Veterinary Leadership Survey: Your insights could change lives!

Veterinary mental health and wellbeing is big news and if you are a vet, your insights could help design interventions. Complete this short survey & we’ll enter you in to a prize draw!

Veterinary Leadership Survey

In fact, veterinary mental health and wellbeing is such a hot topic at the moment that there was a full edition of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education dedicated to it recently[1].

In the introduction, Professor Susan Rhind from the University of Edinburgh talks about moving from studying the rain to studying the umbrella. At the VBC we take this to mean moving from focusing on the problem to being solution orientated. We’re really excited to offer you a chance to participate in designing umbrellas, figuratively speaking.

One of our clients is about to launch a personal development project for vets and vet nurses. They’re offering a chance to win a bottle of bubbly in return for completing a short survey[2].

Complete the survey here.

Your insights and comments will be incorporated into the planning of the programme and could help change veterinary mental health for the better. That could literally be a lifesaver for a vet who is struggling.

A test event will run later in 2017. If you’d like to keep up to date on progress, then the survey gives you chance to opt-in for emails too.

In anticipation of your support for this project the VBC and our client would like to thank you in and invite you to keep in touch with the project.

If you’d like to talk to the VBC in advance of the programme, please contact us here.

[1] http://jvme.utpjournals.press/toc/jvme/44/1

[2] Ts & Cs apply- Prize draw is open to UK and Ireland respondents only, but all insights are welcomed from around the world.

How to have an awesome meeting?

It’s a short blog this week because I’ve been consulting for one of my clients and helping facilitate a vet project they have in the pipeline. I’m really excited for them and of course I’d planned my workshop meeting and facilitation well.

However, I didn’t expect quite the level of engagement I got and I thought I’d share why the meeting was so successful.

Plasticine

(A.k.a modeling clay or Mála if you’re from Ireland.)

All of the pictures in this blog are productions of people in the room, whilst fully engaged in a very important strategic workshop. Aren’t they awesome? Who knew that we’d have some many budding Michelangelos in the room?

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It seems counter-intuitive to actively encourage a person’s mind to wander whilst you want them “in the room” for their meeting. Surely you want them focused and on task?

In a creative workshop such as the one I ran this week, we started with a problem and a group of folks to try and solve the problem, or at least to come up with the first iteration of a solution. There’s lots of evidence to show that the average human attention span is in minutes and runs in cycles. In a room of several people the challenge is to let the natural variation in the cycle of attention run, whilst trying to engage the team in a flow experience, which you might recognize as being “in the zone”. When you get in to a flow experience, time passes imperceptibly and people become deeply absorbed in what they’re doing. The quality of work is high and the experience in pleasurable and highly rewarding.

Pleasurable meetings? Really?

There are lots of flow models, but essentially in the creative scenario that we needed, we had to let the mind wander outside of the room, to alleviate the risk of boredom and to stimulate creative thought. Massaging plasticine, building Lego, using a fidget spinner and doodling all fit in this category. It enables your higher unconscious thinking to flow freely, in a mindful way. The skill of the facilitator is to then harvest the creativity and focus the outcomes in a framework for the team.

Here’s a suggestion on how you can do that.

  • Agenda and prework: Have an agenda that people can align with in advance. Set a simple pre-work task to get people in the mood of the meeting in advance, e.g. “bring an example of something that interests you on the topic of the meeting.”
  • Set up the room and have your tools ready. A few quid on plasticine, a bucket of Lego and some high protein snacks will help. Schedule and stick to the breaks or perhaps even schedule a walk as part of the meeting to freshen things up.
  • Frame the meeting objectives: Ask for personal objectives for the meeting or use the prework examples to get people thinking about the subject matter.
  • Let the subject go wide: The facilitator lets the subject run in different directions, whilst keeping the end in mind. They should be asking open questions, coaching the team and helping them drill down on ideas. This is the plasticine section and the longest part of the meeting by the way!

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  • Consider an exercise in the meeting where the team get off their bums and move around. A Post It note ideas boards, a white board or flip chart scribble session helps consolidate ideas and move the team towards consensus. Get them to draw what success looks or feels like.
  • Focus: As the meeting nears completion, start to focus the team on the stated objectives. Build the roadmap or action steps coming out of the meeting and start to build SMART goals that the team can use to keep each other accountable.

Post meeting follow up is always a challenge. A dry set of minutes isn’t anything other than a record of the meeting. Consider what is required. Is it an action list, a project plan or activity tracker? Or is it to evolve thinking? Certain people will go home and continue working on the meeting subject on the train home, in the shower or at the gym as well. Consider how you’re going to capture that energy and thought productively too?

Having a great meeting or workshop is a skill and requires planning and practice. Start small and invest in how you gather people together to do work: It will pay dividends.

For small business coaching, facilitation and mentoring, the VBC can support you. Get in touch and you too could have a team of micro-mascots on your windowsill.

Why having a clearly defined role & accepting it are two very different things

I’m a mid level cycling geek. I love nothing better than being out on a bike, especially a mountain bike and when I’m riding I find it’s often a mindful experience. I don’t get the same kind of flow experiences whilst running or doing other kinds of sport, although skiing gets me pretty close too.

Over the years I’ve read all kinds of books on the sport, whether it’s about Lance Armstrong and the conspiracies around him or more recently about Team Sky and their stellar performance in world cycling over the last few years. Sir Dave Brailsford is well known in the public psyche as one of the architects of this success. As I was thinking about my blog this week, one of his quotes about clarity of role came to mind:

  • Do the guys understand the teams’ strategy and the plan going in to a race?
  • Do they understand their own role in the plan?

The final piece of the obvious jigsaw is Role Acceptance.

Ask Sir Bradley Wiggins about role acceptance as his team mate Chris Froome rode away from him at the summit of La Toussuire in the 2012 Tour de France. Sir Brad’s autobiography makes a cracking read on the subject.

The concept of a strategy, tactics to deliver and people with the responsibility to deliver them is not new. Role acceptance is linked to company culture, but in the context of the average vet clinic it requires us to ask us some challenging questions. I’ve written before on culture and recruiting for culture and this is an extension of that thought process.

Our specific veterinary problem is that the pressure brought on by urgency in managing the clinical cases exacerbates our cultural and people challenges. Urgency usually trumps importance when it comes to task management. Urgent can take over by accident, but one way to help manage it is to ensure the important stuff is well thought out before urgency takes over. That means taking time to work on culture, strategy, tactical delivery of tasks and ensuring all team members know their role in the plan. Team members should be held accountable for that role too.

So here is the call to action. Answer the questions yourself first. If you can, that’s brilliant. If not, you’ve got some thinking and planning to do.

  • Does your clinic have a clearly expressed strategy?
  • Does your clinic have a plan for delivering on that strategy?
  • Do you know your role in the delivery of the plan?

And critically: Do you accept your role in the delivery of the plan?

I’ve come across many situations in clinic and business over the years where the strategy is clear, the plan is sound and people have the tasks clearly delegated to them. Yet the plan has not been succeeding because role acceptance has been an issue.

If you or your team haven’t accepted your roles, for whatever reason, then trouble lies ahead. It can be a real challenge to manage a person who hasn’t accepted their role in the plan. Usually it stems from having a divergent vision or belief about why they do what they do. Most people can explain what they do really well. Few can explain why as succinctly.

If your team doesn’t share the same vision and the same “why” of why you do what you do, then it’s unlikely they’re going to pull in the same direction and become a high performing team.

There’s a famous phrase, “Get the right people on the bus first and worry about them being in the right seats later”. Have you got the right people on your bus? Are you on the right bus? Don’t get caught up managing the seats on the bus if someone’s on the wrong bus. You’ll never make them happy and it might be time for a grown up conversation with them. It’s scary to approach this kind of conversation but usually both parties benefit, even if there’s a parting of the ways. Get the wrong people off the bus.

Engaging your team in building a shared vision, strategy and tactical delivery can reap dividends. Ensuring everyone knows their role and has accepted it is the final piece to get right.

The VBC can run a facilitated workshop for your clinic and coach you through it personally. We can help you work out job descriptions, roles, and responsibilities and help you roll them out. We’re not legal experts but we can also help you work through some of those difficult conversations you might need to have.

Drop us a line to set up a confidential chat, we’d love to hear from you!

What Vets can learn from Theresa May and the Mountain

First things first; this is NOT a political blog. I’m going to use Theresa May’s trip to Snowdonia, where she decided to call a snap general election, as an example of the relationship between nature, mindfulness and clear thinking. We could explore the Prime Minister’s decision in the context of a leader engaging with their team and seeking a mandate for action, but that’s a whole other blog and fraught with political innuendo, so I’m not going there!

On the 18th April Theresa May walked out of possibly the most famous front door in the world and stood at a lectern to announce a general election on the 8th of June. That was the story of the day and as usual the pundits and journalists went in to overdrive.

What surfaced later in the same day was a secondary story that the Prime Minister had decided upon the general election whilst on a walking trip in Snowdonia. Gore-Tex clad correspondents were dispatched to North Wales and conducted on the fly interviews with bemused walkers from the Miners Track, one of the established routes to climb a mountain that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember.

What I find incredulous is that the tone of the story in the mass media suggested she’d done something wrong by going to the mountains and that the general public wouldn’t understand why on earth she was “up a hill” whilst all the world went to rack and ruin around her.

I’ve always walked, cycled, camped and partaken of outdoor activities. It’s been part of our family DNA through the Scout movement and friends over the years. I’ve always valued the mindfulness of it, the exercise and the opportunity to disconnect from everyday life. I just enjoy it and always come home refreshed and calm whilst paradoxically being tired, sweaty and sore from the exertion. That’s the cleansing or cathartic part.

A simple Google search yields several articles from 10th April where Mr & Mrs May are pictured attending church in Dolgellau and quotes a Walesonline article where Mrs May says:

“Walking in Wales is an opportunity to get out and about and see scenery and clear your mind and your thinking. We stay in a hotel and try to walk every day. Walking is about relaxing, getting exercise and fresh air.”

It’s completely sensible to me that a major decision should be made after a reflective period and this could be up a mountain. It surprises me that others think not, so I did some digging. It turns out that there’s a lot of science behind the impact of nature on mindfulness, wellbeing and your psychology.

In his 2005 book, Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder, which encapsulates the idea that human beings, especially children, are spending progressively less and less time in nature and that is an underlying factor in a wide range of behavioral problems. The description of Nature Deficit Disorder has been criticized as a medical diagnosis, because it glosses over a myriad of underlying reasons for the decline of time spent in nature. However it serves well as a description of the alienation of humans from the natural world. The list of associated problems includes dissociation from nature with a lack of respect for the natural world, a lack of ecological or environmental awareness, depression, attention disorders, anxiety disorders, obesity, reduced creativity and even rickets from the lack of sunlight. We’re now beginning to understand the impact that a lack of nature might represent on our lives in a much deeper way.

So if a lack of nature can cause problems or even disease, is it possible that an experience in nature could be therapeutic? I’ve always thought so, but it turns out that there is lots of evidence for this too. I’m going to look at some specific examples, but there’s a really nice paper entitled “A Dose of Nature: Addressing chronic health conditions by using the environment” that summarises it well.

Green Prescriptions are becoming more widely established and the New Zealand Ministry of Health has been pioneering in this field. Adoption within the NHS has followed as the evidence based has expanded. Examples include:

  • Referrals to appropriate voluntary sector organisations have been shown to improve patient outcomes in managing psychosocial problems, compared to GP inputs alone.
  • Studies in the BMJ show that a Green Prescription improves physical activity and quality of life over 12 months without adverse side effects and with a 20-30% reduction in all cause mortality.
  • An Asian study in the Journal of cardiology has shown spending time in the forest has therapeutic effects on hypertension.

Ecopsychology studies the relationship between human beings and the natural world, using psychological and ecological principles. The emotional connection between a human, shaped by their normal social construct, and the “more-than-human” natural world is deeply innate, crafted by eons of evolution and it’s one that we’re inevitably adapted to. This relatively new science is seeking to explore how we can develop sustainable lifestyles and remedy the alienation from nature, for example:

  • Eco-therapy, a facilitated experience in nature, but with a safety net of more formal support.
  • Using nature to enable significant change, decision-making and personal development. There are many providers offering development programmes in this area.

Shinrin-yoko, or Japanese Tree Bathing was first spoken about in the 1980’s and has since developed a robust body of work. The idea is deceptively simple: if a person visits a natural area or forest and simply walks in a calm and relaxed way, calming, restorative and rejuvenating benefits can be gained. It seems intuitive, but the list of reported benefits includes:

  • Reduced stress, reduced blood pressure and boosted immune system
  • Improved mood, energy and sleep patterns
  • Improved, deeper intuition and creativity
  • Increased ability to focus, even in people with diagnosed ADHD.
  • Overall increased sense of happiness.

So, at the risk of making a political statement: Theresa May is right. There is copious evidence on the benefits of taking a break in nature. Not only should you walk in the fresh air, you should disconnect from your technology and allow yourself an immersive experience. I know a few people who work in this area and it’s possible to experience such powerful flow experiences as to be life changing.

The obvious call to action is to literally go for a walk. For vets as a profession, with our well documented mental health and wellbeing issues, the main issue becomes managing your time in a way that gives us the chance to go for that walk. The dog owners among us might get that regularly but personally, with a Border Terrier and Labrador both less than 3 years of age, I don’t find the dog walk a mindful experience. Try it solo and you might find a completely different perspective.

The VBC can help develop your practice nature strategy, whether it’s time management strategies, people management requirements or other business development activities to help you see the wood from the trees. Drop us a line and you can have a free, confidential preliminary chat.

The three behaviours holding back veterinary leadership

I’ve just spent the last couple of days recovering from and reflecting on BSAVA Congress 2017. Like many others, I have an unbroken run of 15 years or more attendance, although until recently I’ve been on the exhibitor side of the fence. Even as a pure delegate, Congress continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

The delights are the quality of the event, the people and the opportunities that it presents, whether for networking, learning or business. Having a sunny couple of days also really helps charge the batteries after periods spent in lecture halls. However, it markedly impacts the exhibition’s performance and I know people who will have been hoping for rain to drive the crowds indoors at the BarclayCard Arena.

The frustrations from me this year fall in to two areas. Firstly, the distributed nature of ICC, Arena and linking walkways give all kinds of logistics issues. Yes, it gets the blood going round after two hours seated but it challenges my timeliness. Secondly, I find myself frustrated by us as vets. Let me explain because it’s a question of language.

At a rough count, of the 350 or so lectures at congress, about 10% were on non clinical subjects, with a nice proportion of those addressing personal development and leadership topics. That’s great to see and the improvement in the number and quality of non-clinical topics continues. However, having sat through a number of these sessions, despite excellent content, it doesn’t seem to be widely sinking in that leadership is a personal thing, delivered by the individual, on behalf of organisations.

There are three key behaviours that we, as a profession, need to work on.

  1. Use the language of leadership. There is no place for mickey taking, sarcastic witticisms, lack of respect and anything less than carefully chosen language. If you need help, let me know because I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life working on it and it’s not easy to get right.
  2. Behave as leaders. This is a choice. We choose the perspective that we take and we can choose to stop moaning, take a positive outlook or a broader view and accept that we are masters of our own destiny. Yes, some of the things that are happening right now are contentious, but they’re happening nonetheless and whilst it’s great to be passionate, we must channel our passion into a positive approach these issues. The next generation of vets and the pet owning public are watching.
  3. Move to a solution oriented position. The problems of the profession are well elucidated and there is a plethora of published materials on it. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, the Vet Futures Report, the Mind Matters Initiative, the VetLife statistics about the number of vets seeking help or the RCVS Strategic plan all demonstrate the problems. But we’re in a tailspin. We’re sitting with our heads bowed arguing about who has it worst. It might be because we use a “problem oriented learning” approach to clinical cases, but we’ve got to move on.

We need to look up and see that veterinary leaders are now starting to move forward and that a vision of the future profession is being painted. We’re being invited in to the future. We all need to talk like leaders, act like leaders and bring solutions, not problems to the table. Don’t you want to be part of the solution rather than one of the problems?

Let me give some of examples: –

  • I have chosen to use Doctor as a title. I have had friends, both PhD and not PhD question this. Its been done in private and also in front of an audience. One example is, “I’m a real Doctor because I earned my PhD”. I respect and understand this, however why don’t you respect and understand my right to use the title? If we can’t offer each other the mutual respect and courtesy, how can we expect to get along? It’s just not acceptable. My old American DVM boss always called me Dr Pratt out of respect, long before I was able to use the title. Imagine the sea change in public and professional perception we could drive with that level of respect.
  • The Vet Futures report has a list of 24 jobs that need doing. Each has a draft plan, but there’s no roadmap or sense of urgency. We need to prioritise the jobs, communicate the plans and hold people accountable. Not in a punitive way, but through leadership. I think at least 4 of the jobs represent mandates for action and are commercial opportunities for entrepreneurial vets. Facebook use the phrase, “Better done than perfect”. Our instinctive perfectionism holds us back, but perfection is an asymptote, meaning it’s unobtainable, so let’s just get going.
  • I heard the phrase “fear of the RCVS” used in several contexts, several times and it’s clear that a population of vets live in fear of the RCVS or of a mistake costing them their career. What’s driving this fear? It can’t help that the RCVS has a Disciplinary Committee rather than a Fitness to Practice Committee or that Communication in Practice seminars delivered by well meaning organsitions have jokey references to how not to get sued. We need to carefully choose our language, because we can’t know the impact on people were trying to reach. Read the RCVS strategic plan, because it might just change your perspective. You should have had an email from them yesterday.

We are a bunch of passionate, caring, professionals who do an incredibly skilled job, often under suboptimal conditions. We owe it to ourselves, the next generation and to the public and animals that we serve, to walk and talk like the leaders we aspire to be.

If you’re an entrepreneurial vet service provider that would like to sit down and explore Vet Futures with a view to writing a business plan, then get in touch, we’ve got lots of ideas.

If you’re a vet who finds themselves wanting help getting out of a tailspin, personally or on a clinic level, then the VBC can help. Get in touch via our contact page.

Why Veterinary Leadership has a problem with intellect.

In the history of psychology, two names loom large. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist, developed the discipline of analytical psychology, rooted in the understanding of personal psyche and the human quest for wholeness. The other name, Sigmund Freud, was an Austrian neurologist who created psychoanalysis and in so doing, the medical discipline of psychotherapeutics.

They worked together in the early twentieth century but developed divergent views on how humans could seek to understand, manage and treat the mind.

Why am I talking about Jung and Freud? Well for this blog I’m going to focus on Jungian theory and show why vets have a problem with intellect*. I’m going to illustrate a couple of specific issues, which are not only vet problems, but societal as well. Then I’m going to make a proposal and I want to know if you’d like to come along for the ride?

In his 1921 publication, Psychological Types, Jung proposed a theory of cognitive functions and how people perceive and judge. He elaborated four main cognitive functions; thinking, feeling, intuition and sensing. He then applied an extroverted or introverted versions of each, giving 16 main personality types. You may have heard these terms before because of the work of the earlier pioneers of personality testing, Isabel Myers and Katherine Cook-Briggs. They took Jungian Theory and evolved it into the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test. MBTI is one of the world’s most popular personality “tests” but remains controversial in the world of psychology. Businesses and users of MBTI often use it to explain personality types and behaviours in the context of teams, relationships and business.

Thinking is often referred to as intellect, where concepts are subjected to a judging function and an action is made. This includes objective assessments, measurements and hard facts. In the day-to-day parlance of “head over heart” judgments, this is clearly “the head”.

Intuition is played out as hunches or visions and is an unconscious sensation of right or wrong. It’s a perceiving function and is often represented as the opposite of Thinking, in that the judgment is made upon intangible, unconscious perceptions. Something intuitively “seems right”.

Feeling is also a kind of judging function, but it’s different from intellectual judgment in that it is a subjective feeling of acceptance or rejection. It also deals with the emotional aspects of objects and subjects. It’s the “heart” in head over heart decision making.

Sensing is the function that transmits a physical stimulus to perception. It’s primarily the perceptions of the sense organs and hence of physical objects or the physical world.

So how do vets or society have a problem with this construct? Why doesn’t this understanding serve us well yet? For example, MBTI enables you to understand your dominant thinking types, to understand the primary modes of others and how this interplay works in teams and relationships. However, it has the down side of tending to pigeonhole people or to over simplify the whole theory and people end up labelled instead.

There are also some general tendencies that we’ve adopted in the modern world and which do us no favours.

Modern society prizes Thinking or intellect. Why? Well it can be measured, objectified and rewarded. In the vet context, we’ve taken this to extreme by selecting the highest achieving students, hothousing them in a university to cram all that veterinary knowledge into their brains and prizing the clinical outcome over everything else. We compound that with evidence based medicine and often eschew alternative therapies that lack evidence.

Others have commented on the loss of the Art of Veterinary Medicine. You might see that in a new graduate who orders a barrage of tests to support an intellectual judgment, compared to a seasoned vet who follows a hunch. The NHS has recognized this in the clinical phrase “Doesn’t Look Well” as an intuitive diagnosis that something, as yet uncharacterized, is happening and warrants further attention.

As vets, we need to revisit urgently the balance between the highly prized Intellect and the often-demoted Intuition.

Another worrying tendency is to disregard Feeling in favour of Sensing. The tangibility of what our senses perceive reinforces our tendency to Thinking mode. Consider a business phrase that I used regularly, “Let’s see what the sales numbers tell us”. We objectify with the senses and relegate feelings as being soft or feminine and label people emotional.

To a degree we’ve demonised feelings and devalued them. In a profession that’s now predominately female and that deals with the emotional impact of animal health on human life, I think we’re woefully under resourced to understand and manage this facet of our cognitive makeup.

So what’s my proposal? We need to reframe veterinary leadership in a different context. Most of the leadership taught in vet world right now is actually management skills. Don’t get me wrong; These skills are vital in our development but it’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m advocating here is a paradigm shift in the leadership discussion. I’m talking about addressing our well-reported career retention, mental health and suicide issues in the context of Personal Leadership. Based upon a foundation understanding of self, then nurtured in an environment of coaching and mentoring and delivered in a highly experiential way.

I’m proposing a leadership quest. A quest that is different from a journey, because on a journey from A to B, you know where the fixed points A and B are. In a quest, you don’t know where the destination is.

It’s a journey of discovery; self discovery.

Are you along for the ride? Tell me what you think.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist, I’m a vet, so please forgive any inaccuracies in interpretation of theory!