Intentional, reciprocal communication: keys to effective leadership

Flourish Veterinary Consulting shares actionable coaching tips at VLC

The need for engaged leadership in the post-pandemic age is critical, says Josh Vaisman, founder of Flourish Veterinary Consulting. His work explores how team members who work for accountable leaders are more likely to stay and perform at their best.

He and his colleague Andi Davison, a licensed veterinarian technician, gave the presentation “If You Ain’t Coaching, You Ain’t Leading” on January 6 at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

Directives and decisions

Often leaders will make a decision and delegate the task to someone else to complete. However, a “fixing leader” sees a problem and provides a solution while a “coaching leader” creates opportunities for their team.

“There’s a time and place for directives, but if that’s the only tool we’re using as leaders, we’re creating an environment of disempowerment,” Vaisman said.

He encouraged leaders to practice coaching-informed leadership by inviting people into the conversation, which will also help them feel seen, heard, and valued.

A young and senior veterinarian work together
A leader with a coaching mindset opens paths and gives opportunities to their team instead of just providing a solution, says Josh Vaisman, founder of Flourish Veterinary Consulting.

Vaisman and his colleagues developed a five-step process for implementing coaching-informed leadership.

  1. Coaching mindset
    The first step is to put oneself in a mental state to be a coaching leader. Being aware of other people’s strengths, you can help people be the best version of themselves, guide them toward their goals, and walk with them on the journey.
  2. Cultivating participation

    Being a guide is more effective if there are two-way conversations, which can’t be done without inviting others in and creating conditions that invite full participation.

    Fostering authentic, engaged interactions during challenging conversations could help defuse and solve the problem. Leaders need to intentionally engage with teammates and give them the chance to open up.

  3. Eye on the prize

    “As leaders, it is our job to have expectations of our team, we have to guide them,” Davison said.

    She explained that the coaching approach happens when a leader gives their team the tools and freedom to figure out how to reach an end goal.

    Take, for example, an employee who has been consistently late over the last few weeks. A leader in the clinic has multiple ways to approach the issue while keeping goals in mind.

    A problem-focused approach is success oriented and could be articulated by saying, “Hey I noticed you’ve been late for the last two weeks. You’ve been arriving at 8:30 instead of 8:00. How can I help you be here and ready to work at 8:00?”

    A solution-focused approach builds resolutions in the future and could be addressed with the following statement: “I’ve seen the pride you take in helping shift change go smoothly. I’ve also noticed you’ve been late a lot and that’s just not like you. I would like for us to find some ways to get you here at your scheduled start time.”

  4. Super curiosity

    Curiosity is the most valuable skill we can develop, Davison said.

    Asking the right questions helps a leader learn more about their team, allowing them to be more aware of future opportunities for growth.

    Davison distinguished between two types of curiosity questions: “little c” questions, which are the typical close-ended questions that can be answered with a short phrase, and “big C” questions, which are the types that require additional details and are used to illicit a more complete picture from the speaker’s perspective.

    A “little c” question is, “How was the Veterinary Leadership Conference?”

    A “big C” question is, “Tell me about your favorite session you attended.” This could be followed up with, “That sounds very impactful. What strategies did you learn?”

  5. Reflect and direct

    When coaching, Vaisman suggests using reflective listening, combining curiosity, and applying questions to direct back to the original goal.

    Some examples of reflective listening questions are:

    • “What I'm hearing is…”
    • “If I understand correctly…”
    • “The sense I have is…”

    Redirection statements sound like:

    • “Given that information, do you think Dr. Brown would be worth reaching out to?”
    • “Okay, so how does that work? What would we need to achieve it?”

    Vaisman explained that conversations like this strengthen relationships. A leader’s actions and words should convey to the other person, “You’re essential enough that I’m willing to spend this time and energy on you.”

    “People care when they feel cared for,” Vaisman said. “No human being ever performed at their best when they felt like what they were doing was purposeless.”