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March 15, 2021

Shift your perspective to hone leadership skills

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The golden rule—treat others the way you want to be treated—is an important maxim, but it can be taken just a step further, said Jen Brandt, PhD, director of well-being, diversity, and inclusion initiatives at the AVMA. She talked about the platinum rule—treat others the way they want to be treated—during her presentation, “Putting Leadership’s Platinum Rule into Action,” on Jan. 8 at the virtual AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference.

Graphic illustration: Connected gears between Skills and Success

“This concept requires stepping back from your own personal experiences to really try to get different perspectives, thoughts, emotions, and considerations of someone else,” she said. “Also, this requires the concept of meeting people where they are, not necessarily where you’d like them to be.”

Dr. Brandt gave the example of working with colleagues who are not as far along in concepts or skills as you’d prefer. Helping them get there may require you to take a step back and take a different approach with them to be more effective.

The challenge is that when leaders set expectations for behaviors, values, or attitudes, they often don’t teach people how to apply those skills.

“We may think we’ve been very clear with our employees in setting groundwork on what we expect, but often we haven’t translated that into any kind of skills people can apply or we can measure in terms of outcomes and efficacy,” Dr. Brandt said.

One of the ways we can translate the concept of meeting people where they are is through the skills of dialectical behavior therapy, which at its core, means the integration of opposing truths or accepting that two realities are true. For example, parents can be frustrated with their child while at same time knowing they love their kid.

Dialectical behavior therapy is employed in numerous fields, including leadership and financial advising, to give professionals an edge, Dr. Brandt said. DBT is meant to help people change behaviors that are no longer effective. It helps individuals ask what’s working, what’s not working, and what are some things they can do to evolve. DBT builds skills in four specific areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.

“Mindful leaders have a capacity to focus on one thing at a time. They are engaged, taking in information. They are listening to you and not interrupting,” Dr. Brandt said. “They can identify and separate judgmental thoughts from experience that might otherwise fuel overwhelming emotions.”

For example, there may be a client who is angry and lashing out at staff members, and, the next day, a similar-looking person comes in. If the practice leaders are mindful, they can separate this moment from the one yesterday, not thinking this client is going to start yelling and allowing that thought to derail them. These leaders can make healthy decisions based on both rational thoughts and emotions.

Distress tolerance is the ability to perceive the environment as it is, without demanding that it be different. Leaders with high distress-tolerance skills are calm under pressure, consistent, and stable. They can lead effectively through frustration, ambiguity, and uncertainty.

Leaders who are competent in DBT skills also have a greater capacity to negotiate conflicting wants, knowing they can’t please everyone every time and ultimately making the decision that is best for them or their organization.