Did you realise that when you, or someone on your team is a great leader (or not) it affects your clinic’s ability to attract and recruit great vets and nurses?  

Paws Claws and Wet Noses is the vet podcast celebrating all creatures great and small and the fantabulous professionals who look after them all.  Paws Claws and Wet Noses is powered by VetStaff – NZs only 100% owned and operated recruitment agency dedicated to the veterinary sector.

Lately we’ve been working with vets and nurses at VetStaff who’re moving into leadership & management roles, so I thought it timely to look at LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT – which are two completely different skillsets. 

What makes a great leader?   

Are people born natural leaders or can leadership be developed and taught?

What’s the difference between a LEADER and a MANAGER?

Did you realise that when you, or someone on your team is a great leader (or not) it affects your clinic’s ability to attract and recruit great vets and nurses?  

Some people are leaders and managers in their private lives but not in their professional ones.   For example, through volunteer work they do – sometimes which has nothing whatsoever to do with animals or veterinary medicine. 


1. Process vs Vision

Leadership is all about having a vision to guide and bring about change.

Management – or managers – on the other hand – are all about achieving organisational goals through process.  

For example, a clinic’s HR or Practice Manager will be primarily concerned with making sure the systems and procedures for, say, recruitment and annual reviews, are in place and working. 

Leaders on the other hand are more ideas-based and looking for opportunities which can be capitalised on.

Managers work with other people to make sure the goals of your vet clinic are articulated and executed. 

The goals a manager wants to make sure happen, are developed by leaders.   Leaders drive and bring about change.

2. Organising vs Aligning

In his book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis presents a list of key differences between managers and leaders, including:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people

Managers pursue goals through coordinated actions and tactical processes, or tasks and activities that unfold over stages to reach a certain outcome.

For example, they may implement a decision-making process when leading a critical meeting, or when devising a plan for communicating organisational change. 

Managers are into the “what” and “how” stuff gets done.

Leaders, on the other hand, are less focused on “how” or “what” is required to organise people to get stuff done, and more on finding ways to align and influence them.

Knowing your personal leadership style comes about through self-reflection and the vulnerability of asking for honest feedback.   Leaders who lead through empowering and inspiring others are, sadly, rare.  

Unfortunately, most clinics have more people managing than leading.

3. Position vs Quality

The title “manager” often denotes a specific role within an organization’s hierarchy, while referring to someone as a “leader” has a more fluid meaning.

“Manager is a title. It’s a role and set of responsibilities,” Just because you have the word ‘manager’ in your job title, doesn’t make you a leader.   Actually, it doesn’t even make you an effective manager. 

The best managers are leaders, but the two are not synonymous. Leadership is the result of action. If you know someone who acts in a way that inspires, encourages, or engages others, then you’ll know a true leader.   A leader doesn’t need the title or position to be a leader.

Leadership is a quality that needs to be developed.   

Leaders have highly developed EQ – emotional intelligence.    

Five Qualities of Effective Leaders

Here are five leadership attributes and qualities that effective leaders have in their personal and professional lives.  These are men and women who inspire others to take action and set a course for future success.

1. They are self-aware and prioritise personal development.

Effective leaders focus on developing their emotional intelligence. 

Leaders who work to refine their EQ are more adaptive, resilient, and accepting of feedback from others.

They’re also effective listeners and open to change.

They have a growth mindset.

Here’s how you can develop and improve this personality trait or quality:  

Set and prioritise goals and then take responsibility for accomplishing them – or not.   Someone who’s self aware with strong EQ will also take responsibility for falling short of their stated goals or making mistakes along the way.

Focus on the big picture.  When you were studying you focussed on the Big Picture of being a vet or a nurse.   You probably didn’t get sucked in with distractions, or bogged down by small, tactical details.

Practice those behaviours again to effectively manage of your time and attention.

Set boundaries between your personal and professional lives.

If you’re the owner of a clinic, a head vet or nurse, remember that everyone else will follow your lead.  If you want to develop leaders you need to demonstrate what leadership is.  

If your team sees you, say, skipping breaks, you’re inadvertently demonstrating that’s the behaviour you want to see in your clinic.   That’s not leadership – that’s martyrdom!   

Make sure you’re aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and any potential sources of bias that may impact your thinking and decision-making.

Conduct self-assessments and seek feedback from your team.  Where do you need to grow?  Set yourself improvement goals with measurable targets in areas where you have room to grow.

Accept that life and people are not perfect.   Sometimes things don’t go according to your plan.  Accept that things can and will go wrong.  Having this cognisance, this mindset of anticipation will help you respond in a thoughtful way that doesn’t make a difficult situation even worse.

2.  Great leaders focus on developing others

This leadership quality builds on the principles of the situational leadership theory.

This is where leaders consider the readiness level of the team members they serve and the uniqueness of every situation.   It dates back to the late 1960s.

Great leaders know how to delegate, coach and mentor.  

Here’s how you can be more effective and/or become a great leader:

Recruiting for diversity is one of the hardest things to do because it’s easier to be around people who’re more like us than different to us. 

Great leaders look for the gaps of strengths in their team and then recruit to fill that gap – which is different to recruiting to fill the clone of the person who’s just left. 

Of course with diversity can come scepticism – so great leaders give their team members both the tools and the space to build trust among each other.

As a coach, show empathy as well as strength. Effective leaders know how to be assertive and kind at the same time.

Sometimes delegating can take longer and be more painful than doing the task yourself.  But if you never delegate, not only will you never be a great leader, neither will you give your team the opportunity to develop their capabilities. 

Accomplishing difficult tasks helps a team build confidence and continue its path to growth. 

So what if your team doesn’t do it the way you would have?   Maybe, just maybe, they find a better way of doing something.   Or, maybe, just maybe, they’ve discovered a way of how NOT to do something!   Either way, by delegating you’ve empowered them to grow and develop.

Great leaders also make genuine connections with people outside their clinic and the veterinary sector.    Actively seek out people who’ll make your team stronger, even if their expertise doesn’t perfectly match the needs you have at the moment.

Make training a priority within your clinic.   At the same time, balance it with a culture that allows everyone to thrive.

I’m paraphrasing Richard Branson here, who said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they want to stay.”

3. Great leaders encourage strategic thinking, innovation, and action

Leaders are required to look forward… to think about where their clinic is going.   You can’t be a leader without appreciating your team is depending on you to look into the future … to crystal ball gaze…

Great leaders are always considering internal clinic factors, such as staffing needs, as well as external factors, like pandemics, the new requirement to be an accredited employer and technology advancements – a big one now for example, is what’s happening with cow wearables… all these things need to be factored in when making strategic business decisions.

Things you can do to improve your leadership style:

Maintain a flexible mindset and be willing to try new ideas.   Again, this is where having a growth mindset comes to the fore.

This is especially true for clinicians who want to open their own clinic.  Startups have goals that are frequently changing and having rigid plans may be hard to follow, even stupid perhaps to continuing on down a path that’s no longer appropriate.

If you want to be a great leader then taking a genuine interest in your clinic and the veterinary sector is important.  Enthusiasm creates more enthusiasm.   Enthusiasm is both infectious and contagious.   The opposite of enthusiasm is apathy.  

Whose team would you rather be on?   Someone who’s enthusiastic and passionate about veterinary or someone who doesn’t give a proverbial hoot?   

The only constant is change.  Focussing on the future will involve change.  Always do your best to maintain a positive mental attitude.

Encourage creativity and innovation in your team through brainstorming exercises.   Ask questions that get people thinking differently – for example, a question like “what else could this be?” or “how else could we achieve this?” are great questions to ask to get people thinking laterally. 

Set a practical vision and suitable targets for your clinic and/or team. Consider SMARTER goals – I talked about these back in episode 61 – I’ll include the link to that show on this show at PCWN.fm – episode 91.  Remember SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely, exciting and rewarding.

Make informed decisions.

Leaders often have to make risky decisions.   If you’re working in an ER or referral hospital making life-threatening decisions might be just another day in the office for you.  However, one will get you ten, that you’re able to back up the decision you made.  

The same for decisions you make outside of the surgical suite – business decisions.  If you’re making reckless decisions it won’t take long for your team to notice and lose faith and confidence in you.  So make sure your decision-making is always informed.  

4. Great leaders are ethical and civic-minded

Strong leaders consider the ethical consequences of the decisions that they make—for their patients, clients and team members.

The move today is towards greater sustainability – not just of our environment but of our teams’ emotions and wellbeing.   Great leaders always do what’s right.   They’re prepared to make the tough calls, because it’s the right thing to do.

As a leader you have a moral responsibility to use your power and authority wisely and appropriately.

Honesty is always the best policy. When you’re honest you don’t have to worry about something coming back to bite you.  

When leaders are honest with their teams, they reciprocate this trust.

When clinic owners lead with integrity their entire clinic operates with integrity.

Be open, transparent, and authentic. Your team should know you always tell the truth – no matter the circumstances.

A great leader will recognise the emotions of their individual team members.

They’ll praise those who are succeeding and encourage those who are struggling.

A great leader will never berate anyone – in public or private. 

Take responsibility for your mistakes.   As a leader this will set the scene that this is what you expect from everyone. 

There was a famous TV ad back in the 70s or 80s with Alan Martin – a whiteware shop owner in Wellington – he fronted his own TV ads and always finished every ad with “it’s the putting right that counts”.  So always take the next step and make things right, even if it will hurt your clinic’s bottom line.

The Vet Council of NZ has said often that when it’s involved in disputes, many of these could have been avoided if better communication had taken place.  

In the long run, the benefits of protecting your clinic’s integrity and reputation will outweigh any short-term costs you might incur.

5. great leaders practice effective cross-cultural communication

Respected leaders are able to clearly communicate with individuals, out the front and out the back, sales reps, clients and anyone involved in the success or downfall of their clinic. 

According to BERL – a NZ company specialising in economic insights and predictions – new projections are out that by 2043 – that’s just 20 years away – which may sound like a lot but if you can remember what you did and where you were at the beginning of the millennium, you’ll appreciate it’ll be upon us before we know it – by the year 2043, with just over a quarter of NZ’s six million projected population will be Asian, 21% Maori, and 11% Pasifika.

Berl predicts that by 2023 – that’s just next year – NZs Asian population will be the second largest ethnic group, which is currently Maori.

Now, admittedly, this projection was done pre Pandemic and we all know how much that’s changed what we thought was going to happen…

But regardless, great leaders are adept in learning and knowing how to be effective communicators across cultural divides.

Cultural divides aren’t just race – they include age, gender fluidity, inter-professional divides. 

Great leaders treat everyone with respect – regardless of who they are, what they believe, where they’ve come from, who they live with or how they dress. 

When you have to share organisational goals or expectations, or goals relating to specific tasks or objectives, be concise in your explanation.  

I went on a personal development course centuries ago and the mantra there was ‘I’m responsible for the result of my communication”.    This has always stuck with me.   If anyone on my team is unaware of my expectations and then falls short of meeting them, then it’s me who’s at fault, not them. 

Great leaders communicate their goals and targets frequently so that everyone in their clinic or on their team knows what you, and they, are working toward.

Understand the nuances of communicating over the phone, via email, and on social media. Identify your strengths and weaknesses for each mode of communication and work to improve where necessary.

Without the added advantage of body language, email, phone and social media can get misinterpreted.   So make sure you know how to communicate that way.

Embrace enthusiasm, confidence, inspiration, and excitement when you communicate. Optimistic leaders show that they believe their clinic is working toward a better future…. that they value each team member’s contribution to achieve that goal.

Depending on how culturally diverse your clinic is, you may need to adapt your communication style according to the different cultural traditions when necessary.

Some cultures expect explicit, specific messages, while others tend to rely on context between the lines.

Some cultures also show emotion more readily than others.

Remember that listening is just as critical to communicating as talking. Take the time to hear what others are saying—and make note of what they are not.   Ask follow-up questions if you don’t understand what someone’s attempting to convey.

Here’s a quick recap on what you can do to become a more effective and/or a great leader:

1.           Become more self-aware and prioritise personal development.

2.           Focus on developing others

3.           Encourage strategic thinking, innovation, action and diversity

4.           Ensure you’re ethical and civic-minded.

5.           Practice effective cross-cultural communication

Vet Clinic Employer of Choice Accreditation

A world first (as far as we can tell) initiative from VetStaff – we’re looking for pilot veterinary clinics to be part of our Beta Launch. 

You know how finding and keeping good veterinary professionals right now is hard… there’s always the fear another clinic is going to poach your star performers…?

Here at VetStaff we’ve designed a programme to help vet clinics – anywhere in the world – recruit and retain their star performers.

Not only does it help you retain the star performers already on your team, it also helps make recruiting easier because as a participating clinic, you’ll receive the VetStaff Seal of Accreditation

Having this Seal instantly identifies your clinic as a VetStaff Employer of Choice.   Because it’s VetStaff polishing your clinic’s halo from the outside and we can back up our claim – it’s not you on the inside beating your chest about how great you are – our third-party endorsement gives your clinic the VetStaff Employer of Choice Accredited tick.   

Right now, we’re launching our pilot programme and if you’d like to be considered as one of our beta clinics, please let me know by sending me an email to julie@vetstaff.co.nz.  

If you want to participate, the process is very simple and totally affordable – it’s less than the cost of an average small bitch spay.  

We’ll ask for some proof of verification – which is easy to get and that’s it!

Easy Peasy! 

Because very few clinics right now are fully staffed, it means most clinics are competing for the same high calibre staff.  Every little thing you can do to identify your clinic as being more attractive to work out, will make a difference. 

If your clinic’s not recognised as a VetStaff Employer of Choice, you’ll miss out to the clinic down the road that is.   

Today, it’s the clinics that are retaining and rewarding their staff in meaningful ways that get to recruit the best staff.   

If you’re not doing this in a way that’s easily recognised and verified, you’ll miss out to those clinics that are.

Being recognised as a VetStaff Employer of Choice Vet Clinic is something to be proud of.   

Imagine having the edge when it comes to recruiting high performers.

Imagine having a waiting list of high performers who want to work at your clinic.   

Because this is what can happen once the word starts to get out that your clinic is an Employer of Choice! Imagine how many headaches you’ll save when it comes to hiring new staff!

VetStaff’s Seals of Participation are a completely independent and recognised way for your clinic to stand out as a Vet Clinic Employer of Choice.

If this sounds like something you’d like for your clinic then email Julie South today to start the ball rolling at your clinic.  And just to clarify – this is designed to help clinics who’re already clients of ours – ones where we’re doing the recruiting AND for those that want to DIY their own recruitment. 

You don’t have to be an existing VetStaff client to participate.   If you want to DIY your own recruitment then this new initiative is perfect for you.   To find out more email julie@vetstaff.co.nz.

VetStaff’s two core beliefs

Everyone and everything we do at VetStaff is underpinned by two core beliefs.  

The first is that we believe all veterinary professionals deserve to work at a vet clinic job of their dreams where they’re respected and valued.  

The second is that all vet clinics deserve to have engaged and motivated employees working for them who love Monday mornings.  

If that sounds like the type of recruitment agency you’d like to work with, then please check us out at vetstaff.co.nz 

How to share an opinion

Let’s start with talking about when you’re sharing an opinion, for example at a team meeting.  

Riders and expressions like “That’s just my opinion” and “Just my two cents worth” can gravely undermine what you’re saying.

For example, a new grad vet or new grad nurse might tell their lead vet or head nurse something and then suffix “but that’s just my opinion” or prefix it with “it’s just my opinion but ……..

There are two things going on with each of those statements.

The first is the “but” – but negates everything around it.   We all know that “yes, but…..” means ‘no’.

When you couple “but” with “just” you’re basically saying you don’t expect to be taken seriously.   After all, it’s just your opinion.

You could also swap “just” for “only” – it’s only my opinion but……

It’s just my opinion but……….

The word “just” carries dead weight that drags down and weakens all the other words surrounding it.

To sound more confident when voicing your opinion, you drop the entire clause of buts, only, just and swap the weak expression “I think” with the stronger “I believe.”

When you do this, you’ll sound more credible and confident. 

For example, that sentence would then be:   “I believe we should …………. Whatever

When you want to add to a discussion

What about those times when you have something to add to a discussion…?

For people who’re insecure or lacking self-belief, they’ll kick of their sentences with “…….. if I could just add something……..”

Now, while the goal is probably to sound collaborative, using “just” in combination with a phrase suggesting that you’re “adding” to the previous speaker’s comment, makes it seem like you’re clinging to the other person’s coattails, rather than putting forth your own idea.

Sure, your comment might be an addition to the conversation, however, it’s your independent thought and therefore worthy of separate consideration.

And preceding it with an expression like “if I could” makes you sound like you’re asking for permission to speak and someone who’s lacking in confidence. 

Sadly, other people won’t take what you’ve got to say very seriously if you sound a bit wishy-washy.

The solution is to eliminate the phrase, “If I could just add something,”.   Instead, get straight to the point you’re making.

Of course, if you feel you need to, or want to bridge to something that was said earlier, rather than barge straight on in with your idea, instead reference what the previous speaker said – briefly – and introduce your point of view. 

A word of caution – when referring to a previous statement, make sure you present your idea as an independent thought.

Those “difficult” conversations

What about the times when you need to give someone negative feedback – in other words it’s one of “those” difficult conversations where you might feel like you’re criticising them.

Or you’re on the receiving end of negative feedback and you feel like you need to defend your position…? 

If we’re lacking self confidence and/or we don’t get much experience in having ‘difficult conversations’, we’ll be worried the other person won’t like us because of our criticism … so we’ll want to downplay, to minimise our opinion so as not to upset them … not to hurt them…

Starting a ‘negative feedback conversation’ with words like “I just mean . . .” can make you sound both weak and/or defensive.

If giving negative feedback is difficult for you, it’s easy to fall into the trap of minimising what you’re saying, so the other person isn’t hurt.   By you.

For example, let’s say you’re the newly appointed Lead Vet or Head Nurse who’s required to give constructive feedback to someone after a procedure that didn’t quite go according to plan.  

Let’s say it involved taking dental xrays that took forever and then didn’t produce a particularly clear set of radiographs …    

An insecure, non-confident person might say , I just want to ask you how you thought taking those radiographs went…?”

There’s that word “just” again – “I just want to ask” is a weak opening statement and undermines and diminishes any attempt you might make to offer clear guidance down the track. 

The way you kick off this sentence also gives the impression that it’s just a small question … a trivial by-the-way-type question…. And not a serious question and conversation that deserves a serious answer and discussion.

Instead, a more powerful statement – for both you and the other person – could be to say something like

“Those dental x-rays you took before weren’t useable.  Let’s explore how you can improve on your [whatever] for next time.”

That sounds more confident and assertive, without being aggressive or demeaning.  It also opens up a way forward for improvement and progression.

When humility comes across as lacking in confidence

And finally, the fourth “just” – when you’re trying to sound humble.

We’ve all heard people use the phrase “I’m just the [junior nurse], [new grad], I’m just the receptionist”

Or I’m “only” the …………

When people refer to themselves this way, they’re attempting to pass the buck or downplay their importance in a certain decision or situation:

These self-deprecating expressions – with “just” (or “only”) as their centrepieces – may be intended to offer context or strike a note of humility but wind up suggesting a lack of pride.

Let’s get one thing straight – no one is ever “just” someone or something!

You are not just a new grad or just a receptionist.  Or just a stay-at-home-mum!

It’s taken you years of studying to be that new grad – don’t weaken it by preceding it with “just”.  

Likewise, with being a receptionist – there’s no just involved – you’ve answered the phone hundreds, maybe thousands of times, under pressure, whereby you can still answer with a smile and sound unflappable and fully in control.    Don’t discount or demean your ability to do that, because not everyone can! 

And if you describe yourself as “just a stay at home mum” please! Being a parent is a privilege!  Own it with pride!

You play an important role in your world – in your clinic and in your life – stand tall and own it because there’s only one of you!   If you’ve been listening to my podcasts for a while, you may notice that I sign off in a certain way – with a very deliberate invitation for you to be the most fantabulous version of you you can be!  I want you to be more than “just” you – I want you to be fantabulously you!

Break the habit

Those are the four examples of “just” you might be using out of habit:

#1 – drop the “just your opinion” and “just your two cents’ worth”

#2 – if I could just add something………….

#3 – kicking off those difficult conversations with “I just want to say…” and

#4 – I’m ‘just a………’


Pressure is not Stress – 4 steps to be resilient in disruptive times – White Paper by Nick Petrie

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