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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

The Science of Measuring Veterinary Leadership

Leadership matters.

What a profound statement, huh? I know, I know. I’m not saying anything particularly surprising. We all know leadership matters. Every one of us can think back on our careers and recall a boss who made an impact on us, our work experience, and even our lives. I hope that impact was positive. More often than we’d like to admit, it isn’t.

Flourish Veterinary Consulting conducted a study in the fall of 2022 to look at veterinary team members’ experience with leadership in the clinic setting. Almost 600 veterinarians, technicians, client care representatives, managers, and more anonymously participated in our survey. They shared their experience with leadership in their current hospital of employment. The results were eye-opening.

Using our 4 Ps of Positive Leadership framework, we asked each participant about 16 leadership behaviors. They considered their current direct supervisor or manager and rated their agreement with statements like, “My leader makes it easy to discuss difficult or sensitive topics”, on a scale of 1 – 7 where 1 meant strongly disagree and 7 meant strongly agree. A response of 4 was considered neutral (neither agree or disagree). We then combined the 16 ratings into an average Positive Leadership Experience Score.

From the 597 participants, with samples from small and large animal, general practice and emergency, specialty and exotics, we found the average Positive Leadership Experience Score was 4.4, just above neutral.

Almost 1/3 of the respondents reported an overall negative experience with leadership in their clinic. That’s troubling.

We found that team members who reported negative leadership experiences were significantly more likely to:

  • Report low commitment to the hospital.

  • Report high turnover intention (“I often think of quitting my job”)

  • Report low workplace wellbeing

  • Report low job satisfaction

There’s good news, though. Leadership is not a fixed quality. In fact, leaders can learn to change their behaviors and improve their positive impact on the workplace environment and the team members in that environment. Positive leadership can be grown. Science says so.

As the demand on human health care has increased and the environments in which health care providers work has become more challenging, the need for quality leadership has grown substantially. However, like in veterinary medicine, while human physicians often need to step into leadership roles, they typically lack in leadership training. You can imagine the results that follow.

A recent study sought to identify the effect of a regimented, 360-degree leadership development intervention. Could such a program improve leadership efficacy? Spoiler alert – it did.

Leaders first participated in a 360-degree leadership review. 16 leadership competencies were measured both by the leader’s self-assessment and confidential review by reports and peers. Each leader then participated in a coaching program conducted across five 1:1 professional leadership coaching sessions, each 2 weeks apart. The 360-degree review, “provided a springboard from which participants selected a target leadership goal to focus on in their coaching sessions.” At the conclusion of the coaching intervention, a qualitative assessment was conducted to assess the participant’s perceived development.

Almost universally, the researchers found significant growth among participants in two key areas; leadership self-awareness and relationship building. Participants suggested the 360-degree review and coaching helped them gain insight into how their behaviors impact those around them. It also nudged many of them to shift their definition of leadership from an “I have a title” perspective to an “I influence others” attitude, something that was especially impactful for those who lacked a formal management title. Participants also noted that the intervention empowered them with tangible relationship-building tools and a sincere desire to connect better with their team members. One quote from a participant really hit home for me:

“If they’re followers, I haven’t really paid that much attention to what their career growth necessarily is. I think this [program] has helped me understand that it’s just as important for us to pay attention to that, partly because it’s your responsibility. It’s part of your growth as a leader: pay attention to everybody who is following behind you”

The results inspired the researchers to conclude that, “providing advanced tools like coaching and 360-feedback creates space for physicians to hone the most important tool in their leadership arsenal, themselves.”

Put another way, what we measure and nurture, grows. If we want veterinary team members who are engaged, committed, happy, and loyal we must provide them with environments that encourage those outcomes. That starts with leadership.

We must find ways to measure the quality of our leadership with the same intention and vigor we measure all other business outcomes. By the way, Flourish can help with that – we have an evidence-based 360-degree positive leadership assessment tool and advanced training in leadership coaching.

What we measure and nurture, grows. Let’s start growing.

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