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!