Leading Upwards

Do you feel trapped in practice with little control over your working environment?  Are your ideas and vision for the practice ignored or sidelined by the practice leaders?  This great blog by Caroline Pearson contains some practical tips to help this all-too-common situation in practice.



“I’m here, I’m ready, why don’t you want me? Leading Up.

I still remember my first day in practice. Excitement, fear, uncertainty and anxiety flowed through my veins. Was I ready? Had a summer of travelling deleted my clinical knowledge? Would clients be able to sense my inexperience? If they didn’t, I was pretty sure the pets would. Help!!

At 7.30pm, I wandered the 300m back to my first practice house, exhausted but relieved. Yes, it had been stressful. Yes, it had been a huge learning curve. Yes, the computer system was a nightmare. Nonetheless, I had somehow got through it, even enjoyed it. How?

Well, the nurses had demonstrated extraordinary patience and kindness. No-one scowled when I blew the vein or took a little longer to spay a cat. They gently and tactfully prompted me during procedures and consultations. When I opened the consult room door to go to the pharmacy to make up prescriptions, they were already there completing the task. They conducted their jobs with professionalism, but, more than that, they went out of their way to help me to do the same.

It wasn’t just the nurses. My boss blocked out his evening appointments so that he would be available to advise me, should I need a sounding board. He encouraged me to think before asking and treated my mistakes as ways to learn.

The perfect job? This practice had many genuinely fantastic people. However, despite the committed staff, despite the demonstrations of individual potential, many became frustrated and left. After two years, I joined them.

Chatting to countless friends over the years, it isn’t a unique story. Some of us, vets and nurses, enter the profession full of hope and enthusiasm to find, five years on, the story has changed. We become tired, possibly stressed, frustrated by a lack of career progression and struggle to envisage what the long run holds. We have tried to make suggestions for improvement and offered to help with implementation, but our ideas are rejected or left unactioned. Why?

Well, unfortunately if there was a simple answer it would have been dealt with years ago. Each practice will differ. However, here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Are you very clear about what the organisational purpose is? Has it been clearly communicated and discussed? This isn’t just the mission/vision of the business but: how they wish to be perceived by and treat clients and staff; the ethical standing; the view on Social Responsibility; their staff development policy and much more.  As a staff member, suggestions which are unaligned to the overall purpose, may be rejected. If you aren’t certain, the first step is to ask.
  • Have you spent time understanding your purpose? If you’re like me, you may have studied and played your way through university with the rose-tinted spectacles view of “When I graduate, I’ll have made it. I will work hard and be a success.” No-one encouraged me to sit down and think about what I really wanted from my life and why? What did success mean? If you haven’t done this, then constantly chasing goals without knowing yourself, could be counterproductive. I started to really give this some thought 10years post-graduation and shocked myself looking back at some of the choices/decisions I had made. Coaching can prove an invaluable tool to help you question and remain accountable.
  • Do you know how others perceive you? How do you relate to colleagues and why? Have you considered your thoughts/opinions from other perspectives? Just because you voice an opinion, and it may be from best intention, doesn’t mean everyone will view it in the same way. Understanding context, different personalities, different generations and different individual purposes within a business is important. Change can be a concern for people and induce anxiety.
  • Do you appreciate the position the business leaders are in? During a research study I conducted recently, senior vets discussed their hectic schedules. Some admitted to feeling under pressure, wrung out, close to breakdown. They loved their clinical work and were passionate about making a difference. They valued their staff. However, they also felt a responsibility to maintain control and were reluctant to loosen their hold on their businesses and delegate.

There are still many accidental leaders in veterinary practice. That is, they may be fantastic vets, but they have gained additional responsibilities for which they are less well prepared. Yes, in theory, you could make their role less stressful by taking on more responsibility, but you can understand their barriers of concern, fear or even lack of time or experience to instigate. Again, leader personality will play a big role here.

I agree, there is a wealth of potential among vets, nurses and lay staff which is being underutilised. If we embrace the potential, we would benefit from diversity of opinion, more engaged staff, more accountable businesses and, hopefully, leaders who feel supported, rather than wrung out. However, diving in head first may not be the best way to proceed (it took me several dives to realise this!) There are no overnight solutions.

This is one reason I, and collaborative partners, are working with businesses in context to first understand and then train to equip with practical skills (business and social) to enact a sustainable change.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to respond or contact me directly at caroline@progressivevetconsulting.com.”