If you’ve been to a meeting lately you know that veterinary medicine is focused on leadership these days. From the AVMA’s Veterinary Leadership Conference to the Penn-Wharton leadership program to the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, we’re all pursing future leaders for the profession. As the Boomers – that hyper-committed and mostly male cohort – begin to step back, there’s been a near panic about identifying people to replace them as private practice owners, in organized veterinary medicine and in academic positions as deans or department chairs.
The concerns aren’t unwarranted: the profession today is very different from the one I joined when I graduated. The majority of the profession is female and getting more so every year. Millennials are entering the workforce with values and goals that are distinctly different from earlier generations of veterinarians, and the pathways to and the rewards that flow from leadership positions just aren’t as attractive to them as to their elders.
All of this important, and we’re working hard on it but, lately, I’ve been thinking more about the problem in a more mundane way that I see as leadership with a small “L”.
Veterinarians spend a lot of time worrying over the respect we deserve and don’t get and less on what we do with the tremendous respect we do get. In clinical practice settings, veterinarians don’t have to be the practice owner to step up and lead in ways that make a difference.
Every veterinarian is a leader – or can be – because the people we work with see us as leaders. We’re smart and educated and, when we fail to step up, co-workers notice. Practice culture doesn’t just flow down from the top, it oozes out from everywhere in the organization. Client service expectations are set by the folks who are most respected, and use that respect to set the standards for the people around them. Doctors who roll their eyes when clients express their anxiety, get angry at emergencies that encroach on lunchtime or show their exasperation when a client has to negotiate a fee they can’t manage on their budget, they send a message about how their support staff should think and act.
In practical terms that means speaking up when you see something going wrong and taking charge to see it put right, not waiting to report it to the practice manager or – worse – ignoring the situation. Everyday leadership matters because it means living the culture you want to see exist in your organization, one in which you want to participate.
And, who knows? When you step up into leadership in small ways you’re preparing yourself, someday, to step up into leadership with a capital “L” and making the profession better for everybody.