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Are You an Anti-Leader? Ineffective Leadership Qualities in Veterinary Care

Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.

Although every leader has the potential to become a great one, many fall short – sometimes considerably so.

This is not to say that these ‘not so great’ leaders are all bad people. While some are undoubtedly genuinely toxic, many are simply incompetent.

Regardless, the term I use to describe those at extreme end of poor leadership is ‘anti-leaders’.

They are the antagonists of their own stories, inhibiting team growth and inadvertently stunting themselves both personally and professionally.

Being aware of the ineffective leadership qualities an anti-leader possesses, is one of the first steps to remedying the issue and developing a having a happy, healthy team.

Are You an Anti-Leader?

There are several symptoms of anti-leadership. They include, but are not limited to:

  • High levels of staff turnover

  • High levels of workplace stress

  • Low revenue and growth

  • High blood pressure!

High staff turnover indicates a significant level of staff dissatisfaction¹. Employers who frequently have to recruit new staff should look inward at their leadership style.

Workplace stress on the other hand can be indicative of a wider culture of disorganization and disarray. Anti-leadership doesn’t just take a toll on staff, but also on themselves. Those who lack the skills to effectively direct and assist the team will feel the ramifications of this in their day-to-day lives, in terms of stress and burnout².

Finally, anti-leadership not only impacts the inner workings of a business but also the clinic’s bottom line. Growth (both profit and revenue) is in many cases indirect measure of anti-leadership impact. Unhappy and/or stressed employees are less likely to provide a level of service that attracts and retains clients, impacting overall business goals³.

Those unsure of whether they display anti-leadership qualities should confide with a member of staff they trust. This of course takes immense courage, but getting some feedback from a trusted source can help leaders gauge how they can improve practically.

Ineffective Leadership Qualities

Anti-leaders can be identified by several distinctive characteristics.

Anti-Leaders Are Judgemental

Anti-leaders shoot first and ask questions later. They lack the genuine curiosity, empathy, and critical thinking skills to effectively address issues within the workplace.

Whether those are problems between employees, clients, or even managers, anti-leaders jump to conclusions and exacerbate tensions. Oftentimes, tricky situations aren’t so black and white- but anti-leaders don’t see in color. They tend to go straight in for the kill, fanning the flames rather than extinguishing them.

Poor Emotional Management

Emotional regulation is a problem for anti-leaders. They let their feelings get the better of them and become engulfed. Destructive leadership (also known as abusive supervision) has been found to correlate with high levels of poor leader wellbeing⁴.

Therefore, managers or owners who take their emotional baggage to work with them are far more likely to project this onto others, creating conflict.

This process erodes trust within the team. Those who rule with an iron fist risk jeopardizing employee relationships, which will buckle under the pressure. Fear-based leadership is a poor way of maintaining control over others and can ultimately lead to dissatisfaction for both leaders and employees alike.

Staff will also avoid taking risks or innovating for fear of repercussions. This stunts team creativity, innovation, and, in many cases, growth.

Passive Leadership

Whilst overbearing leaders bully their staff into submission, passive leaders can create a workspace environment whereby staff competition is rife. Leaders must delegate a lot to be successful, but neglecting vision, and culture, and shying away from the big decisions- can just appear as checking out. Avoiding or palming off such tasks to others creates a power vacuum within the team. This vacuum allows competing voices and personal agendas to overwhelm the practice, which can interfere with daily tasks and responsibilities.

Passive leaders can also struggle to take responsibility or ownership for themselves, creating chaos and disorder all around them. The lack of clear direction can further cause a plethora of problems, and staff onboarding is sporadic- to say the least.

What If I’m an Anti-Leader?

The good news is that the first step to better leadership is recognizing personal shortcomings.

Those who have some of the ineffective leadership qualities listed above are not doomed to chronically stressful and dissatisfying work life and can do several things to better this.

The first step to personal growth is self-awareness.

Self-awareness then unlocks another layer of realization, which allows individuals to reflect on past experiences and grow from them. Leaders should ask themselves: During my managerial experience, what went well, and what went badly?

Looking at objective practice data can further be indicative of where the work needs to be done. Perhaps there is a lot of in-fighting within a practice. In this case, better interpersonal skills are probably required and aggressive leadership behaviors may be demonstrated from the top. Maybe the team is overwhelmed and burning out. In this case, time management or poor leadership expectations and empathy are good areas to explore.

Leaders should try and find a measurable way of evaluating personal achievement. That way, they can objectively (as possible) assess what action to take.


Although anti-leadership is rife within veterinary care, these misguided leaders (and their teams) are not fated to be this way forever.

No one becomes a good leader overnight, and having the self-compassion and patience to work on oneself for the betterment of others is a noble and admirable cause. While some individuals may characteristically be more adept at leadership, the process of becoming a great leader is ongoing and constant for all.

For those who identified themselves with some of the qualities outlined above, this complimentary resource may be of use. The ‘How to Run a Successful Veterinary Practice Without the Drama’ webinar is a 60-minute masterclass in practice management. It teaches leaders what the common leadership pitfalls are, and how to avoid them.

To register, click here.


1-The Importance of Leadership and Employee Retention.’ Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

2- ‘Exploring the Factors that Affect the Happiness of South African ….’ 3 Mar. 2021, Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

3- ‘Profit and staff wellness – can we have both in veterinary practice in ….’ Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

4- ‘Leadership behavior and leader self-reported well-being: A review ….’ 20 May. 2019, Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.


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