1.1 What Is Leadership, and Why Do We Need a Book on Veterinary Leadership?

There are many definitions of leadership, and it is such a fundamental aspect of human existence that we instinctively understand the concept even if writing down a workable definition can be difficult. Here’s one of the many definitions I am happy with:

‘Leadership is the function that is devoted to enhancing an organisation’s effectiveness.’

  • – de Haan and Kasozi 2014

By this definition, leadership is not invested in ‘leaders’ but can reside in many people both inside and outside of an organisation. Leadership is a prerequisite of a professional’s existence, be it in the service of peers, clients, patients, or society. In addition, this definition implies that leadership exists in an organisational context, which will influence what leadership looks like. As I shall explore in this book, leadership and followership are essential parts of the same function and cannot be examined independently. Leadership is a social process and, together, ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ construct leadership. Leadership is also a singular, individual, experience; what you see, hear, feel, understand, and respond to as a ‘leader’ will be different to everyone else and will be informed by your own personality and experience. As a complex social interaction, leadership is not easily broken down into ‘how to’ instructions. It is important to remember that when thinking about the issues raised in this book and how they might apply to you and those around you.

Good management is important alongside good leadership, but they are not the same. Good leadership is doing the right things; good management is doing things right (Table 1.1). The veterinary professions need both leadership and management, but they do not necessarily have to be done by the same people. We may all know good managers who are poor leaders and vice versa. Management is about planning, organising, staffing, controlling activities, and solving problems, (Kotter 1990). Leadership is something different (Table 1.1).

Leadership is as important in our day‐to‐day, every day, as much as it is in when tackling the major issues of our time. Leadership takes place when we are getting family out of the door in the morning, when trying to achieve consensus in a team meeting, when identifying and prosecuting a big change project, and when co‐ordinating the management of a global crisis. To paraphrase Jena et al. (2018) ‘to be a veterinary surgeon is to lead’. The existence of flat leadership hierarchies found in many of the environments that veterinary professionals work means that leadership is required everyday – whether it be taking up authority and discharging responsibilities towards peers, other members of the veterinary team, or clients – it is a prerequisite of the job from the outset. Leadership (as opposed to ‘The Leadership’) can come from any place in organisational hierarchy and does not necessarily imply formal authority. Indeed, waiting for leadership to come from those who have designated authority can create a leadership vacuum which can, potentially, be disastrous, as examination of human factors and their contribution to medical error can show (Zipperer 2014). Throughout this book I will be using scenario examples that cover some of the topics under discussion, and these will be chosen to illustrate the broad importance of leadership in veterinary medicine as well as the specific point in mind.

Table 1.1 The essence of leadership.

Source: Based on Yukl, G. (2013), Leadership in Organisations, 8th ed. Pearson Education Limited; England and West, M. et al. (2015), Leadership and Leadership Development in Health Care: The Evidence Base, The Kings Fund, pp. 1–36. doi: 19022015.

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Nov 6, 2022 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Introduction

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Leadership function
Creating direction
Nurturing commitment
Creating collective identity
Creating psychological safety
Enabling collective learning
Providing resources
Developing and empowering
Promoting honesty and fairness