Picking Up Poop- Veterinary Leadership 101

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My dog has reached the age where he walks and poops.

I have seen this many times over the years and am sure the reason must relate to arthritic changes and the ability to stay in one spot and “assume the position”.  However, this makes yard clean up less a simple one stop task and more like a scavenger hunt.  While on patrol in my back yard I began to think – How many times when I was managing a veterinary practice did I stop and pick up poop?  The answer – every time I saw the need or my team needed a hand.

As a veterinary practice management consultant, you get to visit lots of practices – some are clients and others are stops on a speaking tour for manufacturer’s reps.  Yes – I am considered a “value added service” for key accounts.

During my visits, I can observe veterinary teams in action.

In some practices the dynamic is amazing.  The team members are happy, engaged and purpose driven champions for animal health.  In others, I see conflict and division.  The “Front vs. Back” war is in full swing.  The owner is micromanaging the manager and the manager is in turn being controlling and harsh to the team.  Jobs are defined and heaven forbid that anyone move out of their assigned “area”.  Work gets done but usually the culture is undesirable.  Turnover is high.   Concerned and frustrated veterinary team members will often take the opportunity to vent to me.

As I listen to the complaints a consistent theme begins to develop.  Lack of true leadership.  These team members are frustrated because the practice owner or manager is not working with the team – merely overseeing them.  The hierarchy is at play.   Leaders don’t push from behind but lead from the front.

Unfortunately businesses often look short term at numbers and stats rather than long term at team development.  Why can’t we see that people are the key to strategic growth?  Why don’t we value, train and empower them to be their best?  Instead we expect nothing more than hopefully showing up for work.   Why don’t we protect them from days without breaks, long hours after closing and attacks by badly behaved clients and fellow staff?  We should if we want to flourish.

I am sure you are wondering what all this has to do with picking up poop.  But if as a leader, you are not willing to pitch in and help with the dirty jobs when your team needs you then you are not showing leadership.  My veterinarians would often fold laundry or grab a spray bottle and clean a cage.  The front office team was never too busy to help stock food or the techs to grab a phone.  And as the hospital administrator I was never too busy – or to good – to pick up poop.

Leaders – you are observed every moment by your team.  Are you setting an example of pride in your practice?  Of true team work? Of servant leadership?  If not – you are not a true leader.  Because leaders set the tone.

The moral to the story is really very simple….

If you are not willing to help by picking up a turd…. you might just be one.