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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

Veterinary Leaders, How Are You Infecting Your Teams?

Everyone in the veterinary hospital is contagious.

No, I’m not talking about parvo puppies or the tech with pneumonia. I’m referring to what psychologists call, “social contagion.”

Basically, we are constantly “infecting” each other with emotions, moods, and meaning.

And leaders (eg, managers, owners, doctors, “the boss,” etc.) are the MOST contagious of the bunch.

This psychological impact can be good or bad.

The hospital manager has a rough night, misses the alarm, gets pulled over on the way to work, and walks in to find out 2 techs have called in sick. She’s in a sour mood and it spreads like wildfire through the hospital.

Or, the medical director helps a new grad through a challenging procedure. Afterwards, they both feel like total rock stars. The whole hospital team seems to absorb the energy and the rest of the day feels like the best it’s been in weeks.

Sometimes good intentions result in diabetes.

Like when we feed the dog everything we eat, because, well, food is love…and end up with a 47 pound dachshund.

As leaders in our hospital sometimes our good intentions can have bad (and unintended) consequences. How do we avoid that?

Every leader has blind spots. To avoid the unintended consequences of them, we need tools for shining light on the blind spots.

I do some work with a large veterinary organization. The founder and CEO started his company about 5 years ago with one employee – himself. He now has over 120 people on his team.

His vision was both simple and beautiful. He wanted to create a veterinary organization in which people (eg, veterinary professionals) felt cared for, empowered, and could thrive. In his mind the traditional vet med model was eating people alive. He didn’t want to drain them, he wanted to fill them up.

He quickly attracted many wonderful people and his company grew (and continues to do so). The organization now has a high level management team of 5.

It’s the most functional, cohesive, wonderful management team I’ve ever seen in this industry.

And even they have struggles.

Recently he came to me to help him overcome some of these struggles. He was beginning to feel like they weren’t all on the same page. How can we get everyone refocused on the organization’s vision?

I challenged him.

Leader’s are the most contagious people in any organization and he’s right at the top of the food chain. What might he be doing (intentionally or not) to contribute to these challenges? And how does the CEO get that kind of feedback?

We discussed a special kind of leader 360 feedback process. We’d have his managers gather with a facilitator (me) and lay out all their feedback for him, raw and unfiltered. He then comes in the room and we go through ALL the feedback but he isn’t allowed to defend or explain, only receive and reflect.

It takes two characteristics to submit yourself to something like this; bravery and a genuine desire to grow.

This guy has both those traits in spades.

So we did it. And the results were eye opening for us all.

Among the results it was clear his team ADORES him and would follow him to the ends of the earth. They care about him as a person and are committed to the vision and purpose of his organization. The positive energy was palpable.

And those things were contributing to some unintended burdens on his team. I’ll share one here.

Remember, he built this company to take care of people first and foremost.

His message is pro-work-life-balance and against burnout. He believes deeply in supporting team members “beyond the time card.” People do and should have lives outside of work.

Yet, he doesn’t appear to actually live his full philosophy.

He regularly tells them, “I’m here for you whenever you need me, however you need me, day or night.” And he is. Often. Not just for the team, but for the company, the clients, the work...

So while his words speak, “work-life balance,” his behaviors and actions speak, “total dedication to the cause.” And his team was getting infected.

The managers were really conflicted. On the one hand they joined this organization they love to achieve the sweet combination of meaningful work and a balanced life. On the other hand, they believe so much in their leader, and see him so completely dedicated to them and the organization, they feel obligated to be the same way.

Sometimes good intentions result in diabetes.

The good news is, diabetes is manageable. Heck, sometimes it even goes away! But we can only manage what we know.

Even the most self-aware leader has blind spots. And even the most functional teams have areas of lacking communication, especially when it involves giving feedback upward.

The most successful leaders are both brave and committed to growth.

Cultivate your bravery, embrace your desire to grow, and find the ways you’re unintentionally “infecting” your team. Dig in an look for your blind spots.

Short term pain for long term gain.

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