An ally or saboteur?
Janice Bolton had worked at Franklin Animal Hospital eight years and had been the main tech when Martha bought the practice
a few years ago. At first Martha was grateful to have such a take-charge person around. Janice seemed to know all the ins
and outs of the clinic. That would make up for her hesitancy to confront people and issues.
However, it soon became evident that Martha could not make the changes she wanted because Janice would not allow it. Initially,
Janice would appear to go along with all of Dr. Cima's planning, but in the end she knew how to sabotage changes she felt
were unnecessary by strategically placing emotional pressures among the staff. She even knew how to handle Dr. Cima if the
situation demanded it. She was very cagey and knew how to play the game.
Now things were getting out of hand and Martha did not know what to do. She believed people could work out their differences
if she would just let it ride for a while. But now, after her four-day absence, things were a mess.
Martha's husband called her a wimp when she brought staff frustrations home.
She thought to herself, "Maybe I am a wimp. I hate to confront and talk to people about these kinds of things. It's true:
I am just a plain-and-simple chicken."
Throughout her life, at times like these, Martha would catch herself talking to the wall — any wall.
She thought about it some more, then stood up in her office and explained bravely to the wall: "I just have to talk to my
Martha, chin high, opened the door to her small office and saw Janice walk past.
"Well, hello, Dr. Cima. It is so great to have you back!" Janice purred.
Caught off guard by Janice's apparent regard and sudden respect, Martha blushed and walked back into her office. Her heart
began to race. She was seized with angst and guilt. "Was Janice right? Am I out of touch and do I mismanage my staff? She
seems so bright and cheery this morning. Is Sarah over-reacting here?"
Martha felt faint and sat down before she fell down.
She looked at the wall and spoke directly:
"I fought the wall, and the wall won."
Learn to overcome fear of conflict
A number of practices I visit present with staffing issues that are fundamentally struggles for control, much like the fictitious
story just presented. These struggles typically involve those who want control and those (doctors or doctor/owners) who are
meek, indifferent or who do not see people for who they are.
Sometimes there are leadership voids at the top. Employees who are driven to have control happily fill this void. It is not
a gender issue. Control vs. conflict avoidance crosses the gender gap.
It really relates to personality type and philosophy. It would seem that some who are attracted to veterinary medicine have
personality traits that are of great value to the profession, particularly with regard to patient care. They are nurturing,
thoughtful, reflective, studious, sensitive and professionally cooperative (willing to think in groups, i.e., "group think").
The tendency to be "cooperative" lives on the same side of the street as "conflict avoidance."
Though there are exceptions, these philosophical values and personality traits do not always propel veterinarians (or other
small-business owners) into great leadership roles.
Sometimes, like Martha, they run into a wall.
Graduation from veterinary school does not guarantee one will be a good leader. Nor does a passing score on any number of
state or national board exams provide sanctuary from the day-to-day struggles of owning a small business. Yet the owning and
management of a veterinary practice is not unlike the management of any small business: It takes both leadership and patience.
Some would say it is unfortunate that the day-to-day operation of a veterinary practice leaves precious little time for one's
true calling — providing excellent patient care.
This is poppycock.