When the hospital owner undermines your leadership

FirstlineFirstline March/April 2020
Volume 16
Issue 2

If the hospital owner constantly discredits the guidance you provide to your veterinary team, having that uncomfortable conversation with him or her about how their behavior makes you feel could help set things straight.


Many practice managers and team leads have experienced the frustration of a hospital owner not supporting their initiatives and vision. It can be aggravating and belittling to say the least.

My personal experience involved a hospital owner who would completely disregard my guidance to direct reports, even contradicting company policy. This type of behavior can create an environment of confused employees and disgruntled managers. For me personally, it damaged trust between me and my direct reports.

In an organization with multiple owners and one overly controlling one, the lack of consistency across the organization can also create equity issues. For example, if you allow employees in one part of the hospital to leave early and not abide by their shift schedule, but not others, this creates a lack of fairness among groups. Some employees may feel they can't continue in their positions due to scheduling and personal demands, but others are allowed that flexibility and can keep their positions. Legal issues can arise out of this inconsistent favoritism.

How to have that difficult conversation

So what do you when you're stuck between an immovable rock of an owner and a hard place of employee frustration? First off, if all else is going well with your position, consider talking directly with the owner. They may be surprised to hear of the negative effects of their behaviors, including how you feel belittled.

When I started this conversation, I began by explaining that I was entrusted with this position and responsibility because of my experience and personal capability to do so. That trust should extend into my day-to-day work to allow me to be as effective as possible and to allow the owners to focus on their responsibilities and the bigger picture of the organization's success.

Through these conversations, I found out the owner was uncomfortable stepping away from these daily operational concerns-he always wanted to be in control. Does this mean you give up control in your position to accommodate this? No. Quite simply, I involved him in any conversations that had to do with his direct team. I did so to create transparency in the discussions for our veterinary support staff and managers as well as to make him feel that he had a voice. If I felt strongly about a certain decision, I would usually take the approach of trying to explain what was in it for him. If you can find an angle to benefit this kind of owner, they'll likely jump onto the bandwagon.

Change the way you see yourself

Over time, I made sure his constant rebuttals to my decisions didn't hurt my own self-worth and the view of myself as a leader. It's easy to get caught up in the negativity and frustration of someone going against your well-thought-out advice, but it usually doesn't impact all aspects of your job. I  put less of my sense of personal success on the items that he tended to fight me on-scheduling in particular-and more on other elements of my job, such as learning and development projects and employee relations. I reminded myself that I had positive, strong relationships with pretty much every other employee and leader in the organization, so I didn't need to fret over every interaction with this one person.

Part of surviving an undermining owner or boss is focusing on ways to fulfill yourself in your own career. Try to look at the bigger picture. You're likely not going to stay at this one hospital your entire career. Think about where you want to be in the next five to 10 years. What steps do you need to get yourself there? Often, when you step away and remind yourself that dealing with these petty behaviors is not the most important thing on your professional plate, it will be easier to keep these issues from overwhelming your job, your workday and your state of mind.

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

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