5 Common Veterinary Practice Leadership Styles

Practice managers know that employing an effective leadership style can boost practice productivity, improve patient care, increase revenue, and lead to greater levels of staff engagement. There's no one type of leadership that can be singled out as the best for veterinary practices, since much depends on each practice's culture, goals, and staff members. It's also quite common for managers to draw from more than one style of leadership or to progress through multiple styles over the course of their careers.

Let's take a look at some of the most common leadership styles found in veterinary practices.

1. Coaching Leadership

Managers using a coaching leadership style act as mentors by evaluating staff strengths and weaknesses while identifying opportunities to develop each individual's skill set. They focus on education and training, goal setting, motivation, and performance recognition.

Coaching leaders communicate their expectations clearly and in a manner that promotes a positive and supportive environment. A coaching leader might hold regular staff meetings to discuss the team's strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. They recognize outstanding performance by individual team members or reward the team as a whole for meeting previously set goals.

Staff members tend to respond positively to this leadership style, appreciating the interest and support communicated through interactions with the manager. It's important, however, that the manager takes care not to "overcoach" the team to the point where they feel pressured or micromanaged. It also requires a significant investment of time to coach a team, leaving less opportunity for a manager to focus on other business-related matters such as improving protocol or managing the practice's finances.

2. Democratic Leadership

Democratic leaders ask for input and feedback from the team before making decisions like implementing a new preventive care protocol or adjusting schedules. They work to build consensus, creating an open and collaborative atmosphere where discussion is encouraged.

Employees are often satisfied with this leadership style because they feel their voices are heard and taken into consideration. This style can slow the decision-making process, however, since discussion is generally time-consuming. It also has the potential for making the leader seem indecisive or unqualified if they are always seeking opinions before making decisions.

3. Autocratic Leadership

Managers employing the autocratic leadership style lead with commanding military precision, focusing on results and efficiency. They are the polar opposites of democratic leaders, making decisions without input from employees and giving orders with the expectation that they will be obeyed without question. Autocratic leaders are often seen as strict and direct, and their authoritarian style allows for quick decision-making.

This type of leadership works when employees are inexperienced or need direct supervision and when decisions need to be made quickly, like when several employees are out with the flu and an emergency appointment pops up at the end of the day. However, this style can hurt the morale and motivation of experienced employees who may feel undervalued and become discouraged due to lack of input. Decisions directly impacting employee well-being, such as those involving overtime or scheduling, can be poorly received when the staff has no say in the leader's decision-making process.

4. Laissez-Faire Leadership

A laissez-faire leader has a relaxed and hands-off management style, giving little or no direct supervision to staff unless they ask for guidance. This gives employees a great deal of autonomy and flexibility, and allows the manager to focus on projects and business development.

This arrangement works well if all team members are well trained, highly skilled, and trustworthy. It may not suit situations where employees need motivation and supervision to perform well, like when the practice is trying out new management software, or if you haven't communicated your expectations clearly.

5. Servant Leadership

Servant leaders are very giving and are motivated by helping others, consistently putting the needs of the team above their own. They're always asking what they can do to help others succeed and focus on increasing employee satisfaction, promoting collaboration, boosting morale, developing the culture, and improving team performance. They try to foster a sense of personal and professional fulfillment among staff members.

This leadership style leads to high levels of employee satisfaction since staff feels well supported, but can be difficult for the leader since they give help to others and don't prioritize their own needs.

Did you see a leadership style that looks familiar? Remember, you can draw from multiple leadership styles as needed, and your style can certainly evolve over time. The most important thing is to consider what will work best for you and your team and to make adjustments as necessary.

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Mary Hope Kramer
Animal Industry Writer

Mary Hope Kramer has more than 15 years of professional writing experience. She worked as a small-animal veterinary assistant while completing her BS degree in animal science at Berry College. She was also named top student in the Kentucky Equine Management Internship and completed the Summer Experience in Equine Management at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, New York. After graduation, she focused on gaining professional experience in the equine industry. 

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