Which type of leader are you?

The ultimate type of leader might be one who can seamlessly switch from one style to the other, depending on the circumstances

Determining your leadership style can shape your team in the clinic. Don't be afraid to adjust your style as needed for different situations.
Determining your leadership style can shape your team in the clinic. Don’t be afraid to adjust your style as needed for different situations.

You are in charge of choosing new management software for your practice. What do you do?

1) You seek the opinion of every person in the building.

2) You study five options and made a final decision within the week.

3) You avoid making the difficult decision and postpone it until next year.

4) You delegate the decision and let the team decide.

The answer depends on your leadership style. Which type are you?


Authoritative leadership is a “Do as I say” or “My way or the highway” type of direction. Whereas such leaders are controlling, there are scenarios where this type of leadership is ideal, such as in emergency situations where you need someone to step up and give out orders. Conversely, a commanding leader may not get along with everyone and may be seen as the boss more than a friend to some people.


Visionary leaders are all about team spirit. Instead of saying, “Do what I say,” they say, “Do as I do” or “Follow me.” They rally the troops behind a new idea or updated process to implement. They drive the whole team forward with new concepts and new ways of practicing. Their goal is more about the bigger picture and less about day-to-day minutia.

Visionary leaders can set the bar too high and begin to stress their team members out. They might expect everyone to constantly operate on the same high level as they do.


Democratic leaders want to include everyone in decisions. They ask, “What do you think?” to reach a consensus. They lean heavily on team members’ opinions. It can be a disadvantage when difficult decisions need to be made. For example, it could take years to choose a new software system. Team members are likely to feel like an important part of the practice, but the democratic leader may seem wishy-washy when the stakes are high.


Coaching leadership fosters an environment of learning and mentorship. Such leaders see the potential in people and do their best to bring out their talent and develop it. They commonly say: “You might want to consider doing it this way.” They thrive in helping all team members feel welcome and find their place in the practice. However, for those who don’t share the same mindset, it can become draining and tedious.


Friendly leaders focus on supporting the emotional needs of team members. They want everyone to feel like they’re part of the family. People come first. They foster strong relationships and a healthy culture between team members. They excel at resolving conflict.

However, some leaders can be too friendly—they can cross boundaries or they may allow employees to get away with mistakes. They can become too personal and make some situations uncomfortable.


A laissez-faire leadership style is very laid-back and carefree. Such leaders let the team run itself. They allow people to find solutions to their own problems. This may work with a team of strong, independent, self-motivated team members, but may fall short with a young crew that needs mentorship, feedback, and constructive criticism.


Transactional leadership evaluates the performance of team members and applies punishment or reward depending on the situation. This encourages them to do their best to meet their goals.

This model may work in crisis situations, when the time and resources for completing a project are limited. It keeps team members motivated in the short-term. In the long-term, however, it can be stressful to be in constant fear of punishment for not achieving goals.


Transformational leadership worries less about achieving short-term goals and more about motivating team members to improve their future. Transformational leaders use their charisma and communication skills to promote empowerment, their vision, encouragement, excitement, and enthusiasm to motivate the troops.

Team members are presented with a mission that is tailored to their skills and training level. The mission is important both for their personal development and for the practice’s success. The reason is simple: A stronger employee becomes a great asset for the practice, leading it to success. Self-confidence and personal development are valued more than material rewards.


Servant leadership sounds like a contradictory expression at first. These leaders have a genuine desire to altruistically care for others. They want to help them reach their fullest potential. The team’s wants and needs are their highest priority.

Servant leadership flips the traditional pyramid around: The leader supports the whole team. Team members are led to grow, build trusting relationships, achieve bigger goals, recognize their full potential, and achieve a common purpose. Empowered team members perform better and treat clients like royalty, which improves the bottom line.

Servant leadership may seem like a sign of weakness, which can make it challenging to make tough decisions.


Strategic leadership is a blend of skill, behaviors, and perspectives. It’s a science as much as an art form. Strategic leaders take multiple inputs into consideration before making a decision, such as current trends, how to challenge the status quo, feedback from the team, short- and long-term repercussions, as well as how all stakeholders will be impacted.

Based on a 2015 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers among 6,000 senior executives, strategic leaders display the following personality traits:

  • “They can challenge the prevailing view without provoking outrage or cynicism.”
  • “They can act on the big and small pictures at the same time.”
  • “They change course if their chosen path turns out to be incorrect.”
  • “They lead … from a deeply held humility and respect for others.”

So which style is better? None! They all have their place, their benefits, and their disadvantages. Different situations call for different types of leadership. You don’t (or you probably shouldn’t) behave the same way when the building is on fire, when someone needs coaching, and when a group decision needs to be made.

There is no black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, one-size-fits-all leadership style that is ideal for every situation. Don’t be afraid to try on a new leadership hat. Getting used to each style takes time before it comes naturally.

Situations vary constantly at a veterinary practice. They can be urgent or not, important or not, mission-critical or not. The ultimate type of leader might be one who can seamlessly switch from one style to the other, depending on the circumstances.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author whose traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at DrPhilZeltzman.com. He also is cofounder of Veterinary Financial Summit, an online community and conference dedicated to personal and practice finance (vetfinancialsummit.com). Kat Christman, a certified veterinary technician in Effort, Pa., contributed to this article.

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