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Six Styles of Veterinary Leadership & How to Find Yours

When we think about leaders, it’s easy just to lump them into two groups: good and bad ones. But anyone who’s ever been in management knows it’s more complex than that. 

There are many styles of leadership which can be utilized in the workplace to varying effects. Knowing your own leadership style can help improve your business outcomes, team relations and overall satisfaction. 

So let’s explore what six common leadership styles there are, and which ones are best.

Authoritarian Leadership

Essentially, this style is where leaders outline the expectations and measures of success within the business. This style is not collaborative. Although it is efficient in time-constrained scenarios, it can become a problem when the leader’s vision does not align with the teams, when more creative work is required, or where skilled operatives are being led. 

The advantages of this leadership style are:

  • It’s very time efficient.

  • It can reduce the number of mistakes which can occur.

  • The chain of command is clear. 

The disadvantages of this leadership style are:

  • It can breed resentment - especially if the leader is less competent than they believe. 

  • It reduces creativity and collaboration.

  • Group input is reduced. 

  • Retention rates under this leadership style tend to be low.

  • When the leader is not present, performance suffers. 

Delegative Leadership

This leadership style is also called ‘laissez-faire leadership’. It is very much the opposite of authoritarian leadership as it allows for freedom within the team. Instead of coddling employees like a helicopter parent or constantly telling others what to do, delegative leadership allows the team to focus on their areas of expertise. This style is based on the assumption that everyone is competent and able to take responsibility for themselves - which can be problematic. 

The advantages of this leadership style are:

  • It allows a lot of space for competent employees to work and grow. 

  • Innovation and creativity tends to thrive in this environment. 

  • This style of leadership can foster a lot of mutual trust and respect.

The disadvantages of this leadership style are:

  • Sometimes the chain of command is unclear, which can mean that more mistakes and miscommunications are made. 

  • If someone is not very good at their role, this can cause project quality and timeframes to suffer or worst case, teams to collapse into chaos. 

Participative Leadership

Similarly to delegative leadership, participative leadership involves a lot of collaboration. Teammates are encouraged to work together and bounce ideas off each other. This can be motivating and improve engagement. In this style, leaders typically have the last word in decision-making, which can make it a bit more decisive than delegative leadership. 

The advantages of this leadership style are:

  • It improves employee satisfaction.

  • It can help create a tight-knit team. 

  • If managed well, this leadership style can improve productivity. 

  • There is more accountability at the top.

The disadvantages of this leadership style are:

  • Communication failures can happen during collaboration.

  • Decision making can take a long time. 

  • Bad decisions can be made if the team is unskilled. 

Transactional Leadership

This leadership style relies on taking and giving to get results. Whether it’s handing out rewards or punishments, either will do. In this situation, leaders set business goals which they encourage the team to achieve. Typically, leaders who use this style are very procedure orientated and regimented. 

The advantages of this leadership style are:

  • Leaders typically create very specific goals. 

  • Teammates can be motivated by the reward system. 

  • The hierarchy is quite clear. 

The disadvantage of this leadership style are:

  • The punishment aspect of the role can conversely be demoralizing and impact staff retention. 

  • Employees can feel undervalued and ‘part of a machine’. 

  • Empathy isn’t highly valued. 

Transformational Leadership

In this style of leadership, leaders ‘inspire’ their employees to work towards their vision. While this style of leadership can be highly motivating, there is a lot of pressure put upon the leader who is an ‘aspirational figure’ in the organization. 

The advantages of this leadership style are:

  • It places a lot of value on relationships and teamwork. 

  • This type of leadership can reduce staff turnover as everyone is invested in the vision. 

  • It is very collaborative. 

  • It boosts team morale. 

The disadvantages of this leadership style are:

  • If the leaders aren’t genuinely good at their jobs or the vision is too ambitious (or ambiguous), this can cause a lot of chaos. 

  • Everyone has to be invested in the vision for it to work.

  • It can be disorganized. 

Coach Style Leadership

Like a sports coach, this style of leadership relies on a mentor/mentee relationship. These types of leaders try to nurture the skills of team members (like delegative leaders), while also working hard to make sure everyone functions well together. 

Instead of telling employees what to do, this style of leadership encourages the team to take initiative and learn through their own experiences. 

The advantages of this approach are:

  • This style of leadership can help both individuals and teams become stronger. 

  • It can prevent codependency by encouraging initiative. 

  • Team commitment to the mission and role ownership are high.

The disadvantages of this approach are:

  • Sometimes, if leaders become overly invested or tend to ‘tell’ more than coach, they can fall into the ‘micromanaging’ pit, inadvertently seizing too much control instead of encouraging independence. 

  • If employees leave the team it can create a lot of work for leaders to get new members to the standard they would like. 

  • It takes time and patience to get results.

Which Leadership Style is Best?

Like anything, leadership is subjective - and dependent on the type of work, the skills of people doing the work and the culture of the workplace. 

In veterinary medicine, authoritarian leadership is particularly common, as the ‘high-risk’ stakes and time pressures leave little room for error. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends. It certainly leaves little room for breathing space within the team, and can stunt organizational growth. It can also be pretty destructive if the leader is abrasive or difficult to work with, as this can negatively affect turnover. But there are times when being told exactly what to do makes sense - i.e, when an emergency is unfolding before an inexperienced clinician. 

Participative leadership on the other hand can be great, as it encourages ‘future’ leaders to step up. However, in a clinical setting where there is often little time and a lot of pressure, stress can increase if leaders aren’t decisive. 

Similarly, delegative leadership heavily relies on the competence of your team. So if you’re assuming that everyone is 100% trained from day one, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on your team - especially if many of them are graduates, as is common in many workplaces today. 

Transactional leadership can work, but it can encourage bare-minimum if the goals aren’t aspirational enough. Conversely, if the goals are unrealistic, this is going to really impede staff satisfaction and create disillusionment as goals and hence rewards are regularly missed.

Transformational leadership can be great, but if leaders lose sight of individual development to focus on ‘the big picture’ the workplace can fall into chaos. Coach style leadership is also great, but again, it can take a lot of time and effort to get right. So a high level of leadership skill and patience is required.

How Do I Choose My Leadership Style? 

Selecting your own leadership style is an organic process. You’ll most likely have a personality-based default style you recognised as you read the descriptions. But the best leaders can recognise which style is best suited to any given moment and adapt accordingly. 

Some things to consider are you decide which style might work best are:

  • How much time can you spend on coaching? 

  • How competent is everyone? 

  • How well does everyone work together? 

Also think about what you are trying to achieve with the available resources.These questions should guide you towards a style which will work best. You should also consider where your personal strengths lie, and which leadership style would suit accordingly. The reality is that a good leader will be able to switch between styles based on their knowledge of the situation. When faced with an ambiguous situation, they will be able to apply experience gained in similar scenarios to help decide which style will stand the best chance of gaining the desired results.

Developing your leadership style is therefore going to be part book-learning and a large part trying out styles to see what works best. It’ll take time, so don’t get beaten down by setbacks and recognize it as part of the learning process! 

Want to learn more about veterinary leadership? Register for Dr. Dave's free veterinary leadership webinar, and learn how to avoid staff drama in your practice.

Dr. Dave leaning on desk in clinical practice, next to graphic that reads "FREE Veterinary Leadership Webinar. How to run a successful practice without the drama"


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