Cohn: AVMA leaders must repair trust with members

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AVMA President Ted Cohn considers the lack of trust between the AVMA Board of Directors and AVMA House of Delegates as the most pressing issue facing the Association.

Dr. Cohn
AVMA President Ted Cohn warns Association leaders that members are questioning the motives of their AVMA representatives.

His assessment, offered during the plenary session of the HOD regular winter session on Jan. 10, was made against a backdrop of criticism of the AVMA Council on Education’s accreditation of veterinary colleges and the recent and mostly unsuccessful initiative to reform AVMA governance.

“Anything that the Board puts forward, the House eyes with some level of suspicion. And I don’t think I’m betraying any trusts when I tell you the reverse is also sometimes true,” Dr. Cohn said. “Make no mistake about it: That apparent lack of trust filters down to our members.”

Dr. Cohn often hears AVMA members question the motives of AVMA leaders and express uncertainty as to whether those leaders are looking out for the interests of the rank and file or the Association. Many wonder why the voting records of their Board members and delegates aren’t available to them.

“It should come as no surprise that these gnawing concerns lead our members to suspect our intentions, which leads to a lack of confidence in our abilities,” Dr. Cohn said. “This, in turn, inevitably results in decreasing levels of trust, which has the effect of dividing our profession and influencing the success and efficiency of all we try to accomplish.”

He told the assembly of AVMA leaders they can begin restoring trust with members by changing their behavior.

“First ... we must admit to ourselves, in any given situation, what is our real intent? What do we hope to accomplish?” Dr. Cohn asked. “Next, we must demonstrate our respect for others by being willing to abandon our preconceived notions and maintaining an open mind.

“Then, we must acknowledge the reality of a situation by always talking about the issues with others, in a straightforward manner. We should strive toward less talking and more listening. Moreover, we must make a genuine attempt to understand what it is the other person is saying and then work to try to clarify their expectations.

“We must practice accountability by informing others of what we are going to do and then reporting to them about what we have actually accomplished. And this should be done in a timely fashion, using their time frame, not ours.

“And finally … we must always keep our commitments.”

Dr. Cohn called on leaders to improve Association-wide communications, be honest and objective about those reports, and listen. He suggested simplifying and enhancing the AVMA website to facilitate easier communication between AVMA leaders and members.

“(W)e as leaders, must increase our accountability to our members,” Dr. Cohn concluded. “We must objectively examine and seriously consider amending those AVMA policies that may have the effect of stifling openness and transparency.”