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Tired and Cranky Team? The Simplest Leadership Hack You'll Ever Learn



I gotta be honest with you - I've been well short of my "best self" lately.


So, I'm obsessed with this silly iPhone game called Bricks n Balls. After at least 4 years of playing it every day I'm currently battling level 914.


There's a couple of things you should know about this game - and me. First, Bricks n Balls is one of those never-ending games. You beat a level, there's always another one to conquer.


Second, I adamantly refuse to spend money on the game. Sure, a few bucks here and there would make each level a lot easier to overcome. But I won't do it. So I have to play the "slow game" - sometimes it takes me 2 or 3 weeks to build up enough bonuses to beat a level.


Well, last week I was fighting with level 913. It was my third week on that stage of the game. And I was there, man. I mean, I had everything in place to move on to 914. All the bonuses I needed.


But then I screwed something up. Mr. Twitchy Fingers moved at just the wrong time and my ball missed the bricks.


Good thing I was all alone because the tirade of choice words I vomited into the ether would have turned even the most seasoned swearer red in the face. With my teeth clenched in red-hot anger, I flipped the middle finger at my phone and move to throw it at the wall.


And then I stopped. Somehow, in that moment, I caught myself.


This is what it's come to.


After almost 2 years of a global pandemic, a total lifestyle change, working hard at building my company, striving to support the veterinary community, and struggling with so many common challenges leaving an almost countless, silent chunk of humanity feeling lost in a state of languishing, I was a moment of lucidity away from devolving into the toddler version of Josh.


Sound familiar? I'm not surprised.


It seems like all we have heard for the past year and a half is how overwhelmed and under-supported the veterinary profession is. It seems like we're seeing more cases than ever before while we watch our workforce dwindle.


It's been a fucking insanely difficult couple of years. And veterinary professionals, I see you. I see your struggles.


I follow several veterinary groups online and there are some refrains I see with troubling frequency. They are two versions of the same thing:

  • "I'm exhausted and I don't know how much longer I can do this."

  • "My team is exhausted and I don't know how much longer they can do this."

And every time I hear a cry for help. "What do I do?"


Some recently published research might offer some hope.


Just a Little Good Goes a Long Way

Happy teams tend to be engaged teams and vice versa. By engaged, I'm referring to employees that experience work as, "...positive, fulfilling...characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption," to use one of the academic definitions.


Put another way, engaged employees are fueled by the tangible fulfillment their work provides. As a result, they are highly resilient - capable of productively responding to whatever challenges they face.


Engaged employees and teams enjoy myriad work - and life - benefits.


But gosh, it sure does feel like our work has been anything but positive and fulfilling for quite some time.


In a recently published study, researchers looked at work engagement in a totally different way - across time.


Over 100 working adults completed 2 surveys every week for 15 weeks measuring two important things:

  1. How many positive and negative events they experienced at work that week.

  2. Their work engagement, according to the definition I shared above.

Some really interesting results emerged from the data:

  • In the short term, a positive work week followed by a shitty one did not have a significant impact on overall engagement scores. Put another way, one shitty week at work isn't going to ruin things.

  • However, over time, engagement scores did go down if "shitty" was the norm. Shocker, I know.

What's particularly interesting about that second finding is that, as the study authors shared, that seems to be the norm. Research across disciplines seems to show that a decline in engagement scores over time is actually the norm.


It turns out that spending resources on work tends to lead us to have fewer resources to spend over time. Without something to "fill the tank" most of us get less and less engaged the longer we work somewhere. That seems to be pretty normal.


But here's the really cool part!

  1. Employees who had positive experiences at work after a shitty week experienced a significant boost to their work experience. As the researchers noted, if last week was awful but on Monday a manager sat down and checked in on the employee, they showed a significant boost to the work engagement...and not just that day, but throughout the week!

  2. Employees who experienced these positive events week after week saw no long-term decline in their engagement scores. They bucked the trend!

There's a lesson here for leaders. In fact, I think it's the simplest leadership hack you'll ever learn.


The Simplest Leadership Hack You'll Ever Learn

I do a lot of Leadership Development work with veterinary folks. Frequently I half-joke that effective, positive leadership is the result of a really simple formula:


I believe that other people matter

+

I develop relationships that SHOW them how they matter


= Effective Positive Leadership


In this study, as I mentioned, the researchers measured "positive and negative work events". Turns out the positive work events are incredibly simple things - things that happen often (more often than we often recognize) and may, at first glance, appear trivial.


Based on other research, the authors of this study measured 4 specific types of positive work events:

  1. Goal Attainment like, "I got through all my appointments" or "I finished the inventory project that was assigned to me."

  2. Positive Feedback like, "I received appreciation for doing a good job" or "The doctor complimented me on my restraint skills."

  3. Perceived Competence like, "My manager asked me for help on something" or "The doctor asked me to handle anesthesia"

  4. Passively Experienced External Positive Event like "We celebrated a tech getting into vet school" or "A client thanked us for our work"


They are definitely NOT trivial.


More importantly, as a leader, you can shine light on every one of these things. More often than you may realize.


In fact, in the study that inspired this article, the researchers found that, on average, there were more positive than negative events in the work experience of these people.


Read that again.


Every one of these events is an opportunity to notice, affirm, and share with your team. You see, it's not enough for the positive events to happen - we must also experience them. That sometimes requires an action.


Having a positive impact on a client or co-worker is meaningless if we don't experience it as such. And the thing is, most of us, most of the time, are caught up in just getting through our day. So we don't take the time to celebrate people for the things they accomplish (big, small, and everything in between), share our appreciation with them, help them see how capable and accomplished they are, or sharing the positive impact they have on each other and the world.


Positive Leaders don't let the day to day get away from them. They take notice of the myriad positive events happening around them. And then, with intention and sincerity, they take action to share what they see with the people that matter.


Other people matter. Leadership is relationships.


The work we do in veterinary medicine is friggin' hard. It challenges us in the best of times and there are few who would call now the best of times.


It is inevitable that, under such conditions, our energy and enthusiasm for our work will wane over time.


Inevitable unless the hard work is tempered by recognition, acknowledgement, and celebration of the positive things that happen each and every day.


People who experience positive work events with consistency, each and every week, are recharged and fulfilled by their work, despite its difficulties.


So there's the simplest leadership hack you've ever learned.


Consistently notice the positive and help your team notice it too. It'll matter.


It's science.


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