The Business of Healing Pets: 5 Lessons for Better Leadership - The Trupanion Blog
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The Business of Healing Pets: 5 Lessons for Better Leadership

The Business of Healing Pets, Trupanion’s blog series written by Stith Keiser of Blue Heron Consulting, takes a deep dive into the business side of animal medicine. Look for new installments featuring topics such as business best practices, effective leadership, strategic hiring, and more.

5 Lessons for Better Leadership

Thus far in our series, we’ve explored the health of our practices and reviewed what financial statements and key performance indicators tell us about our medicine and management. Most recently, we examined leadership styles and how a better understanding of our own leadership preferences can help us be better stewards of our hospitals. Regardless of your leadership style, recalling that the most effective leaders are able to leverage multiple styles to fit their audience and the scenario, there are a few practical lessons we can take away.

Lesson I: True leaders create an environment where you can fail, without being a failure.

Assuming we have the right team members, a failure to operate autonomously, yet collaboratively toward the achievement of a vision, is often the product of the environment we’ve created. We can’t expect a team to try new things—new techniques, new protocols, new processes—if we jump all over them the second they mess up. Real leaders create an environment where innovation and creativity are encouraged and where genuine, innocent mistakes are acknowledged and used to build confidence and lessons, not used to tear people down.

Lesson II: People buy into the leader, then the vision.

I’ll never forget the first hospital I owned. I remember walking in after closing, so excited to share my vision of better medicine and improved client experience. I shared my grandiose vision during a staff meeting and after wrapping up, a senior technician stood up and said, “Son, I’ve been doing this since before you were born. The way we’ve been doing it works just fine and I’ve got no plans to change.” And with that, she walked out.

I see so many young, enthusiastic managers, associates, and new owners make the same mistake I did. We ask our teams to trust a vision and journey before we’ve earned their trust ourselves. People have to buy into you before they’ll buy into your vision.

Lesson III: Leadership is not developed in a day, it develops daily.

It’s easy, at least for me, to look at industry leaders in our profession and think I’ll never be able to reach their level. In reality, though, those leaders didn’t get there in a day. While some natural traits might help, leadership is not something we have to be born with. Leadership is intentional. To develop as leaders, we must choose to do so. If you’re ready to develop, I recommend picking up, or listening to, the following books:

  1. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
  2. Good to Great by James C. Collins
  3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  4. Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras
  5. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Lesson IV: A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to her.

As a profession, we’ve unfortunately earned the reputation of hiring quickly and firing slowly. Your leadership potential is linked to those with whom you surround yourself, from mentors to partners, peers, and team members. If you want to lead your team to new heights, it starts with getting the right people on your team in the right seats.

Lesson V: Fake it not until you make it, but until you become it.

Amy Cuddy shared this lesson in a Ted Talk and it’s particularly applicable in our profession where many of us suffer from imposter syndrome and are scared to take that first step for fear of failure. Leaders don’t have to have all the information or all the right answers all the time. Former General Colin Powell once suggested that if we make a decision with less than 40% of the information we need, we’re being irresponsible. If we delay a decision until we have greater than 70% of the information we think we need, the opportunity has often already passed us by.

The decision to be a leader starts with you. It starts by identifying a void that needs to be filled and then filling it. Leadership starts with you, but the true measure of leadership isn’t just what you achieve, it’s what is achieved from the foundation you build.

In our series finale, we’ll explore how you can build a lasting legacy.


Meet Stith

Stith Keiser is the Chief Executive Officer for Blue Heron Consulting, a group specializing in veterinary practice management coaching. In addition to consulting, Stith is a managing partner at a handful of veterinary practices and collaborates on the advancement of professional development curriculums at several veterinary schools as an adjunct faculty member. In his free time, Stith enjoys spending time with his wife, family, friends, and two dogs, a Red Heeler and black Lab, in the outdoors.

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