The trials of 2021 and what they can teach us about leadership

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Speaking at the Unite conference, author Mike Staver shared how veterinary professionals can make incremental changes that result in transformative leadership.

As 2021 comes to a close, veterinary leaders across the industry are coming together to discuss the trials they faced and the lessons they learned. This year, veterinary professionals’ shared hardships produced some of the most profound revelations the profession has ever seen. Many of these revelations were discussed at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital’s 2021 Leadership Conference: Unite.

The keynote speech was given by Mike Staver, author of Leadership Isn't For Cowards: How to Drive Performance by Challenging People and Confronting Problems, in which he discussed good vs bad leadership. He contended that most leaders have great intentions but produce little or poor results. To close the gap between intention and results is incredibly difficult; however, incremental shifts in how one executes their efficiencies can have monumental impacts. For those in veterinary medicine, this could mean improving medical quality standards, enhancing career pathing systems, or creating better day-to-day workflows.

Staver went on to note that leaders must also tie their company’s purpose back to stories that “compel, not push.” It is human nature to shift blame and point to the many obstacles life continuously produces. The blame-shifting strategies of “We have no time” or “That is not my job” may sound all too familiar to many leaders. Staver argues that when leaders shift the storyline to one that resonates with the values of their employees, it becomes easier to accept the inescapable realities of life, and they will in turn feel compelled to do their best work. Shaver ended this thought by asserting that everyone should “acknowledge the presence of these limitations but deny them their powers.” By doing so, people are able to move through them without allowing them to become a hinderance to their workflows or relationships, which enables clinicians to practice best medicine and produce the best outcomes for their patients.

Discomfort

Discomfort is the pathway to doing something better or more efficient. Shaver gave the example of a child functioning with an adult brain. As all new walkers experience, children fall, scrape their knees, and then proceed to brush themselves off and try again, giving no thought to the possibility of defeat. However, Shaver says the child with an adult would choose a different path. Rather than brushing off their knees and trying again, they would say to themselves, “Walking just isn’t for me. I think I’ll be a crawler.” They would happily accept defeat. Shaver says this is the plague of adulthood: Adult thoughts are narrow and harmfully self-defeating. Yet if one can move past these thoughts, and embrace discomfort, there is much to be gained.

Although one should not necessarily go searching for discomfort, Shaver says it is important to remember that the biggest fish are often in the roughest waters. Once one is in those waters, the challenge is no longer to get in, but rather to get through. Everyone resists change but never resists progress. Progression takes discomfort and courage to sail in uncertain seas. Shaver encourages everyone to be uncomfortable long enough to get to the other side. For those in veterinary health, the hope is that the other side is on the horizon.

Return on investment

For most, return on investment is thought of in the sense of a financial measurement, but energy is in fact the greatest return—especially when it comes to staff. Energy is the only renewable psychological resource that cannot be refilled without intentional, collective work from leadership. Shaver left the audience with a few simple tips on how everyone can lead with intention and drive results to live more purposefully and encourage others to do the same:

  • Accept the circumstances as they are—Do not make things better than they are and do not make them worse. Have the courage to face reality.
  • Take responsibility—Create a culture of repair and avoid blame and punishment.
  • Take action—Do something and do it today.
  • Acknowledge progress—Create a culture of celebration and focus on incremental progress and success.
  • Commit—Commit to regular and relentless gratitude.
  • Kindle influence—Kindling influence means to give new life to it. Carefully consider how to build and nurture influence.

The conference touched on many important topics, highlighting paths forward and the ways in which veterinary professionals can take action in their individual practices. On the final day, associates were called upon to create their own action plans for the 2022 year. To begin this journey, they were first asked to look inward and assess themselves by taking an Accountability Report Card. Looking forward to the new year, answering these 4 accountability questions of oneself can set the stage to drive progress.

  1. Are you fostering an inspiring workplace despite the pressures you have daily?
  2. Do you exemplify an “own it” mentality by taking responsibility for your actions?
  3. Do you appreciate and thank people who are excelling at being a team player and exhibit accountability?
  4. Do you set actionable goals and follow through?

The answers to these questions are designed to nudge leaders toward making incremental shifts in their organizations. Remember: The most incremental shifts can lead to some of the dramatic changes.

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