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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

Veterinary Leadership is a Little Like a Beehive

“I pay them to do a job. They should do it.”

I’m shocked by how many veterinary leaders subscribe to this belief. As if their team members are like vending machines – add cash, press a button, get what you want. The thing is, people aren’t machines. They are human beings with human needs. Those needs follow them everywhere they go.

Work and life aren’t separated. Life occurs wherever human beings are living, work included. Where people are living life, the need to matter persists. People won’t care unless they feel cared for.

So, here’s a new mantra for you – “I support my team’s emotional and instrumental needs. That’s why they do great work.”

Feel a bit too touchy-feely for you? Don’t worry, it’s based on science.

Support Matters

Lean back in your seat for a moment. Get comfortable. Think back to the last time you thought to yourself, “My boss is a real asshole. It’s cool, I’ll still work my butt off for her!” Close your eyes if you have to.

Didn’t help, did it? Of course not. No one gives their best for an asshole boss. That’s because the way our manager treats us matters. It probably matters more than pay. This is why we have phrases like “minimal job requirements.” In the absence of some sort of internal drive, external motivators (like avoiding getting in trouble or chasing a bonus) get most of us to do the least effective amount of work.

In an environment lacking humanity, we tend to ask ourselves, “What is the least amount of work I can do to meet the expectations upon me?” When humanity enters the equation – when we feel like the boss really cares – that question tends to change. In environments where we believe we matter, we tend to ask, “What more can I do to help?”

It’s the difference between getting things done well enough and feeling a drive to “go above and beyond.”

In a study published in 2022, researchers sought to identify what role supportive leadership might play in all this. They did this in an intriguing way: by comparing wellbeing, stress, job satisfaction, and performance between in-office team members and those working from home. More specifically, they wondered if supportive leadership might have a greater positive impact on people in-person.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

Among the 364 team members surveyed, job satisfaction, stress, and wellbeing were better when team members had supportive leaders, whether they worked in the office or from home. The location didn’t matter!

Studies show that job satisfaction and wellbeing increases and reported stress decreases among team members with supportive leaders. Supportive leadership leads to better performing teams who stay together longer.

In my mind, that speaks to the power of positive leadership. If we view our team members as machines or a means to an end, they feel it and respond accordingly whether we share the same space or we communicate via Zoom or Slack. If we view our team members as human beings with human needs that we can help them meet, they feel that too and respond like any cared-for person would. Those that feel better, do better.

What is Supportive Leadership & How do I do it Better?

Supportive leadership comes in two essential flavors:

  1. Emotional support. Think of this as empathy and compassionate behavior, showing concern for the emotional wellbeing of a team member.

  2. Instrumental support. Think of this as making an effort to help a team member solve a problem. For example this could be coaching or offering resources or tools.

Based on the results of the study linked to above, here are some ways you can be a more supportive leader and elevate your team’s happiness and performance:

  1. Spread the Love: Yup, I just went there. I know, I know…that word. “Love”. It feels so NSFW. It’s high time we move beyond that belief. There is no work-life separation. Our humanity follows us wherever we go. So empathize with your team’s struggles, show them you care about them, jump in and lend a helping hand, and don’t be scared to dole out a little human connection.

  2. Shoot for Happiness: “First love, now happiness? What’s Josh trying to do, turn every veterinary hospital into a hippie commune?” Fair question. No, I’m not. Let’s rethink the word “happiness” for a moment. A happy veterinary professional is one who delivers high-quality patient care and works with a team that values the same. As a leader, you can support all of this by fostering open communication, addressing workplace issues productively and swiftly, and showing your team how what they do matters.

  3. Be Like a Honeybee & Connect: Social connectedness is the foundation on which all team success is built. Connected teams make magical honey in their work. As the Queen Bee, you set the tone for how connected or disconnected the team is encouraged to be. So encourage connection! Make regular communication a central part of the workplace. Learn about each team member’s uniqueness. Take the time to understand individual needs, hopes, and challenges. Let the good vibes flow whenever possible! Help people do serious work without being too serious.

  4. Never Give Up, Never Surrender! It can be easy to let the day-to-day struggle of leadership wear us down. Don’t do it! Keep learning, growing, improving, and never stop spreading the love, shooting for happiness, and being like the Queen Bee that connects everyone. There’s always room to level up. Leadership is an endless pot of honey to enjoy. So enjoy it!

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