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The Basics: I'm too young to be a leader!

Posted in The Basics - Managing Your Veter @ Nov 5th 2020 - By Judy Gillespie, Vetanswers

I'm too young to be a leader in my veterinary practice - I wouldn't know where to start!

Even if you don’t have a ‘Title’ there’s no reason why you can’t step up into a leadership role, especially if, for whatever reason, you can see there’s a bit of a void. Perhaps you’re part of a team with much younger, less experienced employees who require more leadership support than a team who have worked together for quite a while and therefore need less leadership support. Whatever the reason, the key is to take on a leadership role without overstepping boundaries and upsetting the rest of the team members.

To be a Manager you need to be given the title (and duties and responsibilities) by someone with the authority to do so, however anyone can take on the role of leader within a team if they have the right skills. And sometimes you may not even necessarily ‘want’ to take over the role – it just falls into your lap and suddenly you realise the rest of the team are looking to you for direction and support. Suddenly you’ve become the leader because others in your team have allowed you to influence their lives.

“Leadership is not rank, privilege, titles or money, it is responsibility.” Peter Drucker

Although you may have no interest in a leadership role at the moment -  you never know what the future holds.  You may have the opportunity to further your career by taking on a role as a nurse manager or practice manager or you may even decide to own your own practice one day.

Whatever the future holds it’s never too early to start developing leadership skills – no matter what your current role is.

Where should you start?

You could start by recognising when a team member does a good job.  Taking the time to notice when someone has done something well and commenting is great for building a strong team.  Praise doesn’t just have to come from the boss, sometimes it can mean even more when a peer or co-worker comments on what a great job you’ve done.

Be aware of some of the qualities of a great leader


Ability to delegate


Sense of humour



Positive attitude



Ability to inspire






Strength of character





Continuous improvement


Many of the vet nurses and vets I know could tick many of these boxes already, so that leads me to believe that many of the vet nurses and vets I know already have the skills to be a good leader.  What about you?

Some areas you can start to think about and work on right now…

Always do the best work you can do – even when it feels like no one is watching

Even when you think no one is watching, your good work ethic will be noticed and can help to set the standard for others in your team. Being a role model for others is a key characteristic of a successful leader.

Get to know your team members & help them out when possible

Working to develop great professional relationships with your work mates, including those who are senior to you, can go a long way to increasing your effectiveness at work. It will also help to develop your mentoring skills, another useful skill as you move up the career ladder.

If someone in your team seems stressed or busy, offer to help out if you know you have the time. Understanding the importance of being a team player means sometimes helping others in the team to work towards a common goal – for the good of your practice – even if you may not necessarily personally benefit from it.

Use your influence for good (not evil)

Don’t underestimate your power to motivate and inspire others in your team – especially if you have a greater level of skill or knowledge or even a stronger personality than others in your team. Sometimes all it takes is a cheery good morning or a silly joke to lift the mood and spirits of those around you – especially when times are tough and moods are low.

Speak up....and listen to others

Be the person who suggests solutions and offers to manage the improvement project. Take any opportunity you can to put your hand up and volunteer for projects or offer to help out.

Don’t just be the person speaking up though, also take the time to listen to the points of views of others in your team. They may not necessarily want to take control but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid opinion and good ideas.

Own your mistakes and recognise the accomplishments of others

Be ready to admit when you make a mistake and view criticisms as an opportunity to learn and grow, NOT a personal attack.

Recognise and celebrate the accomplishments of others in your team. Your team members will appreciate your positive feedback even if you’re not the practice manager or owner.

Look outside the box…go beyond your job

Look outside your job and keep up with industry news and events - keep up with what’s going on both inside AND outside the veterinary industry. The external environment can have a huge impact on the day to day working of your veterinary practice and the more you know, the more prepared you can be.

Keep learning …become an expert

Don’t ever stop learning. Become a subject expert by participating in as many learning opportunities you can find. Read as much as you can get your hands on. The newspaper, journals, online newsletters, anything about people – it doesn’t just have to be about leadership. The more you learn about people and what motivates them, their behaviours and general psychology, the more you’ll understand the best way to lead them.

There’s a huge range of Continuing Professional Developments (CPD) opportunities within the veterinary industry, from conferences to seminars, webinars and workshops - you can find them all in Vetanswers online ‘What’s on? Veterinary CPD Calendar.

And don’t forget all the opportunities you have to learn every day at work. Ask questions, find out why and keep your eyes open – informal opportunities to learn are all around you.

Although you may not have a Title, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference to how successfully your team operates. Taking on an informal leadership role may not immediately lead to more dollars in your pay packet but it will lead to greater job satisfaction and the potential to develop your career in the future. 


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