7 Habits of the Most Successful Veterinary Practice Leaders

A good leader is strong decision maker, and can persevere through difficult times.

Want to lead your practice to its full potential?  Successful veterinary practices don’t just happen. They develop over time under strong leadership. Here are 7 strong habits for leaders who want to build successful practices.

Habit No 1: Know your priorities and communicate them clearly.

People (i.e., your veterinary practice team) need a firm foundation, much like buildings need one. Without a “square” foundation, a building will never be stable. Priorities serve as a foundation for a business.

You, the leader, may know your general priorities, but those who follow you need to know what they are too.

If priorities are the blocks in the foundation, then clear communication is the cement that holds them together.

How to you clearly communicate your priorities?

Step No. 1 is to write down your list of priorities. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. The list will help make it official to you and your team.
  2. As you work together, you can point out times when your priorities made a difference.
  3. You can incorporate your priorities into your mission statement.

Once you have your written list of priorities, make them come alive. How do you that? Here are some examples:

  • Acknowledge when a team member exemplifies the mission statement.
  • Make decisions, both big and small, based on those priorities.
  • Be transparent so everyone can see that you are true to your values.

When in doubt, remember this quote from Will Yakowicz from Inc, "As the flu and various viruses spread around your office, you should know that illnesses aren't the only contagions. As a leader, your behavior is highly contagious.”

Habit No. 2: Demonstrate your commitment.

We’ve all learned the adage that clients won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

The same is true for the people we lead. Leadership has to be earned by actions. We may find that we spend more time with the people we work with than we do our own families. They soon learn who we really are as a person. Of course, no one is perfect, but it is critical for our actions to line up with our priorities.

Pennsylvania State University head football coach James Franklin expresses the value of commitment to core values in this video.

The video asks this question, “What are your core values and are you using them to improve the quality of your life and your work? Part of discovering what values exist at your core is looking back at the failures and triumphs of life to improve and ensure a successful future.”

Habit No. 3: Exercise your strengths.

The very nature of practicing veterinary medicine makes this a tough one. That’s because veterinarians are expected to know a lot about a lot of things. But, there are ways to focus on personal strengths. Here are a few:

  • Identify your most effective means of developing relationships of trust.
  • Identify your strongest areas of medical expertise.
  • Sharpen your natural abilities first, and then work on other areas.
  • Recognize and support strengths of those who work alongside you, especially when their strengths are where you are weaker.

Habit No. 4: Persevere through the rough times.

“Perseverance is a steady persistence in a course of action in “spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement,” writes the Motivation & Success website.

Perseverance may be the most important of all the habits of successful leaders. In fact, even if you lack in the other habits, with perseverance you will eventually succeed as a leader.

Difficulties, obstacles and yes, discouragement can show up frequently in a busy veterinary practice. That means the leader gets a lot of opportunities to be resourceful and feed a culture of optimism and confidence.

Habit No. 5: Be a strong decision maker.

Decisiveness is another habit that’s critical for leaders of successful practices.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Nick Tasler cites three primary sources of decisiveness:

  • Decisive by nature.
  • Decisive by training.
  • Decisive by incentive.

Here’s a quick story about that third one. When my son played on his first basketball team as a second grader, he failed to score in the first two games even though he was taller than anyone else on the court. Knowing he was lacking confidence, I pledged to pay him a dollar for every point he scored. That cost me several dollars as he scored and scored during the following games.

Leadership qualities

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What does it take to be a great leader? Knowing your priorities and implementing them.

Habit No. 6: Learn from failures.

Failure is going to happen to every leader. It can show up in numberless ways. But, the important thing is going to always be how a leader reacts to failure. Those you lead will be watching closely. Build on the situation by:

  • Taking ownership of your mistake.
  • Express what you’ve learned from the experience.
  • Point out ways your team can benefit from what was learned.

Habit No. 7:  Make your own health priority No. 1.

The first few times I heard pre-flight instructions on a commercial airline, I was perplexed by the advice to apply an oxygen mask to myself before helping the person next to me.  But, after some thought, the reasoning became clear.

The same principle applies to leadership. A strong leader needs to be healthy in order to help those they lead.

Veterinarians tend to get lost in busy-ness and become slack in tending to physical and mental health issues.

Every now and then my business partner would ask, “Is something bothering you, doc?” Of course, my answer would be, “Well, no, not really. Why do you ask?”

The truth was, I now realize, burnout was taking a toll on my attitude. It’s funny how everyone else notices the changes before we do. If there’s burnout in the leadership, there’ll be struggles in the rest of the practice.

What I needed was time to refresh myself. I needed time to correct bad habits like not getting enough sleep and failing to exercise intentionally. I even needed to get my eating habits back on a healthy course.

As New York Times bestseller, Gretchen Rubin says in an interview with Business Insider, “The top two reasons for people to be in bad moods at work? Tight work deadlines and lack of sleep.”

Strong leaders take responsibility for their own physical and mental health. They are willing to pay the cost, which boils down to time outside the practice, doing any of the following:

  • Quality time with family
  • Regular physical exercise
  • Socializing with people outside the profession
  • Periodic reviews of progress toward goals and aspirations

Then leaders can provide the support everyone else needs for operating a successful practice.

Whether you decide to incorporate any or all of these 7 habits of the most successful practice leaders, the point is to take action and be intentional.

Days, weeks, months and years pass by quickly. The sooner leaders take steps to improve their leadership skills, the more everyone will benefit.

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