The Four Milestones of the Veterinary Leader Growth Cycle
Many people think that leadership ability is something that comes naturally, that it's something you are either born with or you're not. But that's not true. I believe leadership is a skill that can be developed and simply requires a willingness to learn and practice, and the resilience to feel challenged, to face your fears, and face yourself continuously.
Being a leader demands growth from you and no leader is exempt from that. Leadership is an art which is constantly evolving, and it evolves as quickly as you do.
There's a concept created by Joseph Campbell called The Hero's Journey that I use a lot in my work. The Hero's Journey reflects most journeys that we embark upon in life and it helps to bring so much more purpose and meaning to the highs and lows and the twists and turns.
Inspired by this concept, I have established the four main milestones of leadership growth.
The Call to Grow
The call to grow can happen when you least expect it. Up until the point of receiving it, you may have moved through your career quite happily and smoothly, focusing on clinical development and progression, and then seemingly out of nowhere you start to feel the urge that you're meant for something more; that there's something else you're meant to do to make a difference.
For a lot of vets, I see this happening around the three to five year mark, when you've gone through your new grad years, you've developed a really nice foundation of competence and knowledge, and then you feel the urge from within to do something more. It's like an itch that can't be scratched by clinical work alone. It shows up as the urge to want to create positive change, to make a difference, to have an impact. This is when people begin to think about taking a step forward into a leadership position.
I see the call to grow happening with more established leaders too. They reach a point in their career where they think, “This isn't enough. I want to do more.”, and they not only want to make a change at practice level, they're driven by a mission even bigger than that - to make a change in the wider industry and create a happier and healthier career path for the next generation of vets.
The challenge is whether you answer the call to grow. The voice of doubt will say, ”You're not ready, you're not good enough, you're not experienced enough”. Stepping out as a leader is a leap into the unknown, and there can be the urge to stick with the familiar and maintain the status quo. But if you answer the call to grow, then you move into the next stage of the cycle.
Defining Your Future
Defining your future is about getting real clarity on how you want to express yourself as a leader or how you want to live out your mission as a leader in the world.
If you've decided to step into a leadership position for the first time, this would be about creating a vision of:
- who you want to be as a leader,
- what your values are,
- how you want to show up,
- what outcomes you want to achieve.
If you are an established veterinary leader, then defining the future would be about your natural evolution as a leader (since leaders are always growing), but also defining the bigger mission that you feel driven by and how you want to contribute to the wider profession, how you want to make a difference, and what you want the ultimate outcome and end result to be.
Once you have defined what your future vision is then it becomes your compass for moving forward. It helps to stay you on track and make meaningful decisions. It creates a path for you to walk and sets a direction for you to move in.
The challenge you may encounter at this particular milestone is feeling frustrated about not having it all figured out. Often our vision of the future has so many unknowns and variables to it. It's almost like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Having the vision allows you to move forward and have those missing pieces revealed to you over time. At this stage, you may also have thoughts of, “Who am I to do this? Who am I to think I can change the world?”
Clearing the Path
Clearing the path is about removing any obstacles you might have to achieving your vision.
Some of the common obstacles of growth as a leader are things like fear of failure, fear of the unknown, limiting behaviours like self-sabotage or perfectionism, and limiting beliefs such as, “I'm not good enough / I'm not ready / who am I to be doing this?”
Perhaps the most important part of clearing the path is building self-awareness, which is achieved through self-reflection. Leadership is a journey of self- discovery. It puts you in situations with certain people, and situations with decisions to make, that reveal things about yourself that perhaps you didn't know before, and also taps into inner resources that perhaps you didn't even think that you had.
The thing about obstacles is sometimes we can't see them. Sometimes they are blind spots, and all leaders have them. If you think you don't, then that's a blind spot in itself.
The challenge of this part of the journey is that you could resist change. In order to move forward you would have to learn the art of acceptance, trust, and surrender. It's about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, leaning into your edges and expanding the boundaries of your comfort zone. This is key to your continuous evolution as a leader.
Like the reverse of the call to grow, you now return home as the hero. You have grown as a person, you’ve learned many things, you’ve faced many challenges, but now look forward to starting a new phase of your leadership growth. You emerge with fresh hope, new skills, new solutions, and new perspectives.
After a period of integration, you start this cycle again to take your leadership to the next level.
The thing about this cycle is it's not a linear process. Sometimes you can bounce between milestones and revisit previous steps before being able to move on to the next, because there’s more you need to uncover.
If hearing about the four milestones of the leadership journey has intrigued you, and you'd like to know more about it and how I use it in my coaching, then I'd love to hear from you.
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