What makes a winner? - Veterinary Practice
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What makes a winner?

ADRIAN PRATT veterinary affairs manager at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, looks for the common traits

OVER the years, Hill’s has
sponsored a number of awards that
have identified outstanding
individuals in the veterinary
profession. Often the awards are
based on nominations made by
members of the public or colleagues
and it’s not unusual to find that each
time there are three or four
nominees who quite quickly emerge
as the top candidates.

The tremendous effort made by
these individuals goes far beyond the
call of duty, clearly
differentiating them
as “winners”. But
just what
characteristics drive
people to become
successful? Is a
successful person
someone who cruises
through life, gilding
everything they touch
and elevating the
ordinary to the
extraordinary; or
simply the right
person in the right
place at the right

A trawl through the literature will
soon help you pick out the
characteristics of an effective leader or
an entrepreneur. Good leaders tend to
be respected, visionary, confident, can
draw out good qualities in others; they
are analytical and show sound
judgement. Entrepreneurs tend to be
risk-taking, highly energetic people who
remain resilient in the face of setbacks.

They tend to be very confident,
impatient, hands-on, reluctant to
delegate and focus more on people’s
skills than their feelings. They are
comfortable with change and high-stress
situations. Of course, there can be
considerable overlap depending on the
context – at some stages the
entrepreneur will need to adopt more
traditional leadership skills to manage a
larger workforce – but think of it this
way: if a leader is like a steering wheel,
the entrepreneur is more like the engine.
Barak Obama is a leader, Alan Sugar is
an entrepreneur.

Lessons to be learned

Success though, is about more than
pure leadership. Factors such as
happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction
should surely feature in any definition of
success. Leadership is just one of the
symbols that the developed world uses
to short-hand achievement and
professional success.

Some of the Hill’s award winners
were veterinary nurses who were leading by example or cultivating their own
niche and developing a speciality within
the practice that they then took
responsibility for, so they were not
always leaders in the traditional sense.
We took a look back at some of our
nursing winners and tried to pick out a
few defining characteristics that set
them apart from others.

  • Enthusiasm, energy and passion

All of our winners had a real passion
for animals to such an extent that work easily overflowed into
their personal lives; most
had animal-related
charitable commitments,
fostered young animals
and cared for waifs and
strays. Most also still had
the energy to involve
other members of the
practice and organised
team-building events and
nights out. It could be
assumed that such gung-ho enthusiasm could get
a little wearing but, on
the contrary, these were
individuals who seemed to sweep others along with them.

  • Optimism and resilience

Presumably our winners had bad days
like everybody else, but we were left
with the feeling that anyone else would
find it hard to identify when that was
the case. The word cheerful was used to
describe our winners with astounding
regularity and they weren’t averse to
spreading their positive attitudes around.

  • Building rapport
    Communication skills

These appeared to be
highly developed in all of our winners
and it was clear that they had an ability
to empathise with people and to win
them round to their cause. One client
had this to say about VHA winner 2008,
Lisa Nix, “Lisa always encouraged and
praised my efforts which in turn gave
me the confidence to become a better
dog owner,” while a colleague identified
her “knack of getting owners to relax”.

Relationships with the team matter
too: Louise Toomey was top Animal
Nursing Assistant (ANA) 2008 in
Northern Ireland and was singled out
for making time to listen to others and
being the first to bring in a birthday
cake when the occasion demanded.
These skills proved useful when our
winners wanted to introduce new ideas
or ways of working in the practice:
opposition was minimised and other
members of the team were co-opted to

  • Hard work and persistence

Our winners did not accept barriers to
getting the job done. They persisted,
looked for ways round obstacles and
achieved their goals, even if it took
longer than they initially envisaged. For
instance, runner up VHA of the Year
2008, Andrew Lipscombe, first
established that clients wanted nurse
appointments using a questionnaire and
then turned an occasionally used store
room into a dedicated nurses’ consulting

Describing another one of our
winners, one colleague exclaimed, “Her
work ethic amazes me!”

  • Learning, innovation and focus

Being keen to learn new skills is one
thing, but all of our winners had
completed many more than their fair
share of courses. What we also found
was that they were then quite analytical
about what could be implemented at
their practice when they wanted to put
new ideas into action. They also tended
to be constantly evaluating what worked
and what didn’t and would put
additional improvements into place.

Jane Bartlett, who was VHA of the Year in 2007,
developed tools which
included a client lifestyle
questionnaire that helped
her provide tailored advice
and feeding programmes for
pets with problems with
their weight.

If you associate success
with leadership you might
find it surprising that these
qualities made our award
winners good team players.
In many cases their efforts
paid dividends, resulting in
the individuals being promoted to
leadership positions within their

However, they were obviously
viewed by others as being contented,
well-balanced individuals and many
spent significant amounts of time
contributing to charities and helping
those in need. In others words,
professional success did not come at a
cost to their personal lives.

As for vets…

Of course all of these “winning”
characteristics are based on our
observations and interpretations and are
therefore very subjective, so we thought
it would be useful to look further and
see if a consistent picture would
emerge. We carried out an informal poll
amongst vets and those who worked
closely with vets and asked them to identify successful characteristics in
themselves and other vets they admired.

Interestingly, work-life balance and
how the individual integrated this into
his or her plans was considered to be as
important as conventional definitions of
success, such as income and
professional profile or status.

Marge Chandler, a senior lecturer in
internal medicine and clinical nutrition
at the Royal (Dick) School of
Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, had
this to say, “The truly successful are
those who contribute to the well-being
of others, people and animals, and find
joy and satisfaction in doing so.
Whether this is primarily in
professional life or also outside of the
profession may not matter, as long as
dedication to the profession is not a
mask for an inability to have a life
outside of work.

“In my own life I do find joy both
within the profession and outside of it,
and would feel limited if I didn’t have
outside interests, so for me, trying to
obtain a balance is important. While I
was a resident it was 100% professional time, and it did take
me three years after
the residency to realise
that I needed to
rethink that lifestyle!”

enthusiasm and
Yet again the need to
be committed to
what you do because
you enjoy it was
highlighted as being
important if you
want to be successful.

Increasingly, those
in education are realising that the enthusiasm which
children bring to play-time helps them
to learn and are now introducing ways
to make lessons enjoyable and fun.

If you’ve lost your get up and go,
what would make work fun for you
again: playing music while you
operate, working every Sunday and
having Fridays and Saturdays off ? If
you love the adrenaline rush of snow
boarding, would working as a vet in
emergency medicine be a better


This enabled individuals to think about
their own needs and accept that those
needs matter in the grand scheme. Self-
esteem has been described as an
individual’s acceptance, respect,
confidence and satisfaction as a person.
In addition to showing higher self-esteem, successful vets were
said to be grounded and
able to detach or switch off
from work and those things
could be related.

People with high self-esteem are generally
agreed to be better at self-care and letting go of past
failures, while still
accepting the lessons they
have learned from them.

Hard work, integrity, focus and

These are all admirable qualities and were
seen to contribute to a vet’s success. It
suggests that it is still accepted that
people have to strive to achieve
success and that it doesn’t “just

Clear vision and priorities

Having not just a clear vision of what
they wanted to do professionally, but
also personally, meant that individuals
could work towards what was really
important to them. Caroline Johnson
of Vet Professional identified vet Sue
Shuttleworth as one of her “heroes”.

“When she set up her business she
combined her desires to build a first
class practice with the vision of
travelling the world. She has done
both. Through employing the right
people, giving them the support they need and empowering
them to run the
practice in her absence,
she has been able to
leave for months at a
time and travel to
exotic places without
the practice falling

Caroline went on
to explain, “The one
defining characteristic (from my perspective) is that
successful people are clear about what
is important to them and they work
hard to keep that objective in sight.”

Final thoughts

Much is made of the need to have a
vision for a business, an idea of
where it should be heading and the
overarching values and beliefs that
support that vision, yet how many of
us have a personal vision of what we
want to achieve in life?

Perhaps that vision should not be
something that focuses purely on an
end goal, such as retirement at 50,
but things that you can do in the here
and now to improve your physical,
mental and social well-being.

It might have become a bit of a
cliché that one should plan to
succeed, but without labouring the
point, perhaps that’s something that we should all be doing.
The same characteristics crop up when we talk about people who are
successful, regardless of whether they
are leaders, entrepreneurs who have
achieved great financial success, or just
people who are admired for their
positive and life-affirming outlook and
more modest achievements. But they
are all characteristics most of us show
to some degree or another in different

To some people, acting this way in
the workplace may come naturally but
we can all learn new habits and new
ways of “being”. There are many
writers who have talked about success
but perhaps one of the best quotes
comes from Stephen Covey who wrote
the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective
People: “You can work harder and
harder at climbing the ladder of
success only to discover it’s leaning
against the wrong wall.”

We are all capable of deciding
what success means to us as
individuals and ensuring that we have
the tools to get there.

Footnote: For those concerned about
feeling unfulfilled, unhappy or
stressed, David Bartram’s excellent
article published in In Practice on “The
Science of Happiness” is
recommended reading and is available
at www.vetlife.org.uk.

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