Behind every great veterinary practice is a strong leader. A strong leader is someone who every staff member respects and looks to for their guidance and support.
Although every leader has their own unique approach and strengths, there are some core characteristics that can take anyone’s leadership to the next level.
Being a good leader, especially in vet care, means being open-minded and dedicated to creating a warm, uplifting culture in your practice.
With so much on your plate, it’s only human to get overwhelmed and sometimes miss the mark. We all make mistakes, but leaders know how to turn their setbacks into opportunities and grow from their life lessons.
From fatigue and burnout to budget problems and staff shortages, there are plenty of challenges you face that can make being a leader feel like the greatest burden of all at times. But don’t worry; you’re here for a reason, and you have what it takes to overcome anything you face.
In this post, we’ll be taking a closer look at seven characteristics of great veterinary practice leaders. In each trait, we’ll highlight why it’s important, the role it plays in vet clinic leadership, and how you can start cultivating it today.
Visionaries see beyond the day-to-day of their practice. They know that behind every struggle there is a higher purpose for their work. They guide their team toward success by always keeping their eyes on the prize. But truly great visionaries also know how to balance their goals for the future with the pressing needs of the present.
Having a shared vision for your team and practice can help everyone feel united. This fosters a sense of camaraderie, encourages support, and lets people know that their contributions make a difference each day.
From the front-desk receptionist to your team of techs, there is a reason for everyone’s role in your practice.
To think more like a visionary, consider the overall feeling you wish to deliver as a veterinary practice. Do you strive for efficiency, compassionate care, or education?
There will likely be a combination of values at heart you can build your vision around. And since this looks different for everyone, there is no right or wrong.
If you don’t already, consider implementing regular team meetings where everyone talks about the practice’s vision. After all, their voices are just as valuable and important as yours when it comes to making your practice the best it can be.
Mindfulness helps leaders maintain their composure, stay in the present, and always operate from the here-and-now. With veterinarians’ mental health being some of the most challenged out of any field, it’s crucial to be mindful and aware of your emotions at any time.
Being mindful allows you to take things as they come and avoid getting sucked into any stressful spirals or unhelpful thinking patterns that may stunt your practice’s growth.
As a mindful leader, you can learn to take things at face-value, work toward solutions with your team, and become more flexible to whatever comes your way.
Being more mindful can start by adopting a 5-minute daily practice. In a quiet space, sit still and focus on your body. Scan every body part, from the top of your head to your toes, and allow thoughts to freely enter and leave your mind without judgment.
You can also try mindful breathing — using the breath to control your emotional reactions and bring you back to the present moment.
By becoming more mindful, you also become more patient, tolerant and most importantly, empathetic. This can help you be more supportive and understanding of patients and staff during stressful situations.
Everyone should have their own place in your practice. Being a strong leader means knowing how to effectively hire and delegate assignments throughout your team.
If you run a small practice, you may be able to handle this alone, but running the show solo can be a challenge for larger clinics. In that case, consider hiring a dedicated office manager or administrator who can collaborate with you.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell people what they need to do. Their jobs have a purpose, and it’s the tasks you assign that will shape that meaning for them.
Some veterinary practice owners may hesitate to delegate for fear of “bossing” their staff around. However, when framed positively, having a clear vision and tasks for every person really boosts morale and delivers direction.
4. Good Listener
No one knows it all, even if you’re the one in charge. Part of being a strong veterinary practice leader is valuing others’ input. Practice listening to your staff and patients in a mindful way. Rather than focusing on your response, focus on what they’re sharing in the moment.
A helpful strategy for listening as a leader is to paraphrase what someone has just said. So, after they speak, take a brief pause, and summarize what you heard. This fosters trust, understanding, and demonstrates you genuinely care about what they’re saying.
Good listeners are less likely to become offended by negative feedback or get caught up in their own emotions. For example, instead of jumping to the defense when a staff member questions something, listen openly and consider their viewpoint.
Being a leader may place the greatest responsibility on your shoulders, but you don’t have to do everything alone. Instead, collaborating with your team lowers your own stress and makes running your practice both easier and more enjoyable.
Leaders who know how to collaborate well are able to include their team in decisions. While you may come up with the initial ideas and plans, you present them in an open-ended way that invites questions.
Discussions foster intimacy and teamwork. Rather than feeling as though they have no choice but to comply, your team will feel like they are all an important, valued member of your practice.
Being more collaborative doesn’t have to mean letting others run the show. Instead, you choose to ask for feedback. It can be as simple as saying, “I’ve been thinking we should try doing things a new way. I’ll share my idea, and I’d love to hear your feedback on it.”
6. Role model
It may feel like a lot of pressure to call yourself a role model, but that’s what leaders are. Being the leader of a veterinary practice makes you the one everyone looks to for guidance.
Your actions, views, and attitude directly impact everything from staff satisfaction to the quality of patient care.
Being a role model doesn’t mean you have zero flaws or never make mistakes. Instead, it means you openly take accountability, adopt a positive mindset, and strive to always be the best version of yourself.
Role models are always learning. Their own commitment to growth helps others feel more comfortable with their natural imperfections.
In order to be a good role model, you should frequently practice introspection. Being self-aware helps you identify areas you’d like to improve as well as strengths you can continue to rely on.
How do you handle conflict or toxicity in your practice? Whether it’s difficult pet owners or conflict between staff members, you must be responsive to everyone’s needs. Avoiding conflict only causes it to fester, so it’s best to acknowledge problems as they arise.
Part of building a strong practice culture is demonstrating your responsiveness to others’ needs. If you want to embody the values of respect and honesty, you must be willing to demonstrate them during difficult situations.
Responsivity also helps others trust in your leadership abilities more. They know that they can come to you with anything because you’ll be eager to hear them out. A responsive leader encourages dialogue, cooperation, and thoughtful resolution.
By being more responsive, you’ll tune into others’ needs and ask questions that help you regularly improve your practice.
Think of questions such as:
- What struggles do people face that I can help them overcome?
- What makes people the happiest about working for or visiting our practice?
- How can we work toward building the most open and inclusive space?
- What values could I practice that would benefit the practice?
Finding Your Identity as a Leader
By focusing on cultivating these characteristics, you’ll naturally find the best way to express them in your practice. Being a good leader means being open to change and growth. You can also work on integrating these qualities into your practice’s culture.
A strong culture ultimately reflects you as a leader. It’s your opportunity to put forth all of your strengths and create an environment that uplifts and inspires everyone on your team.
Be sure not to put too much pressure on yourself to get everything right overnight. Your veterinary practice’s culture is an ongoing story; your leadership is also something that will evolve with time and experience.
Every day presents a new opportunity for you to improve. With an open mind, you’ll be more likely to see new chances to grow as a leader.