Using Questions to Become a Great Leader: Your Team Is Your Strength

Using questions to explore our possibilities as a leader who can take our team to new heights can be the catalyst for our own motivation for changes that we want to make.

by Randy Hall

Leading a veterinary practice team, or any team for that matter, isn’t easy. Every day is filled with the challenges of helping people perform at a higher level, do things differently from how they did them yesterday, and show up more engaged and committed to the work that they do. A management role might also mean that the problems, squabbles, mistakes, callouts, and frustrations all come your way as well, sometimes all at once. It can feel pretty lonely and thankless to show up every day, strap on whatever armor you can muster, and steady yourself for whatever comes your way.

Great leaders, though, even in the chaotic world of veterinary medicine, show up excited about the chance to develop an incredible team, help people grow and learn and improve, and have conversations with their team that can support them as they accomplish more of their own goals. For some, leadership is different. It’s not because they have a gift or that it comes naturally to them. It’s not in their DNA; they didn’t happen to get the elusive leadership gene.

So what’s the difference in these two extremes—showing up trying to survive what comes at us and showing up excited about the chance to make a difference for the team and the practice? Well, of course it is in the mindset some leaders have and how they have repetitively practiced the thoughts that will help them lead at their best. But the most effective way to help anyone consider a new mindset or thought pattern is through questions. So it might be helpful to illustrate the mindset great leaders have by using a set of questions that often get considered by great leaders. In fact, I have known some leaders who write these kinds of questions down and answer them, in writing, each day before work. It’s impossible not to improve as a leader with a routine like that. Give these questions a try and see if they open up some possibilities for you.

What Does My Team Need from Me Today?

Answering this question immediately shifts us from a me-centered approach to a them-centered approach as we think about our role and how we support the team. It opens us up to creative ideas and solutions that are focused on the things that will make the team better and more engaged as they work in our practice. I have often seen managers who think more about what they need from their team than about what their team needs from them. They will even start sentences with “I need you.” Such as, “I need you to pay more attention to detail,” or “I need you to show up on time.” Those might be improvements, but really it’s their teammates, the business, the clients, and the pets who need those things. What a leader often means when they say that is, “My life would be easier if you would do things differently.” That might be true, but leadership can be done very wrongly if it is based on the easiest life for the leader. A great team will absolutely make a leader’s life easier, but focusing on that as an outcome will ensure that we don’t actually build that strong team we would like to have.

Every bit of human progress, motivation, or growth is generated by the desire for something different.

What Does Each Member of My Team Aspire to or Care About?

Every bit of human progress, motivation, or growth is generated by the desire for something different. As humans, we actually flood our brains with a different set of neurotransmitters that generate excitement, energy, and motivation when we consider a new possibility that we care about. It might be learning something new or being a more respected teammate or achieving something we haven’t yet or making a bigger difference. It might be anything. But if we do not know what someone cares about, we have no ability to lead them. Our job as leaders is to help people accomplish more than they could without us. But the reality is that they will only consistently move toward things they actually care about. We like to think sometimes as leaders that because we have authority, they have to care about what we want them to care about. And we can absolutely threaten, preach, or otherwise use our authority to try. The reality that we have to acknowledge as leaders, though, is that people only move in a consistent way toward things they think are better for themselves. Telling them what we think they should do and then using authority to herd them in that direction is simply a recipe for creating a disengaged, mediocre, unhappy team. Those kinds of teams never deliver great care or great service.

How Can I Have More Conversations with My Team That Are Not Driven by Their Mistakes or Shortcomings?

If we are in a leadership role, it sometimes feels that the only time we talk to people is when they have done something wrong. Imagine how that might feel for you or any human. When I work with hospitals and ask about the balance of support and correction, staff members often state that they feel they only get “coached” by a manager when they have made a mistake or displeased the manager in some way. Only having interactions with management when we are considered a problem is one of the most disengaging things that anyone can experience. We, as leaders, have to consider that we have trained ourselves, and are evolutionarily wired, to notice mistakes, problems, and issues far more frequently than we will see effort, engagement, or development. We can only notice these things if we schedule regular conversations with our team members that are based on the calendar, not their performance in that moment, and also begin to train ourselves to catch people doing things right. Demotivating our team by only noticing their errors is a recipe for certain failure. And helping our team pursue excellence is not about a more aggressive lack of failure anyway. Supporting people as they become their best is far more than just a focus on eliminating their mistakes.

Questions help us consider possibilities, create insight in ourselves and others, and chart a new course. Using questions to explore our possibilities as leaders who can take our teams to new heights can be the catalyst for our own motivation to make changes that we want. Use questions to decide what kind of leader you want to be for your practice. And then explore all the possibilities in front of you as you begin that journey.

Randy Hall
Randy Hall is CEO of Aspire, a veterinary consulting firm based in North Carolina.


Photo credits: Benjavisa/iStock via Getty Images Plus



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