Discovering the nine Cs of leadership

It’s easy to talk theory, but challenging to lead when your world comes tumbling down

By recognizing the nine Cs of leadership, you can spot a good leader or identify what a leader lacks. Photo ©BigStockPhoto.comMore than 12 years ago, Lee Iacocca wrote a controversial and political book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? with the first chapter focusing on his nine Cs of leadership. They apply to the veterinary industry at least as much as the automotive industry.

By recognizing the nine Cs, described below, you can spot a good leader or identify what a leader lacks. You can also work on yourself to improve your own leadership skills.

1) Curiosity

Great leaders are curious. In our field, the only constant is change. Curiosity is what drives leaders to change with the times. It leads them to become better and challenge their own beliefs. The quickest way to become irrelevant is to ignore new advancements in medicine, management strategies, and equipment.

Take advice from smart people, inside and outside of our profession. Read up on new clinical and management concepts. Attend CE because you want to, not because you have to. These habits are critical to becoming and remaining a strong leader.

2) Creativity

Great leaders are creative. There are days when all you do is put out fires. Fecal matter will hit the fan. Creativity is key for managing the chaos. You need to be willing to think outside the norm. Great leaders need to have a plan B. They also need to be ready for plan C, D, and sometimes E.

“Go out on a limb, be willing to try something different,” Iacocca said.

Sure, there is some risk involved. What you try may not work out. If you are willing to learn and adapt, there is no such thing as an unsolvable problem.

3) Communication

Great leaders are great communicators. It goes without saying they are brilliant at communicating… but maybe not how you might think.

Communication, according to Iacocca, is not just about fluffy, flattering, feel-good words flowing out of your mouth. It’s about being realistic, about telling the truth, no matter how difficult, and about describing the vision.

What are the challenges, the opportunities, and the resources? Don’t tell your teammates what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. Don’t avoid confrontation, or you risk losing your credibility.

4) Character

Great leaders have character. They know the difference between right and wrong. And they have the guts to do what’s right, even when it is the tougher road. No one will rally behind you for very long if you lack integrity. Great leaders do the right thing even when no one is holding them accountable. They do the right thing even when it’s unpopular or difficult.

5) Courage

Great leaders have courage. Doing the right thing takes courage. Buckets of it. You can’t have character without courage.

You won’t be able to stand up and do what’s right if fear dictates your actions. This goes beyond keeping up appearances. It requires follow through. If you promise what’s right, but do what’s wrong, you have failed your team.

Courage means standing tall, even when taking the less popular course of action.

6) Conviction

Great leaders have conviction. When you have passion, a fire in your belly, an internal driving force, you can be unstoppable. Obstacles cannot deter you from your goals. When you believe in something so fiercely, failure is not a deterrent, but a motivator.

When you are “all in,” your team can draw from your passion and will stand behind you, even when the going gets tough. You will find solutions to solve challenges. Setbacks will not prevent you from accomplishing your vision.

7) Charisma

Great leaders have charisma. This is not about being flashy or a professional schmoozer. It’s the ability to inspire team members to become better, to encourage them to follow you, to convince them to trust you. It’s the capacity to instill hope and belief in your vision.

8) Competence

Great leaders are competent. But credentials are not enough. You need to be a problem solver. You need to be reliable. You need experience. Even more importantly, you need to surround yourself with people who are competent–ideally more than you.

The types problems we need to solve can seem overwhelming:

  • How do we survive a pandemic, wild fires, a prolonged power outage?
  • How do we work around the never-ending backorders?
  • How do we survive when two key technicians are on maternity leave at the same time?
  • How do we handle two stray dogs hit by a car while copulating in the middle of the road, while we’re already behind in appointments? (This is a true story. The dogs recovered and were adopted together.)
  • How do we survive when a competitor—or two—hangs his shingle down the road?

9) Common sense

Great leaders have common sense. They are the perfect blend between book smarts and street smarts. Of course, brains are important, but they need to be coupled with common sense. Common sense is what creates the difference between giving your team unrealistic guidelines and guiding them with strong leadership.

If you a struggle with any of the Cs, there is hope. All can be improved if you’re curious. Stick to your convictions. Find your courage. Build your character. Soon, you will be on your way to creatively finding better ways to communicate. Your charisma will be noted by your tribe, and your competence and common sense will never cease to impress them.

Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It’s easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. It’s another challenge to lead when your world comes tumbling down. Embrace the nine Cs and be the leader you deserve to be.


These are not mentioned in the book, but there are several other important “C” traits that are required in a leader. Can you think of others that apply to you?

  • Compassion
  • Commitment
  • Confidence
  • Connection
  • Caring
  • Community
  • Courtesy
  • Competitive
  • Connectedness
  • Care–for others and for oneself

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur whose traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. He also is cofounder of Veterinary Financial Summit, an online community and conference dedicated to personal and practice finance ( A.J. Debiasse, a technician in Blairstown, N.J., contributed to this article.

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