Leadership and Development

Leadership and Development

In this chapter we will explore:

  • The importance of leadership development
  • What it really means to develop leadership
  • Aspects of learning theory
  • Options for leader and leadership development
  • Succession planning

12.1 Introduction

This chapter selectively examines some learning and leadership development theory and considers how these might apply in the veterinary professions and inform choices about formal and informal leadership development, both for individuals and organisations. Leadership development is, at best, seen both as a strategic need and a constant endeavour. Developing collective leadership, alongside individual leadership repertoires, should improve both the welfare of the animals in our care and the lives of those that care for them.

As our work becomes more complex, the knowledge and technical skills required become more than one individual can be expected to master and apply, and yet, as our professional status obliges us to be responsible for the standards of work, so effective leadership becomes more obviously a professional competence. As with other competences, therefore, ‘leadership’ deserves to be named and given due attention. Furthermore, the development of self and others becomes a leadership competence in its own right.

Leadership is relevant across the spectrum of veterinary work, from the point of engagement with the animals under our care to the boundaries of the profession and connections to wider society and beyond. Veterinary leaders are advocates for their professions in extended settings such as politics and business. In these settings it helps to be speaking the same language and feel like you belong; being versed in the same principles of leadership and being able to critically engage with those outside the veterinary professions as peers can greatly increase our impact and quieten those impostor voices in our heads that get in the way. By seeing ourselves and our professions as legitimate leaders, we can continue to have meaningful impact on our world.

In human healthcare, leadership development is seen as critical in both the nursing and medical professions, although engaging doctors in leadership development is seen as more difficult than engaging nurses (Lee 2010; Andersson 2015; West et al. 2015). Nevertheless, there is now evidence of association between hospital performance and physician leadership, although good hospitals might just be the ones that employ physician leaders (Goodall 2011; Goodall et al. 2016). Nevertheless, it is strongly argued that doctors and nurses should play leadership roles in human healthcare organisations, and there is no reason to believe that the same principles would not apply to the development of leadership in veterinary organisations (Ham and Dickinson 2008; West et al. 2015).

The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) modern world more and more rapidly butts up against the rigid, hierarchical, and rule‐bound historic organisations. Distributed leadership, where decisions can be made and the freedom is given to act in accordance with the unfolding reality of events close at hand, becomes more and more relevant. Organisations need to be leader‐full and not just well‐led (Bolden 2011; Aggarwal and Swanwick 2015).

This, then, leads to the question: Are you developing leaders or leadership?

12.2 What Are You Developing?

Leadership is contextual; what is appropriate in one scenario and organisation may not be so in another and, although there are competencies that can be considered helpful, when playing a leadership role (Chapter 3), these must be appropriate to the circumstances and what works for one group in one context may not be right for others. Developing leadership then becomes ‘the collective capacity of organizational members to engage effectively in leadership roles and processes’ (Day 2000).

Leadership is a social construct that emerges from relationships between individuals, and leadership development creates social capital of partnerships, collaborations, and networks (McCray et al. 2021). Understanding some of the principles and sound practices of leadership is important, but how you learn to be, in leadership, defies easy, linear, description. As a relational activity, leadership needs both nonverbal, visual, holistic thinking, using intuition, feelings, and emotions to generate understanding (right‐brain thinking), and verbal description, data, facts, logic (left‐brain thinking). What does this mean for leadership development? It means that it is important to work on relations, feelings, emotions, awareness, and human skills when developing leadership, both individually and collectively, as well as critically appreciating some of the more scientific principles of leadership.

There is no point having great leadership with poor teams; effective group function requires both individuals with the right leadership repertoires for the situation, and teams with the right capabilities and the capacity to assign, apply, and effectively communicate the right combinations at the right time. Thus, alongside development of the individual, should be facilitation of collective leadership (Megheirkouni and Mejheirkouni 2020).

12.3 Does Leadership Development Work?

How do you judge if leadership development is effective? You can examine:

  • Reaction – the response of individuals to the leadership development opportunity
  • Learning – the improved knowledge and understanding of those receiving training
  • Transfer – the changed behaviour resulting from leadership development training and
  • Results – the measurable outcome benefits for an organisation in investing in leadership development (Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick 2006).

A meta‐analysis of 335 independent samples showed evidence for a benefit of leadership development training across all four criteria (Lacerenza et al. 2017). It is assumed that the more individuals in an organisation that are engaged in leadership development, the greater the overall impact, but potentially at greater overall cost, depending on mode of delivery and the real cost involved in training. This meta‐analysis, however, showed that training that was mandated, rather than voluntary, had a greater impact on results, and it was suggested that wider uptake might have had a greater overall impact, even though average individual responses to mandated training were less favourable (Lacerenza et al. 2017).

In human healthcare, the benefits of leader and leadership development are, as yet, poorly researched and less clear, although the benefits are advocated (Lee 2010; West et al. 2015). Whilst there is sporadic evidence of the benefits of leadership development in doctors, e.g. through action learning sets, there remains a dearth of good data (Leigh et al. 2017; Till et al. 2020; McCray et al. 2021).

It is also worth adding a further note of caution; the limitations of leadership development training on overall organisational performance (Cohen 2019). This author argues that leadership development only accounts for a small proportion of organisational performance and that:

People grow and develop over time by gaining the right types of relevant experience and assignments. People learn how to achieve results by focusing on causal outcomes – not tangential or passive activities …. people develop the appropriate leadership skills, when we consciously design or redesign the social context in ways that make it possible for developmental processes to flourish, and for managers to perform effectively and learn.

This eloquently makes the point that we should not be seduced into thinking that there is a magic bullet of leadership development but that, rather, it is (intentionally or otherwise) woven into the organisational context as part of normal human activity. We must, therefore, attend to what we want leadership to look and feel like because some form of leadership will emerge anyway.

12.4 Engagement and Motivation to Develop Leadership

Why would any individual, or group, engage in leadership development?

Hannah and Avolio (2010), in an opinion‐based review, define developmental readiness as ‘the ability and motivation to attend to, make meaning of, and appropriate new leader KSAAs (knowledge, skills, abilities, and attributes) into knowledge structures along with concomitant changes in identity to employ those KSAAs’. They further suggest this readiness is promoted through interests and goals, a learning goal orientation (similar to a growth mindset) and developmental efficacy (i.e. a belief that learning can be applied). They link the ability to develop to leadership skills to self‐awareness, self‐complexity, and meta‐cognitive ability.

For some, there is no doubt that the motivation to develop leadership fits with concepts of career planning and pathways up a hierarchy, where perceived influence is increased and one is insulated from the anxieties inherent in dealing with the realities of the primary task (Menzies 1960). There can be significant reward at stake as one progresses up a hierarchy, and the personal return on investment can be high.

Table 12.1 Examples of both positively and negatively construed motivations for developing leadership which may be intrinsic or extrinsic.

Positive Negative
Intrinsic Altruism
Extrinsic Shared purpose
Critical need
Cultural expectation

Concepts such as developmental readiness and self‐determination (competence, self‐efficacy, autonomy) explain why individuals in hierarchical, competitive environments might pursue leadership careers and assume, to some extent, that the motivation to lead is needed to justify a real and psychological investment in leadership development (Ryan and Deci 2000). Motivations, however, can be intrinsic and extrinsic. In the caring professions leadership development can be construed as both a need, and an opportunity, to make a wider impact and contribution which sits comfortably with altruistic and compassionate perspectives (Table 12.1).

From a compassionate perspective, development of both personal and collective leadership becomes about being able to do better with the resources to hand and so improve both human and animal welfare.

12.5 Developing a Leadership Identity

When we see veterinary work is a scientific endeavour, focussed on animal welfare in health and disease, and when the challenges of that work lead to the develop of strong professional communities and identities, leadership can be marginalised and not considered a professional competence. In human medicine, the benefits of including clinicians and nurses in healthcare leadership, where there is also non‐clinical management, are being shown (Lee 2010; Goodall et al. 2016; Leigh et al. 2017). The challenge of growing the medical and nursing professional identities to include leadership development are noted, however (Levenson et al. 2010; Curtis et al. 2011; West et al. 2015). Development of a leadership identity, as part of one’s professional identity, alongside metacognition and emotional regulation, and aligned with self‐relevance, values, and authenticity becomes the leadership development goal at an individual level (Lord and Hall 2005). It becomes about being a leader (at whatever place in an organisation) not doing leadership (McKimm and O’Sullivan 2016). And, hopefully, as more veterinary professionals integrate leadership into their professional selves, so collective leadership becomes less aspiration and more reality.

Professional identities can be strongly held and developing them from a hard‐won position (from veterinary professional to veterinary leader and beyond) can take time, effort, and persistence. (Spehar et al. 2015). This is hindered where developing into leadership roles is perceived negatively (‘crossing over to the dark side’) and might be at risk of losing both social support and professional capital, and bring the challenge of holding incompatible identities, where clinical and nonclinical roles are in conflict (Andersson 2015; Mcgivern et al. 2015; Loh et al. 2016). Leadership development activities should support identity construction, deconstruction, and reinterpretation (Wald et al. 2015; Maile et al. 2019). Because leadership in complexity and uncertainty is about relationships, about recognising and being recognised, leadership identity construction takes place in context with others (Karp, and HelgØ 2009). Feelings and emotions are the data of relationships, and whilst access to theory, and opportunities to practice and develop leadership expertise are important they need to be combined with active support, opportunities to reflect and safe, compassionate spaces in which to explore and be vulnerable in relationship with others.

For those that choose to engage in growing and integrating leadership into their veterinary professional identity the challenges (and rewards) can be great and opportunities can be competitive. It is a personal and professional risk to put oneself forward and the potential rewards should be real. Role models show the way for those earlier in their development; they show that the possibility for development and progression exist and that leadership is not the sole province of stereotypes. Examining motivations and enablers for women in veterinary leadership positions Tindell et al. (2020) identified the importance of the ability to influence, be role models and provide mentorship as motivations to lead, supported by external enablers such as celebration of women leaders, provision of mentorship, and leadership training. Role modelling needs to be in combination with systemic developments that facilitate leadership alongside other life challenges and roles. Teamwork, which allows those exercising leadership to delegate to others both professional and nonprofessional tasks, whilst they perform the work of leadership, allows the maintenance of an integrated veterinary and leadership identity. This may help both self‐confidence in the leadership role (and mitigate the fear of letting go veterinary skills) whilst maintaining a (self‐) sense of credibility, relationship, and connection with veterinary professional work.

12.6 Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

When we learn, our brain changes; this is neuroplasticity, and it is a biological underpinning of learning (Draganski et al. 2004). Nevertheless, if leadership is a relational social process and can be learned, developmental capacities are not limited by an individual’s professional status, educational background, or other artificial constraints. The concept of neuroplasticity helps us appreciate that learning and development of expertise is not instantaneous and that it takes time to build layers of understanding and practice

It is useful to have a model to work from, such as the Kolb experiential learning cycle (Kolb 2015). This makes learning a continuous process in a practise‐based framework and, because leadership is relational and socially constructed, it seems an appropriate model. It includes four realms of learning (Figure 12.1):

  1. Concrete experience. Leadership development that is not grounded in the reality of the task at hand is devalued. Concrete experience, involving oneself whole heartedly in the moment, provides the basis for observation and reflection. It includes not just what happened, but how it was perceived. We can include what happens for others in this realm because of the capacity to empathetically be ‘in someone else’s shoes’. Mirror neurones have been shown to activate when experiencing the situation of others (Bagozzi et al. 2013; Clark et al. 2019). We can develop the capacity to experience cognitively, but also emotionally and intuitively. Cultivating the ability to notice through practices such as mindful meditation can be helpful (Wald et al. 2015).
  2. Reflective observation. This is the process of observing, and reflecting on, experience from many perspectives. It includes the ability to notice not just what happened on the surface but the associated emotions and sensations; self‐awareness (Megheirkouni and Mejheirkouni 2020). This includes developing your emotional lexicon and being aware of embodied responses which can be a powerful clue to underlying relational processes (Van der Kolk 2015). It can also be useful to consider different ways of seeing by using techniques such as artistic expression to explore both right‐brain and left‐brain thinking (Sheather 2019).
  3. Abstract conceptualisation. From your experiences and reflections, you create concepts and logically sound theories that fit with the world as you experience it at the time. This aspect of learning includes consumption of thoughts, ideas, facts, and associated knowledge from people directly, e.g. in a lecture, or indirectly, e.g. in a book, through reading articles, consuming media, listening to podcasts, etc. This is the realm where those of us who are trained to ingest and assimilate information and apply our cognitive skills are typically most comfortable, but it is, therefore, potentially the least developmental.
  4. Active experimentation. From the synthesis of new concepts, the learner can make decisions, solve problems, plan, and experiment. Experimentation can occur in safe spaces, e.g. through role play and other such (typically uncomfortable) activities and where, therefore, care needs to be exercised to avoid embarrassment and shame from failure. From experimentation applied into practise we create new experiences to observe, reflect on and integrate into an abstract conceptualisation.
Schematic illustration of different leadership development opportunities and where they sit in the experiential learning cycle.

Figure 12.1 Different leadership development opportunities and where they sit in the experiential learning cycle. A balanced development strategy will fulfil all parts of a learning cycle, developing knowledge, understanding, awareness, behaviours, identities, and outcomes as it proceeds.

Source: After Kolb, D. A. (2015), Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

As we move forward (not necessarily steadily or triumphantly; we might need to backtrack and re‐negotiate different ways forward) so we cycle through the different realms and create a spiral of learning (Kolb 2015).

12.7 Creating a Feedback Culture

A workplace culture that accepts and promotes helpful feedback should enhance the developmental opportunities available. Psychological safety is a prerequisite for an effective feedback culture to avoid the potential for feedback to be weaponised, and this takes time and commitment to develop to the point of it becoming a natural and accepted part of the way things are done (Chapter 9). This requires leadership, discussion, and careful listening in teams if it is to be achieved consensually and in a context sensitive way. There is potential for feedback to have the wrong effect than intended, and the mode and delivery of feedback should bear careful consideration (Kluger and DeNisi 1996).

Feedback can be a positive or negative evaluation of performance relative to the goal (Kluger and DeNisi 1996). Positive feedback, recognising and encouraging actions, and behaviours as beneficial to goal achievement, is aimed at continuation and enhancement of desired actions and behaviours and negative (constructive, developmental) feedback is aimed at improvement where performance is deemed suboptimal relative to aims (Kluger and DeNisi 1996).

Professionals have a high need for, and appreciate, feedback that helps them develop their practise (Delong et al. 2007). Paradoxically, in high performance cultures, the importance of feedback can easily be lost to the immediacy of the task. Veterinary professionals are often highly self‐critical and sensitised to concentrating on what went wrong so they can continue to do better next time. They can be prone to deliver negative feedback, in unhelpful ways, with the aim of getting better.

Small amounts of negative feedback can lead to meaningful behavioural change, but too much can undermine subsequent performance (Kluger and DeNisi 1996; Ilgen and Davis 2000). Feedback that is perceived to be critical can induce emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, hurt, defensiveness, sadness, ambivalence, resignation, and de‐motivation (Jackman and Strober 2003). Feedback that is received negatively, whatever the original intention, can, therefore, sap morale and have significant negative impact on well‐being. If it is not consistent with the individuals’ perceptions of self, it is also less likely to lead to behavioural change (Ferguson et al. 2014). Feedback should be delivered with consideration and the right facilitation and support, particularly where there is a risk it might be received badly.

We respond much more effectively to feedback that does not feel like an attack on our self‐image because it does not trigger the amygdala and limbic systems. Being pushed into a defensive fight‐flight‐freeze modes makes us much less likely to learn and less likely to share (potentially important) information in the future; it disables empathy and connection (Siegel 2011). That is not to say that negative feedback is not necessary, of course it is, but it should be limited, and delivered in the right context, compassionately, and with the right support. To do otherwise is to invite accusations of inappropriate behaviour. Feedback that is positive and reinforces behaviours already present, is much less threatening and better received, as long as it is authentic, constructive, and meaningful. Bear in mind that, as we experiment with our leadership repertoire, so we need to know what works.

Nov 6, 2022 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Leadership and Development

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