Assessing your veterinary practice’s leadership

Do you have the characteristics of a leader?

Alongside the importance of your expertise in veterinary medicine is your ability to lead and manage a well-run business.

I was recently reviewing Karen Parker’s book “A Practical Guide to Performance Appraisals,” which is about performance appraisals for veterinary practice employees. I got to thinking about the issue of assessing the leadership and, in fact, the whole business. Do you ever ask if your practice is bright with promise? Or, is it dull with monotony?

Since the health of any business is dependent upon good leadership, it’s helpful to take the pulse of the leadership. That is the subject of this column.  In the future, we will look at assessing other aspects of the business.

Regarding the leadership, at times it is important for the owners to have an assessment of how the leaders are doing. Sometimes leaders themselves recognize that they can do better and want feedback from colleagues and subordinates. For either reason, it’s important to assess your leadership.

What is Leadership?

Before you delve into assessing your leadership, however, take time to define leadership — as distinguished from management. Simply put, leadership has to do with doing the “right things” (e.g., vision, direction, risk-taking, motivating followers), while management has to do with “doing it right” (e.g., planning, accomplishing objectives, supervising subordinates). You’ll also need to clarify what you want to assess. The leadership characteristics or behaviors to assess might be the same or different from those you would assess of team members. To focus on leadership, as opposed to management skills, consider the following:

  • Character issues: fortitude (strength in facing difficulty), self-discipline, wisdom to make the right choices, honesty, trustworthiness, integrity,
  • Interpersonal skills: civility, caring empathy, listening
  • Writing skills
  • Attitude toward change: creative, innovative, flexible, resilient, visionary, strategic
  • People skills: appreciation of diversity, team building, developing employees, managing tension or conflict
  • Results orientation: accountable, decisive, motivated, credible.
  • Collaborative: partnering, ability to negotiate, effective in influencing

How do you Assess Leadership?

There are a number of ways to assess your leadership. I was intrigued to learn about the “report card” process that Michael Linardi, a veterinary consultant in Easton, Md., developed to enable employees to provide confidential feedback. He told me that he was working with a practice that has four owners who needed to get on the same page regarding the core values, vision, procedures and communication styles and strategies. To get the input they needed, he designed a “report card” that team members can complete and put into a box, at any time.

Team members can write, “[So-and-so] was disrespectful. She did not return my call.” Or  “I appreciate her taking time to answer my questions,” or “He is insulting to me and thinks my complaints are a joke.”  Linardi collects and summarizes the submissions each month and graphs the results.  He said, “I admit that it is not a statistically correct assessment, but it has provided useful feedback for the owners.”  He gathers the leaders together regularly for owners’ meetings and finds that they are more engaged. This is a system that can work when there is commitment from owners.

If assessing leadership is not initiated by the leaders themselves or by the owners, you may want to find out if there is a problem with your leadership. You could have an outside person interview your employees or ask for anonymous responses to a simple question, such as “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank the leadership here?”

Leaders can profit from others’ input, but they might also benefit from their own self-assessment.  If they can honestly answer these three questions, they can learn a lot — and/or may decide to seek more input from other means.

  1. How do people respond to me? Do I have power and influence?
  2. Have I made an impact on my organization(s)? That is, have I been offered increased opportunities or responsibilities? Am I effective in developing others?
  3. What have been the results of my efforts? Has my vision been implemented?

Another way to assess your practice’s leadership is by using a 360-performance appraisal  — sometimes referred to as a multi-rater performance review. It enables team members, and even clients, to provide input. Sometimes people at the bottom of the vertical organizational level see leadership quite differently from those at the top. This type of review can provide you with useful perspectives from multiple directions, assuming, of course, that the appraisers have substantial opportunities to observe the subject and understand the measures.  Given this, there is greater credibility with the multi-rater review because the appraisal would not be overly influenced by a single person’s perspective.  The leader is also less likely to discredit information that has come collectively from a variety of sources.

Is Your Practice Bright With Promise?

So much depends on your practice’s leadership, and these tools and strategies can help you.  Don’t stop there, however.  In a future column, we will discuss the importance of other kinds of assessment that give you feedback on your entire practice operation.

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