By Hilary Sorrenti
There is a quote in regards to leadership that I really admire by the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
A little over a year ago I was promoted to a leadership role in a small animal veterinary clinic. This is only the second leadership position I have been in, and first in the field of veterinary medicine. When I started in this role it seemed like managing staff was all about correcting mistakes and creating new policies. While I was speaking directly to the staff at meetings it felt like my words were not penetrating. It was as if the mistakes did not matter and that the new policies weren’t being understood.
I discovered that I felt that way due to an imbalance. These staff meetings full of talk of mistakes and policies were unintentionally coming across as harsh interventions. By simply voicing the mistakes and policies to the staff, I was blocking their natural process of correction and causing unrealized resistance. Waves will ebb and flow with a crest and a trough. If a wave were all trough, it would eventually hit some form of resistance.
Imagine the symbol of Yin and Yang. You see two opposites swirling into each other with a small dot of the other in each. The symmetry of the design is balanced, and the colors contained in each side shows that to achieve the balance you must have both Yin and Yang, or as I discovered in leadership – both guidance and intervention.
Through various resources including the Uncharted Veterinary Community, our team began using tools to increase engagement and participation in business problems and we began to see a positive change. Using open-ended questions and discussions truly helped the process unfold. Instead of “This is the mistake and here is how to fix it,” the leadership team switched to “This is the mistake. Why is this a problem?” and “How do you think we can fix this?” The ideas began to flow! But just as Yin and Yang are not one without the other, the guided questions were not without gentle intervention.
Not all things can be decided by the staff on their own and that is where the balance comes in. As a leader, it is my job to lead, just not without flexibility. A suggestion can be made that might not be the best idea for the business. In these cases a conversation of “That’s a good idea, but what do you think about this?” could be tried. Or, “Do you think we may run into this problem if we do it that way?”
Working in veterinary medicine there are some rules that are absolutes. Being responsible for an animal’s life requires some strict rules that must be followed. Surgical procedures, for example, have very specific rules and procedures to ensure patient safety. As a leader, it is your responsibility to make these known, but it is important to explain the “why” and to teach the “how,” and to intervene when necessary.
Implementing these leadership behaviors makes Lao Tzu’s quote achievable. If you let your staff’s process unfold it will appear to them that you’ve done very little when in reality you’ve done a great deal. You’ve guided them to the goal that you’ve been seeking all along with a delicate hand, not a forceful one. They will be proud of themselves and own their actions.
I’ve enjoyed watching our team grow and learn through this balanced approach. The next big challenge was accepting less direct recognition for myself! When the team takes ownership just be proud that you helped them get there. They are your team after all and you would not be one without the other.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Unchartedvet.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hilary is a Veterinary Assistant and Manager at a small animal clinic in Pennsylvania. While she works with small animals, her hobby is riding horses. At home she enjoys spoiling her German Shepherd, Chandler.