Management is a tough job. It requires wearing several hats, displaying multiple talents, and constantly learning new skills. A great way to learn is by making all the mistakes in the book, although it may be wiser to learn from other managers’ fumbles. Here are eight common mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
Having too much on your plate and being unable to complete tasks is an example of a bottleneck. The most efficient way to relieve a bottleneck is to hire competent people to delegate to. In other words, assign the tasks that don’t absolutely, positively need to be done by you. This way, they will still get done and you can do your job to its fullest. Trust your team’s ability to complete these tasks.
Veterinarians who insist on drawing blood, intubating patients, or ordering supplies themselves are a typical bottleneck to a smooth workflow. Instead, hire or train competent nurses who have the ability to perform these tasks, and spend your time doing what only you can do: writing up medical records, making (some) phone calls or—here’s an amazing concept—eating lunch. This is one task that is impossible to delegate.
Poor listeners make poor managers. Nothing is more frustrating than to share a concern or complaint from a client or coworker with a manager who doesn’t listen to you. Having good listening skills is more than simply hearing another person’s words. Practice active listening skills: pay attention, make eye contact, don’t interrupt, ask questions, follow the direction of the conversation, and visualize what is being said.
To make sure those around you feel like you are truly listening to them, make it a habit to take in what they said, paraphrase it, and repeat it back to them in your own words. The idea is to confirm you truly understand their point of view and what they hope to achieve.
Not accepting responsibility is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a manager. When a problem arises, pointing fingers and playing the blame game definitely gets you nowhere. It’s time to own your mistake or that of your team.
Just because you didn’t necessarily commit the action yourself (i.e. you are not guilty) doesn’t mean you are not responsible. This important concept was recently popularized in the bestselling book, Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
If a member of your team messes up, they were under your watch or direction (or lack thereof), and therefore the blame is yours to share. If they didn’t understand what they were supposed to do, or were left without instructions on how to properly complete a task, you are the one to blame. If they didn’t have the proper equipment or resources or knowledge, then you’ve failed in providing that to them.
Being a good manager means taking full responsibility for your team’s shortcomings.
On the flip side of the coin, when a goal has been reached by your team, share the success with everyone, rather than taking all the credit. If a financial target was met, celebrate as a group. If a monthly contest was successful, share the reward that was promised (e.g. a pizza party or a group activity). Acknowledge, in public or in private depending on the situation, the key actions of specific team members.
Resistance to change can be a crippling characteristic for a manager. The veterinary industry is always evolving—management concepts change and team members come and go. If you put your head in the sand or dig your heels in, you will quickly lose favor with those trying to bring about change.
It doesn’t mean you have to support or go along with everything that is brought to you, but it does mean you should be open-minded and flexible to give new ideas a try. Some will work out, some won’t. Being unwilling to try due to a fear of change will stifle you and your team.
Change is necessary to grow, learn, and get better at what we do.
Delivering feedback is an art form. Harsh feedback can hurt feelings and destroy relationships.
Instead of a way to correct bad behavior, see it as a way to provide helpful, kind, empathetic, nurturing, thoughtful, and productive guidance.
Sure, it’s easier said than done. After all, bad behavior or seemingly obvious mistakes can be infuriating. Yet, the teammate you are trying to counsel may be unaware of the behavior you are trying to improve. A great manager will find a way to turn a weakness into a strength.
No one likes overbearing, nosy micromanagers. They create anxiety and imply a lack of confidence in the team. They also stifle creativity and motivation. In contrast, being too hands off can be problematic as well. Being a good manager means finding a delicate balance between giving team members time and space to work, while providing clear guidance and deadlines. Regular check-ins ensure everyone is on the same page and your protégé continues to grow.
Similarly, there is a fine line between friendly and too friendly. Being a pleasant, approachable manager is an important goal, yet make sure you aren’t being overly friendly. Your team needs to be aware of clear boundaries between being the head honcho and being best friends. This doesn’t mean you can’t socialize and be friendly. It does mean you are professionals who can’t be personal friends.
It is important employees know they cannot use your “friendship” to bend the rules (e.g. not being in on time) or to get special favors (e.g. not working less desirable shifts). Difficult decisions will need to be made.
At the end of the day, when you are the manager or supervisor, you need to make challenging decisions based on ultimate customer service, outstanding patient care, your team’s well-being, and the good of your business.
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com and www.VeterinariansInParadise.com.
Kat Christman, a certified veterinary technician in Effort, Pa., contributed to this article.