Be a Leader, Not a Boss

April 2022 |

Effective communication strategies to help keep your team stable and happy.

Have you ever thought, “I am not going to thank people just for doing their jobs?” Or, “Why are these employees making my life so hard?”

If so, that may show that your management style is more “boss” than “leader”—and that can come at a cost, says veterinary business consultant Heather Romano.

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers expect traditional bosses, but Millennials and Gen Zs want leaders who are more like coaches or mentors, says Romano. “All of their lives they have been surrounded by people who care about them as a person, their well-being. They don’t know what to do with a ‘do your work or go home’ attitude,” she says. “Younger workers want leaders, not bosses.”

Which persona you embrace may determine whether your younger employees stay at your practice or go job shopping. “People come up with all kinds of fluffy reasons, like ‘I’m moving,’ or ‘I want to be a nurse,’ but the number-one reason people leave their jobs is because they’re dissatisfied with their boss,” says Romano. “Certified technicians are an endangered species. We cannot afford to lose people.”

To slow or stop that costly turnover, work on your communication style, Romano suggests. “Your team’s perception of you as a boss is based 100% on the way you communicate with them personally,” she says. She suggests these strategies to help bring out your inner leader:

Talk less, listen more. Leaders listen, ask questions, look for individual contributions and call on people who are quiet. In team meetings, make sure your team talks 50% of the time or more. Don’t let the team make the decisions for you, but seek different perspectives before making decisions. “People just want to be heard, for you to listen and process what they say. It doesn’t mean they’ll expect you to do what they suggested,” says Romano.

Don’t give answers, seek solutions. Bosses give the answers. The boss knows everything about how the business runs. Leaders seek solutions. Try saying, “Hey, there’s a problem here—how can we resolve it?” and then bring everyone together to discuss it.

Coach, don’t chastise. Bosses direct, chastise and feel they need to correct every mistake a person makes. They may publicly shame, yell at, or otherwise condescend to people. Leaders coach. They find ways to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Try saying, “I noticed you seem to struggle with this—let’s talk about why that is and how we can help you get past it.”

“Shame is a very disempowering emotion,” says Romano. “It creates poor morale when people get yelled at in the treatment room.”

Build people up, don’t tear them down. Bosses point out weaknesses and often criticize people. It’s always someone else’s fault. Leaders recognize strengths and take responsibility for their own errors. “Own every one of your mistakes,” says Romano. “Go ahead and say, ‘I screwed up, I’m so sorry.’” Share credit when someone says you did a good job, and encourage people to do their best. “If you focus more on people’s strengths, they will get better,” she says.

Do you struggle with any of these, or recognize boss tendencies in yourself? “Ask yourself, ‘Which would you rather be friends with? Or marry?’” suggests Romano. “Don’t think that your team doesn’t make decisions about where they work based on these criteria,” she adds. “Simple changes can make you less boss-like and more leader-like.”

Generations Born
Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964
Gen X 1965 – 1979
Millennials 1980 – 2000
Gen Z 2001 and later