Leadership. The term conjures up visions of various individuals we believe to be leaders. I envision leaders in the veterinary setting as someone helping others, as well as themselves, do the right things. True leaders develop an inspiring vision and plan where the team needs to go to be successful. This should not change when confronted with a crisis. In fact, crises require leaders to continue to set the direction and adjust to it as new evidence and factors present themselves. Successful leaders are able to remain calm and maintain a sense of perspective and purpose during a crisis while aiming to keep things operating as “normally” as possible.
Every veterinary team member can be a leader—you do not need a title. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in daily (and sometimes hourly) change, anxiety, and uncertainty. This is confounded as the stress and uncertainty are not only within the veterinary hospital setting, but also at home, in the community, the nation, and the world. Wow—what a time to be a leader. What a time that needs leadership!
So how do veterinary team members lead during the coronavirus crisis?
7 Actions to Lead Through a Crisis
1. Obtain credible information. Each of us needs to ascertain the most dependable, up-to-date information from trustworthy news outlets. Social media, while a good tool for keeping us connected during this time of social distancing, is not the best tool for unbiased, accurate information. With the current coronavirus pandemic, veterinary team members should be looking to state health departments, state veterinary medical boards, the AVMA, NAVTA, and the CDC.
2. Communicate openly. Open and transparent communication, even when topics are difficult, allow for trust and reduces fear. The absence of communication results in rumors and disorder. Shared information provides tactical guidance, as well as showing all team members that leaders are concerned, involved, and dealing with the situation. Remember that individuals receive information differently, so utilize all communication channels and remember the 3 “R’s”—review, repeat, reinforce. Review how, when, and what information gets delivered and then Repeat and Reinforce information daily via multiple delivery methods. The 3 R’s help ensure the information is reaching the team, is being processed by the team, and is being retained.
3. Act quickly, but intelligently. In the midst of a crisis, time is of the essence. The initial onset of a crisis presents immense pressure to act, and quickly at that. Take charge, be proactive, take initiative. As decisions are made and actions implemented, communicate those actions truthfully and honestly. Each veterinary team member views the crisis from their unique perspective, so prepare for feedback regarding the decision from other viewpoints.
4. Develop solutions WITH your team members. Facing an unprecedented crisis evokes fear and uncertainty. Leaders should work with veterinary team members to make decisions. Involve the team in the decision-making process and ask them what they think is needed for themselves, the clients, and the patients. An open and transparent discussion with team members allows for a sense of inclusion in the process and the solution. Remember, we are a TEAM!
5. Be present, visible, and available. Leaders should be accessible. As a leader, you must let veterinary team members know how they can best reach you with/for status updates and questions. Team members need to hear from their leaders often. Leaders who are calm, caring, and informed allow workers to feel encouraged, safe, and part of the team.
6. Maintain your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence realize what they are feeling, understand their emotions, and how their emotions may affect other people. The better a leader relates to and works with team members, the more successful they will be, and the stronger the team will be to manage the crisis. Emotional intelligence is essential for success and is crucial when leading in a crisis. The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful they will be.
7. Be compassionate and kind. All members of the team, the clients, the delivery individuals, etc., are stressed and trying their best to cope with the ever-changing world events. Smile, be encouraging, show compassion, and help one another. That is the leader everyone needs in a crisis.