Why Some Vet Leaders Thrive While Others Struggle: The Power of Embracing The Unknown

embracing change leadership personal growth the power of coaching

At some point you may have heard the phrase: “You don’t know what you don’t know”. It’s a gentle nudge reminding us that despite our expertise or the years we’ve walked this Earth, there’s always something new to discover. Especially about ourselves.

For leaders in the veterinary profession, understanding and embracing this phrase can be a real turning point in their leadership journey.

Let’s explore the various interpretations of this phrase and how it can serve as a catalyst for growth:

Understanding Blind Spots

"You don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it."

There’s a lot of truth in this statement. We all have blind spots – areas of ignorance we aren’t aware of. When we acknowledge our blind spots, it is like shining a light on the hidden corners of our minds and behaviours. And it’s only when we acknowledge those blind spots that we can truly start the journey of personal and professional growth.

Embracing Learning

"You don’t know what you don’t know, so you should try to learn what you don’t know."

The veterinary profession evolves constantly. New studies, technology, and methodologies emerge. But beyond the clinical, there’s also personal leadership and growth. Are we communicating effectively? Do we understand team dynamics? Are we leading with empathy? Asking these questions is the beginning of realising there’s always more to learn.

The Power of Coaching

"You don’t know what you don’t know, but by undergoing coaching you will know what you didn’t before."

I worked with a practice owner, Joanne, who is an experienced vet with an incredibly loyal client base. She’s an amazing vet but struggled with team cohesion. By seeking coaching, she discovered a blind spot: a communication style that didn’t resonate with her younger team members. With this new awareness, she adapted, and it led to a more harmonious and productive practice.

A Double-Edged Phrase

While the phrase encourages humility and self-awareness, "you don't know what you don't know" can also be misused to dodge responsibility, avoid change, or avoid taking proactive action. The mark of genuine leadership isn’t just recognising your areas of ignorance, but actively seeking to expand and enhance that knowledge.

James’ Lesson:

James, a practice owner, was certain his leadership was top-notch. Yet, he noticed a high turnover rate. Instead of seeking feedback or exploring potential leadership blind spots, he blamed external factors.

Later, through coaching, he discovered he hadn't created an environment where team members felt they could voice concerns. This leadership blind spot had tangible, negative consequences, all because he didn’t take accountability for what he didn’t know.


"You can only ever work with the information you have because the information and insights you don’t have yet, you don’t know about."

Leaders in the veterinary profession owe it to themselves, their teams, and their patients to continuously evolve. True leadership goes hand in hand with humility and proactivity, acknowledging gaps while seeking to bridge them. As you navigate your leadership journey, remember that admitting what you don’t know is not a sign of weakness but the hallmark of inspirational leadership.