First Leadership Workshop Gives AAHA Members Veterinary-Specific Instruction

Thirty-two veterinary professionals attended AAHA’s first leadership seminar on Oct. 11, 2005, in Denver. The pilot program, which will be repeated in at least 10 cities over the next year, provided doctors, practice managers, and lead technicians with a glimpse of veterinary-specific leadership curriculum that may be packaged into a leadership academy in the future, according to AAHA professionals.

Focusing on the difference between management and leadership, workshop facilitators Shannon Pigott, CVPM, and Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, explained how leadership impacts profitability and shared tips on ways that AAHA members could incorporate attributes of successful leaders into their practices. “People are the only thing that differentiates a veterinary practice [from a competitor,]” Pigott said. “By teaching veterinary professionals to recognize their human capital we’re giving them the secret
to success.”

Leadership workshop facilitators are shown here.Christine Horst, DVM, who practices at Mesa Veterinary Hospital in Colorado, appreciated the veterinary-specific nature of the seminar.

“I’ve read lots of books on these topics but they’re usually written by CEOs of big companies and those things aren’t relevant for me,” she said. “I had nothing related to leadership in veterinary school. They teach you how to be a doctor but not how to deal with all of those uncomfortable (management) things that make up our days. This is a wonderful idea. I’d love to see more of it.”

Titled “Lead 2 Succeed,” the eight-hour workshop covered many aspects of successful leadership including coaching, establishing a culture for the practice, and effective communication methods. Seventy-three percent of the members present said they believe that leaders are made, not born, and asked practical questions about how to apply leadership skills to their daily responsibilities. They defined successful leaders as people who are risk-takers, who embody personal and professional integrity, are always honest, and motivate others.

“If you’re honest 99 percent of the time and dishonest one percent of the time, what do you think your staff members will remember?” Pigott asked audience members. “Sometimes the hardest part is to be honest with ourselves. And honesty is tied directly to trust.”

Attendees left with a plethora of ideas, new contacts, and leadership models. For example, one model suggests that leaders approach conversations with employees by touching on Topic, Impact, Plan, and Sustain/Support (TIPS) to focus their interactions.

“The TIPS model really hit home for me,” said Horst, who supervises 17 front-end employees. “It was helpful for me to hear how to approach and structure those conversations. We’re so busy that
we often do not take the time out for those coach-able moments.”

Speakers referred to Jack Welch as an example of how investing in team members and providing strong leadership to organizations can increase company profits. When Welch joined General Electric (GE) as chief executive officer in 1981, gross revenues were $27.9 billion and the stock price was $1.20. At his retirement in 2000, revenue was $129.9 billion and the stock price was $52. When asked how Welch had achieved such results, members suggested a variety of strategies from raising fees to adding services. But the answer, Pigott said, was the identification of and investment in top performers who shared GE’s culture and values. Managers who met their objectives but did not embody the company’s culture did not make the cut, Pigott said.

Members shared concerns and issues with colleagues during the day, and were able to role-play some of the models that were presented. Sponsored by AAHA, Pfizer, and AAHA MARKETLink, the Veterinary Leadership Workshop helps practice managers, owners, and lead technicians with practical issues that can, if left unchecked, hamper business success. “Good leaders,” Pigott explained, “are people who turn beliefs and ideas into actions.”

Nancy Moyle, PhD, co-director of Lone Tree Medical Center in Colorado, appreciated the straight-forward, applicable nature of the seminar, and said was able to use one of the models the day after the session. “As busy as I am, the amount of stuff I left with was pretty good,” she said. “The information was simple and easy to grasp. It was practical.”