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Stop doing these things to become more successful (Part 1) (Proceedings)


Success – it's what we all strive for in life. Whether we want a successful career or relationship, we all seek the best in ourselves and others. And most veterinarians achieve success.

Success – it's what we all strive for in life. Whether we want a successful career or relationship, we all seek the best in ourselves and others. And most veterinarians achieve success. You're successful because you were accepted and graduated from veterinary medical school; you're successful in your daily practice; you've probably been successful at most things in life.

And therein lies the problem. Because we've been successful most of our lives, we become resistant to change. After all, we've made it this far doing what we've done, why should we change?

As a practice owner, management consultant, personal trainer, and triathlon coach, I frequently have the opportunity to work with individuals who want or need to change. Maybe they want to take their veterinary practice to the next level or perhaps they want to lose weight or it may be an employee I'm trying to promote, whatever the objective, these people are confronting change. How successful they'll be at reaching their next set of goals largely depends on how successful they are at overcoming their resistance to change.

Time to change

I've discovered over the years that it's usually our own actions and behaviors that limit our progress. All we see is that some element of our life isn't what we want: decreased income, decreased intimacy, decreased happiness or health. In other cases someone else, a boss, physician, spouse or friend has encouraged us to seek change in some part of our life.

Recognizing our bad habits

The cause of these problems, more often than not, is rooted in our behavior. We have developed dozens of bad habits we carry into our work environments and homes and repeat them over and over. These bad habits can be cured by 1) identifying them, 2) demonstrating the damage and confusion they create in the people around you, and 3) showing that with a simple tweak of your behavior the negative, damaging effect can be converted into a positive one. Only by recognizing our bad habits can we ever hope to change them.

Practice delusions

As successful individuals, we often shrug off the idea that we may be fallible or endangered. After all, we're successful. But are we deluding ourselves? Everyone makes some or all of these assumptions, either out loud or internally:

     • We overestimate our contributions to our work.

           o Delusion: "If it wasn't for me (the veterinarian), there'd be no business."

           o Reality: The practice is a sum of its whole. Many clients come in spite of the veterinarians; they are bonded to the caring and capable staff, prefer the location, or need the convenient hours.

     • We take credit for work, either partially or completely, that others truly deserve.

           o Delusion: "I saved that obstructed dog's life."

           o Reality: The entire veterinary healthcare team saved the obstructed dog's life.

     • We have an elevated opinion of our professional abilities and how we compare to our colleagues.

           o Delusion: "I can't believe what poor medicine they practice at ABC Veterinary Clinic. I would never miss that diagnosis."

           o Reality: Maybe, maybe not. We're rarely as good as we like to think we are.

     • Conveniently forget our failures.

           o Delusion: "I've never done that."

           o Reality: You probably have. More than once.

     • Inflate our contributions to the profitability of the practice while ignoring the costs of inefficiencies.

           o Delusion: "I produce more than anyone. I do all of the complex surgeries and see all the complex medical cases."

           o Reality: The amount of staff and resources needed for these complex and expensive cases may actually result in lower-than-expected profitability. Gross revenue is not an indicator of profitability.

These delusions are the result of success, not failure. We wrongly assume that because we've been successful in the past we will be successful in the future. And that ain't necessarily so.

Success leads to defense against change

Several years ago I was conducting a practice consultation of a highly successful seven-doctor practice on the west coast. The practice owner was interested in selling and recently had the value of his practice appraised, by two different evaluators. The problem was, in his words, "They didn't know how to properly evaluate such a successful practice. They were used to working on mediocre businesses." As you may have guessed, he thought his practice was worth significantly more than the two groups of evaluators. Reluctantly I agreed to visit his practice and determine if there was anything he could do to bolster productivity and profitability.

First of all, the facility was gorgeous. It had received an award for its design, it was huge, and the location was primo. What on earth could I possibly do to help such an obviously successful practice?

Without going into details, the problems were apparent as soon as I entered the building. At the end of my assessment, I sat down with the owner to discuss my findings. I'm accustomed to delivering unpleasant news to owners; it's a major component of my consulting work. Most practice owners sit and listen quietly while others argue every point. Some heed my advice and others choose not to. I don't judge them; I only try to help them.

This practice owner got up and left. But not before he reacted with the three most common defensive arguments all successful people make when confronted with criticism (although most are much more peaceful):

      1. "You're confused."

Successful people are baffled by these accusations. They believe the other person must be misinformed or doesn't truly know what they're talking about. Someone else may need to change, but it's not them.

      2. "Not me."

As the successful person accepts that maybe the other person isn't confused or really does know what they're talking about, denial kicks in – and hard. These criticisms don't apply to them or they wouldn't be so successful. You've got the wrong person (or practice).

      3. "You're a loser."

When all other tactics begin to fail, the successful person attacks the other. We shoot the messenger. "Why would a successful person like me listen to a loser like you?"

Because of our previous success we are often reluctant to accept outside assistance. The traits that make us successful often make is that much harder to change. This can impede future success when we need to change to accomplish new goals. Unfortunately, everyone must constantly evolve throughout their career if they are to sustain success. Otherwise, successful people will see their future slip away as new ideas and actions are required. The wages of the status quo is a slow decline.

In addition to these defenses against advice or change, successful veterinarians often 1) overestimate their past successes, 2) believe that they have complete control over their success in the future, instead of "just being lucky," 3) they will continue to have success in the future based on their past success, and 4) they have complete control over their destiny as opposed to being influenced by outside forces (such as economic downturns, changes in laws or regulations, competitive pressures, etc.).

When you mix this together, you have what the noted psychologist and corporate coach (and to whom I owe much of my understanding of these issues) Dr. Marshall Goldsmith calls "a volatile cocktail of resistance to change." This is one drink that does not deserve a toast.

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