field, training and development is particularly important, with positive reverberations across all aspects of the hospital.

For example, a more experienced and qualified technician offers increased practice productivity as well as can boost clinician and client satisfaction. By empowering technicians through increased career and education opportunities, doctors are given the experienced support they need to practice the best medicine, and clients are offered additional time with a medical expert—all of which allows for better patient outcomes.7

Ensure your employees feel valued and supported by offering continued opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. Also, make an effort to celebrate both big and small milestones. This not only creates a culture of learning within the practice but inspires others around them to grow in their roles, too. And if you need another reason to invest in your workforce, remember, a stronger workforce offers a competitive edge to the company at large.

Looking ahead

As we navigate the postpandemic world, it is important to remember we are still in an extremely uncertain place. Leadership must be prepared to succeed whether the wind is at their backs or barreling from ahead. They can achieve this by building a strategically agile framework that focuses on leadership development, culture, and upskilling your workforce.

References

  1. Goyette K. How to develop better foresight to combat chaos. B Plans. Accessed May 3, 2022. https://articles.bplans.com/develop-better-foresight-combat-chaos
  2. Seppäla E, Cameron K. Harvard Business Review. April 18, 2022. Accessed May 3, 2022. https://hbr.org/2022/04/the-best-leaders-have-a-contagious-positive-energy
  3. Cameron KS, Bright D, Caza A. Exploring the relationships between organizational virtuousness and performance. ABS. 2004;47(6):766-790. doi:10.1177/0002764203260209
  4. Cameron K, Mora C, Leutscher T, Calarco M. Effects of Positive Practices on Organizational Effectiveness. J Appl Behav Sci. 2011;47(3):266-308. doi:10.1177/0021886310395514
  5. Baker W. The more you energize your coworkers, the better everyone performs. Harvard Business Review. September 15, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://hbr.org/2016/09/the-energy-you-give-off-at-work-matters
  6. APA Survey Finds Feeling Valued at Work Linked to Well-Being and Performance. American Psychological Association. 2012. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/03/well-being
  7. BluePearl CareerTrax Case Study by Xapify: Putting Their Best Paw Forward. BluePearl. March 11, 2022. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://bluepearlvet.com/articles/bluepearl-careertrax-case-study-by-xapify-putting-their-best-paw-forward/
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