How to Identify a Great Future Leader

Leading Through Influence

In order for any practice to get stronger, it needs to continuously develop leaders. The future of the organization depends on its ability to either create or recruit leaders who can help it grow. The leaders in an organization are its future. They are responsible for creating the culture, establishing direction, and effectively engaging employees to move in that direction.

Leaders are also charged with creating the strategy for developing additional leaders so that the future of the practice is secure, not just the present. Some veterinary practices may have formal leader development programs, some have informal ones, and some, sadly, just hope that leader development happens on its own. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

What most hospitals have in common though, is that they need to be able to recognize early on who has the potential to lead at a higher level. Otherwise they miss opportunities to help those future leaders grow, develop, and achieve their full potential in order to help the practice accomplish all that it can. Everything about leadership can be taught and learned. However, it makes sense to look for people who are already heading in the right direction and show leadership qualities and traits. Here are some guidelines to help you determine who has the potential to be a great leader.

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They Make it About Others

Practices get run into the ground pretty quickly by owners or managers who make decisions based on ego, self-interest, or the belief that their “gut” is always right. However, if you lead a hospital with employees, functions, and teams there comes a point when the practice exists for the customers and the employees. The leaders have to focus on others in order to make the entire organization successful. I once heard a quote that went something like “Some leaders make you feel like they are amazing. Great leaders make you feel like you are amazing.” When you find a person who is committed to and focused on helping others learn, grow, and reach their own potential, then you have found someone who can successfully lead at higher levels.

They Ask Good Questions

Great leaders listen well, but they also actually create the conversations they need to listen to. Some leaders rely on others to find ways to share important information or a different perspective so that they can make the best possible decisions. Great leaders, however, ask the right questions so that they don’t have to hope people share the right information with them at the right time. They don’t leave learning to chance and they don’t make decisions without considering the thoughts and opinions of others who may have a different point of view.

They also know that asking questions like “Do you agree?”, “Are you on board with this?”, “Do you have any additional thoughts?”, or “How are things going?” usually yield the usual platitudes or agreement instead of a sharing an idea or decision because they are the boss. Instead, great leaders ask questions like “What’s going to be the hardest part about doing it this way?”, “What are other possibilities that we haven’t considered yet?”, “Who in our practice knows this area best and how do we get them involved with this discussion?”, or “If we are going to become better than we are today, what do we have to improve about our team, culture, or company?”

Great leaders demand honesty, not just because they say so, but because they ask questions that draw it out. So many people tell me that they believe their employees are very honest and candid with them. The reality is that bosses usually get the best version of the situation because they essentially control the careers. They also might control the stress level of those around them. Complete honesty doesn’t often happen in that environment and only when the leader causes it directly by asking great questions.

They Attack the Future

Great leaders are future thinkers, not past thinkers. They are always looking for the next improvement, the next solution, and the next level of success. It doesn’t mean that they don’t analyze the past in order to learn from it. It does, however, mean that they don’t drive while focusing on the rearview mirror. Great leaders are much more concerned about next year’s possibilities than last quarter’s results. The simple reality is that people can’t follow leaders who are focused on the past. Blame, defeat, and failure all live in the past. Potential, possibility, and opportunity are in front of us. The only reason the past is valuable is to help us chart a better course for the future.

Have you ever met someone that only talks about the good old days or how things used to be? We all visit the past sometimes and that’s okay. But leaders need to devote most of their time and energy to what could be, rather than what has been. These people often have an infectious positive attitude and cause others around them to do the same. The future is filled with endless possibilities, no matter what yesterday consisted of, and people get excited about that. It’s hard to be successful without some passion and excitement on the team or in the practice. Only the future can create that and as a result great leaders live there.

There are a lot of things that great leaders do and this is by no means an exhaustive list. It can, however, give you a core set of things to look for in your hospital as you work to understand and evaluate the potential of people to guide the organization and its people to greater success and achievement. All of these things can be taught and learned. While things like charisma are harder to teach they are not, by far, the most important leadership traits. The core of leadership is more focused on how people approach leading than about their ability to work a crowd.

Leaders who have the right foundational approach can learn to influence in ways others can’t and can develop communication skills that can help them do that. If they have chosen to define leadership based on learning from others, helping people accomplish more, and creating a better future for those around them, then they have the potential to become one of those great leaders that can completely change the game.

Randy Hall


  1. Thanks Jack. Questions can open a lot of doors for us that we often leave closed or make assumptions about. If there was one tool that I have seen great leaders use consistently it is questions.

  2. Good stuff Randy! And I would add that, in today’s VUCA world, the challenge is not just to develop a handful of key leaders but to develop leadership as a collective capacity that is shared by everyone in the practice. Either way, it certainly requires intentionality on the part of the practice’s current positional leaders.

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