Why Leadership Matters
Let's begin with an interesting old parable about leadership, about a farmer preparing for an incoming storm. He had finished gathering the animals into the barn, when he noticed a small flock of birds getting caught up in the gusts of wind, circling, trying to find shelter. He opened the barn doors and tried to guide them and somehow communicate to the birds to enter the barn, but it was of no use. He simply couldn’t make the birds understand. Frustrated, the farmer thought, “If I could just become a bird, if only for a moment, I could lead them to safety.”
Leadership has become such an immensely overused notion of ‘opening barn doors’ that we have somehow lost sight of what it really is and why it matters. Perhaps the best the place to begin is in the beginning. Leadership has existed since the beginning of civilization. In fact, any time two or more people are gathered, leadership exists; it simply emerges as a human condition. What kind of leadership may be arguable, however, it exists nonetheless.
Written concepts and principles of leadership date as far back as the Egyptians, Confucius, and Lao-tzu. As early as the 6th Century the responsibilities of leaders and how they should conduct themselves have been discussed. Even the Greek philosophers weighed in on leadership such as Pluto, who noted the requirements of an ideal leader, and Aristotle was often disturbed by a lack of virtue among those who would call themselves leaders.
Regardless of its beginnings, leadership has become a universal phenomenon that evolves and morphs as the context, in which it resides, changes. So what does leadership have to do with veterinary practices? The answer is EVERYTHING. A common misconception is that the veterinary profession is an animal profession, but for those of us who live it, we know that it is actually a people profession. And as long it remains a people profession, leadership is not only important but also crucial to running a veterinary practice.
Management is not leadership
There is often confusion about the differences between management and leadership, so much so, that it blinds the fact that the two are radically different in every way possible. Consider the story of the farmer and the flock of birds. Opening the barn doors and wanting the birds to understand the farmers intent is management. Opening the barn doors then becoming a bird to lead the flock to safety is leadership. Opening barn doors, is not enough to move your flock of birds, you must lead the way.
Management is a set of well-known processes, like scheduling, ordering inventory, staffing, facility maintenance, accounts payable, account receivable, payroll, and overall problem solving, which all help to run a veterinary practice. Management and its importance should not be underestimated. There is no way to sustain a successful business model without the effectiveness of good management. But it has little to do with leadership.
Over the last 5 decades, leadership, which was once considered an enigma, has become an inherent business strategy in organizations across the globe. Leadership, unlike management, is about people, about vision, about empowering others, about facilitating change, and about influencing others to work towards a better future. The notion that leadership is reserved for the privileged or for those holding important positions is simply false and even ridiculous. Leadership is for everyone. Effective management and leadership are many times co-dependent and both are needed for long-term practice success. However, we often find too much management and not enough leadership in veterinary practices.
Why leadership matters more
Poor leadership practices in small businesses are the cause of many small business failures. In a study done several years ago, 200 bankrupt small businesses were examined and it was concluded the primary failure of the organizations was a lack of leadership knowledge. In truth, you cannot effectively manage people; you must lead them. To fully understand this, you have to understand that your team is comprised of people first, employees second. Your people do not care as much about your management skills; they care about your leadership skills.
A well-developed and high performing team is the most valuable asset to a veterinary practice. This profession is relational and the success of a veterinary practice is contingent on the team’s ability to create, foster, and grow relationships with clients. To nurture the kind of skills needed to achieve a high performing team, you must provide effective leadership. Effective management is what runs the business; effective leadership sustains and grows your human capital.
The leadership effect
An organization loses its competitive advantage when competitors are emulating the same or similar value for their business. It is not difficult for a veterinary practice to obtain the same equipment or perform the same services as another practice down the street. What is difficult to emulate is a high performing team that is appreciated, empowered to grow, able to lead, and produce autonomously and creatively. The practice manager or owner who can create a culture where success is measured by outstanding team performance will have achieved what I like to call, The Leadership Effect. Simply stated, the leadership effect is the phenomenon of positive momentum generated when a group of individuals regardless of position or title, feel a sense of ownership and empowerment to lead from where they are. It is creating leaders among followers.
Obtaining and developing your people is perhaps the best investment to make in consideration of overall practice success and value. As practice managers and owners, you have two roles: one is manager and management, which is the mastery of skills and tasks and very important in running the business. The second role, the one that often gets forgotten, is leader and leadership, which is the mastery of people. It is your role as leader that develops your people to excel in what they do. By providing effective leadership that retains and develops talent, by creating a culture that not only fosters accountability but also celebrates it, and by empowering your employees to lead where they are, you are creating a competitive strategic advantage that is nearly impossible to replicate. And this is WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS!
Harry Truman once said, “People make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” If there is no deliberate leadership in your practice, it will stand still. For most of us, managing and management comes easily. Whereas, leadership is life-long journey and takes more practice and work. Seize the opportunity to lead your team and your veterinary practice to excellence. Lead on!