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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

5 Steps to a Motivated Veterinary Team

I’m sure we’ve all had “that boss.”

Years ago I worked at a bowling alley. The general manager (and co-owner) was dedicated, hardworking, incredibly intelligent, and had a sharp sense of humor.

He was also unpredictable, easily angered, and a top notch a-hole when set off.

Often, he’d walk in and the entire mood would shift. And not just for the staff. Sometimes even the league bowlers felt it.

When he was at his best, nowhere was more fun to be.

When he was at his most sours – which happened more often than not – it felt miserable to be around.

He contaminated us.

Psychologists call this, “emotional contagion.”

Humans are built to "catch" the emotions of each other.

Quite literally, humans are built to “catch” the emotions of each other. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense.

Imagine a herd of antelope. Suddenly, one of them hears or sees something concerning. Their neck straightens and their ears shoot straight up in the air.

Quickly, without thinking, the same response spreads throughout the entire herd.

Or picture yourself sitting on a subway train when someone across the way gasps and stares, wide-eyed, at something next to you. You don’t think about it – your heart and respiration rates spike up and you leap out of the way, well before you figure out what was so scary beside you.

It works with positive emotions too.

Ever get caught up in someone’s genuine, almost uncontrollable laughter? Even if you have no idea what they are laughing at, you quickly begin to smile. Before you know it you’re chuckling, and then laughing out loud yourself.

Emotional contagion is a universal human phenomenon and it spreads like wildfire in the workplace. And the higher up you are on the workplace “food chain,” the more contagious you are.

Emotional contagion is a universal human phenomenon and it spreads like wildfire in the workplace.

And the higher up you are on the workplace “food chain,” the more contagious you are. Which can be troubling. It can also be an incredible opportunity for veterinary hospital owners, doctors, managers, and supervisors to build the workplace environment they want.

In the veterinary hospital, when “the boss” is infecting the team with counterproductive emotions, it’s a problem. And it’s one I see all too often.

Working in a veterinary setting comes with it’s own unique challenges and stressors. Adding in a sourpuss manager is a recipe for a disgruntled, bitchy team of veterinary professionals.

I’ve heard many managers, veterinarians, and owners complain about “staff drama.” It may sound harsh, but more often than not, the leaders complaining about the drama are actually at its source.

The higher up the leadership chain, the more contagious your moods, emotions, and behaviors are to those you hope to lead.

Which is also a wonderful opportunity to “infect” your teams with the right emotions and behaviors!

Of course, you first need to offer the right emotions and behaviors, and sometimes that’s really hard work. Leading in a veterinary hospital can be stressful!

So, here’s my 5-step plan for creating a positive leadership contagion:

1) Cultivate Your Wellbeing! Every veterinary professional is worthy of maximum wellbeing. For veterinary leaders, cultivating wellbeing should be as obligatory as any technical skill required of your role.

It’s up to you to identify the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical components you need to foster your own wellbeing. Then, develop a plan you can stick to for feeding those categories on a regular basis. And stick to it.

You are the most contagious person in your organization. That means you have the greatest responsibility to bring the right kind of emotions and behaviors to work.

2) Get Comfortable With Failure: That said, you are human. No one is in the “right” mood or acts the “right” way all the time. You will stumble. That one tech will finally annoy you past your capacity to “deal.” You’ll let slip how much you hate that client. You’ll get angry and snipe at someone.

That’s all OK. Accept it. Own it. Apologize when necessary.

And just as importantly, offer the same acceptance to others.

The goal here is not perfection. The goal is genuine growth and improvement. An ever increasing trajectory toward better wellbeing and leadership.

3) Stretch Yourself: “Fake it ‘till you make it” is a common mantra, but it doesn’t really apply here. I prefer, “stretch it ‘till you are it.” Our feelings and moods need not own us. But we also must honor their truth.

You couldn’t get your kids out of bed this morning to save your life. The coffee machine broke at home. On the way to work you hit every single red light, got cut off twice, and had to wait for the train. As you walk in you’re bombarded by thirteen questions before you even take off your coat. Finally, you open your email to find a tech has “emailed” in sick.

You cannot be expected to be all unicorns and rainbows here. However, it’s also your responsibility to not let it own you.

When you’re just “not in the mood,” challenge yourself to flex within your authentic zone to get as close to “the mood” as you can.

4) Model What You Want: If you see a behavior or attitude in your team you want to change, or perhaps there’s something you’d like to see from them they don’t currently do, it starts with you.

Identify a specific behavior or feeling you’d like to foster in them. Spend some time writing out, in as much detail as possible, what it would look like when they are bringing it to life. What will they be saying? What will they be doing? How will you know, for certain, it’s happening?

Another equally effective approach is to write out, in detail, what the ideal team member is like. I’m not talking about technical skills here – of course I expect every Certified Veterinary Technician to master venipuncture skills. I’m talking about what they will behave like. What will my ideal CVT behave like? What will I see them do, and hear them say, that will tell me they are contributing to the team environment I want to cultivate?

Look at your list and choose one or two things that resonate most with you.

Now, as a leader in the clinic, go do them yourself. Every. Single. Day.

The power of emotional and social contagion is that, as the leader, what you do, eventually they will to. So pick one or two things you know you can authentically bring to the workplace on a daily basis, and commit to doing it. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you’d like to see more teamwork. And for you, teamwork looks like jumping in to help someone do something that “isn’t your job.” Find some things in the hospital that happen regularly AND you are comfortable doing and start jumping in to help with those things, unasked, every day.

You do it, and before you know it, they’ll follow your lead.

5) Celebrate! As you begin modeling the particular behavior you’re trying to foster, keep a careful eye out for others following your lead. When you catch someone doing or saying what you’re looking for, celebrate it!

From a simple “thank you for that” to the more impactful SBI Feedback Method, as hospital leaders we get from our team what we reward. Punish a dog for what he does wrong, he learns only to fear. Reward him for what he does right and he seeks to repeat it.

It works the same with people. Genuine appreciation for a behavior is one of the most effective ways to light up the motivation fire.

In leadership we are gifted incredible opportunity to improve lives, professional and personally, for others. When we embrace this responsibility and support a workplace in which others can thrive we reap a great reward – we thrive too.

And it only takes five simple steps.

Of course, no one ever said simple was easy. But I know you…and you got this!

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