Top tips for team management - what you don't learn at vet school!

Two vet colleagues at work

Most vets running practices are good clinicians….few are good managers. Is this a fair statement? Is this how you feel yourself?

Over the last 4 years, I have worked with hundreds of vets (literally) who have attended leadership/management training courses I have been running. Nearly all report that when they eventually find themselves in senior roles at some point in their career, and they have to lead teams and manage people, they are expected to deliver great results with little or no training on how to do this. Nearly all their CPD has been clinically focused.

How do you combine the two roles of clinician and leader effectively?

My observation is that people within the veterinary profession often work long hours and talk about experiencing high levels of stress. So how can the additional responsibilities of leadership also be met without simply having to work harder or stay longer? Here are my top tips...

Embrace it or don’t do it!

Reluctant leaders are grumpy leaders, so embrace it… and even learn to love it!

If you are the practice owner, practice principle or clinical director, then the role comes with responsibilities towards your employees, not just patients and clients. Some of the best leaders in the vet industry accept that they will need to put aside time for staff issues and business issues. They acknowledge that they need to work ‘on’ the business as well as ‘in’ the business. They consider time with staff communicating, coaching, motivating and listening essential to practice performance, so integrate it into working life.

Hire good people

Surround yourself with people who can help you manage and lead. Be brave enough to recruit people better than yourself in terms of interpersonal skills. A great practice manager is worth their weight in gold. Delegate responsibility to other people in your team. If the reception area needs improving, ask the head/senior receptionist to make that happen. Share some of the management tasks amongst your senior vets.

See the point of good leadership

Without strong leadership your practice is unlikely to grow and flourish. However competent your team is, everyone needs direction, focus and energy from the leader. Good leaders make the link between a healthy bottom line and team morale.

Redefine what success looks like for you

Up until now you have based your assessment of yourself on your clinical expertise. Start measuring your success in other areas as well. For example recognising your achievement of setting up and implementing an appraisal and review process, holding regular meetings where staff can exchange ideas and share good practice, seeing your achievement around managing change. Measure your success in terms of team wellbeing and motivation.

Access development opportunities that focus on leadership/people development

There are lots of good training programmes out there that focus on the leadership aspect of your role. Book yourself on. Ideally pick courses that are practically based where the trainer at least has an appreciation of your industry. Look out for training courses that are interactive with techniques that are simple to apply and time efficient.

Be disciplined with your time

However informal your leadership style is, there is real benefit to scheduling specific time to deal with management issues or to catch up with staff. If your diary is completely full with clinical appointments, then you will have no time to carry out the essential people duties. Trust me when I say, your team will not appreciate you for that.

And finally… stop being a perfectionist!

What people love in a leader is authenticity, not perfection. You don’t always have to know the answer, or know the solution. Ask for help, admit you are not sure sometimes and watch how your team rally around you. 

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