Follow the Leader?

Keywords: leadership, management, culture, inclusive, motivation, autonomy, mastery, purpose

The Guardiola Effect

I’ve grown up as a Manchester City fan and I can remember watching my first match as a teenager at Maine Road with my dad. Back then I didn’t appreciate the importance of the role of a manager within a football club. After all, they just make sure they pick the right players each week, how hard can that be? I never really understood my dad’s frustrations over the hiring and firing of football managers but now I can see that leadership roles come with immense responsibility because the actions of leaders can make or break teams. Pep Guardiola has improved the confidence of players who were having a tough time on the pitch such as Raheem Sterling and Nicholas Otamendi and I have found this really inspiring. The way the team play football games has completely changed and to be honest it’s a strange but welcome change to support a football team that is consistently winning. There are other successful managers, each adopting a different leadership style. Are there common themes underpinning successful leaders?

When I was wading through all of the literature concerning different leadership styles I was absolutely baffled by all of the different terminology for various types of leaders and the ways that researchers have tried to determine what type of person and style are most successful. Perhaps I am being a little naïve but isn’t the optimal leadership style dependent on the people within your team? The nuances of getting the best from me would probably be different to my brother. We are both assets to a team but would an effective leader get to know what motivates the people they work with and act accordingly?

What motivates people?

Although there will be lots of different and specific answers to this question, if you’ve ever started reading about what motivates people, you will probably have come across Dan Pink, a Career Analyst. I recently watched Dan’s TED Talk from 2009 titled, “The Puzzle of Motivation” where he discussed researching the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and argues that businesses should be moving towards intrinsic motivators such as autonomy, mastery and purpose. Extrinsic motivators like reward and punishment can work well for very simple tasks with a clear set of instructions and a clear goal. Rewards concentrate the mind which can be a good thing but they simultaneously narrow the mind and this is the complete opposite of what would work well in practice or I imagine in the type of work vets and nurses are doing outside of practice. Realistically, I think most veterinary professionals are likely to be dealing with difficult decisions, ethical dilemmas, weighing up the evidence, devising the optimal solution to a problem at that point in time and rapidly evolving situations requiring cognitive skills. Dan shared some research carried out by another Dan. Dan Ariely, who is a Professor of psychology and behavioural economics found that for tasks requiring cognitive skills, providing larger financial rewards resulted in poorer performance. Therefore, Dan Pink (the Career Analyst, hope I haven’t lost you with the Dans!) suggests intrinsic motivators including autonomy, mastery and purpose will help to contribute motivating people more than the carrots or sticks of the extrinsic motivators. If you would like compliance from your employees, traditional management styles of providing orders will likely work. If you’d like engagement in the work place, Dan reports that self-direction works better.

The motivation map

Dan Pink claims that paying people adequately and fairly takes the issue of salary off the table (admittedly, this caveat might be a rather significant hurdle to overcome) to concentrate on the intrinsic motivators driving engagement with employees; mastery, autonomy and purpose. Who doesn’t want to be good at something? Having a sense of mastery in a particular area and a further drive to continue being great at something in the workplace is a powerful motivator. The role of planning CPD to further peoples’ skills can help to maintain their confidence and update their knowledge. When I was working on my PhD, I read research reporting that autonomy was one of the main advantages of running a farm and I suspect a lot of business owners in other fields would say the same. What can be tricky for business owners or people in management positions is allowing employees a degree of autonomy and hopefully it’s something that increases over time as experience and trust develops. Having ownership of your role and being able to direct the development of the role according to your strengths and interests can spark creativity whilst being micro-managed can quickly snuff out any potential sparks. Has the lack of autonomy in practice perhaps contributed to the increase in vets and nurses becoming ‘career locums’ to obtain more control over their work? Finally, purpose is an important intrinsic motivator because that sense of belonging and being a part of a team delivering something that you believe in helps you to keep your eye on the prize on those testing days and weeks. Knowing that you are having a meaningful impact within the team and providing a service to others gives employees a purpose.

Acting accordingly

Less than ideal things happen which can be frustrating but observing how people react to the setback is very interesting (I’m assuming that you are as intrigued by people as I am!) in terms of how the situation is communicated to the rest of the team, the plan of action (is there one?), an investigation into what happened and could it have been prevented, has anything changed to avoid similar setbacks in the future. I personally think that you can’t ask for more than this. The real problems arise when the same or similar setback are being experienced by the team time and time again. A leader will help to challenge the status quo, take action and preserve the morale of the team. Notice that I keep using the word action not words. Of course, the way you phrase things and communicate is important but if leaders are not following through on what has been decided or agreed this can diminish respect, lower the team’s morale and lead to confusion. If such actions are not going to come to fruition, communicate this with the team as soon as possible.

I had a little chuckle during the video because Dan stated that there’s a “mismatch” between the social science research findings and what businesses do! In the clinical work we do, evidence-based veterinary medicine is a hot topic so the appetite for evidence is present but I feel that this has taken a back seat in relation to non-clinical aspects of the veterinary profession until recently. I have been following the progress of VetLed, an inspiring team of people who are championing positive veterinary culture for our people, our patients and our profession. VetLed have six areas they are working in to bring about the much-needed positive culture change in the veterinary profession and are categorised into the following areas: excellence, inspire, thrive, vision, impact and innovate. VetLed’s inspire initiative is all about leadership and if you look at their website you will see all the factors involved in being an inspirational leader.

The finisher

You don’t have to be someone’s boss/line manager to demonstrate leadership skills. At the end of each circuit training class which I try to attend on Thursday evenings, the instructor always ends the class with some form of ‘finisher’ activity. Circuit training attendees have a wide range of abilities and fitness levels, therefore when the finisher is based on the number of reps instead of time, some people complete it sooner than others. The class is incredibly hard and is taken by an ex-military instructor. He always provides alternative exercise options and no one is left behind. Last week, I completed the required number of reps and was enjoying the sense of achievement of completing the class. People were stood around watching others completing the finisher. The instructor decided that everyone who had completed the finisher should start doing burpees until everyone had finished. Although I wasn’t thrilled to be doing burpees, I actually respected him for saving potential embarrassment in those yet to complete the finisher and the inclusive culture he brings to the class.

Stacey Blease – a vet thinking aloud



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