Why Veterinary Clinical Directors Must Adopt a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset (popularised by Carol Dweck) is the belief that through dedication and hardwork, you can achieve new things or develop your existing skills. If you’re a clinical veterinary leader, you’ve likely grown a lot since graduating from vet school. You might be thinking, if I’ve already ‘made it to the top’, why should I adopt a growth mindset? Isn’t this for newly qualified vets?

The truth is, everyone should adopt a growth mindset – even you – no matter how far up the chain you are. 

Those with a growth mindset are open to new learning opportunities and realise that no one can possibly know it all. Especially in veterinary medicine, there is still so much to learn. Innovations are constantly being made in the clinical side of things – particularly in light of recent awareness of the link between humans and animals – and in the way vet practices are operated.

Your brain is a neuroplastic mass of grey matter, eager to absorb new learning opportunities, and perfectly capable of learning how to perform a huge range of tasks and skills. Each time you work on new things, or tackle something outside of your comfort zone, your brain is literally changing the way it is wired. As crazy as it sounds, this is precisely why no-one should ever feel like they are done with learning, nor that they can’t improve at any skill. 

When it comes to leadership skills, most of us still have so much to learn. And it is certain that focussing on and growing these skills is going to play a vital role to play in tackling the high attrition rates in the veterinary profession. Indeed, just because you have all the clinical skills of a successful vet, does not mean you will make a good leader. We must grow our leadership skills, and encourage our team members to grow so that they don’t end up bouncing out of the profession altogether.

How Adopting a Growth Mindset Can Make You a Great Leader

Don’t be afraid of what you aren’t good at

People with a growth mindset pinpoint the things they need to work on, and tackle them. So many head vets and clinical directors end up placing too much emphasis on the clinical side of things because they know they are good at this. But, they forget to lead their people! Before they know it, they are stuck in a clinical grind and the practice culture has been reduced to chaos.

It is all too easy to avoid the things we aren’t so good at: building our emotional intelligence, recruiting, onboarding staff, dealing with ‘difficult’ employees. It takes way more effort to tackle the things we find difficult, compared to those tasks we are so accustomed to. 

Ultimately, this is because we are afraid of failure. However, by adopting a growth mindset you begin to realise that failure is a component of growth. Every leader has ‘failed’ (even though they might not have told you). The knockbacks, such as recruiting someone completely at odds with the practice culture, can help you to identify where success is found. In this case, you start to realise what makes a good job advert and include personal characteristics (outgoing, enthusiastic, open, dedicated) in the description and ask relevant questions during the interview.

We urge you to work on those things that make you feel a little bit scared! Practicing new skills is how you actually mould the grey matter in your brain, not by just rehearsing the same old things. 

Find your cultural ‘niche’

Now, this may seem at odds with the ‘practicing new skills’ idea, but this actually will make sense. Another word for ‘growth mindset’ is ‘ambition’. Those leaders with ambition are constantly working to push the practice forward – they spend less time looking in the rear view mirror. 

Practicing new skills are a small part of the larger ambition: the growth of your practice. 

And, a great way to instill a growth mindset not only in yourself but your team is to build a list of core values. Every action you and your team make must align with these values. When you create your values list, make sure it is specific. Think about what you stand for, and the behaviours on display by you and your team would make you proud each day.

For example, let’s say a core value of yours is integrity. In your vet practice, this might mean you should expect all of your vets to build trusting relationships with clients by doing the right thing. This is because strong, genuine relationships are built on trust, which in turn aids better decisions by pet owners, which then makes for a far happier workplace. 


Sounds easy in theory, but all too often, strong vet-client relationships are overlooked by clinical teams  in the veterinary profession, (clients are seen as an annoyance rather than a vital partner in decision making). Without an articulated value to guide team behaviour, a form of boundless anarchy develops and your culture will be unintentional or accidental at best. . Ultimately, through articulating and then enacting your values you will find your cultural niche. Soon, no other veterinary practice in the area will have client relationships like yours.

Help your staff to grow

Recognise the value of your own personal growth, and you can help others to grow too. This has to be one of the most rewarding aspects of being a leader, but it all starts with recruiting the right people.

As many as 20% of vets dislike their job because they are not supported in their own personal growth. Many feel isolated and stuck in a rut. This is why when recruiting, you should consider the candidate’s personal characteristics, attitudes and goals just as much as their experience and clinical capabilities.

Ultimately, anyone who has gone through vet school can be trained in any clinical skills they lack. The non-clinical skills: drive, ambition, and being a team player aren’t so easy for you, as a veterinary leader, to train.

In essence, you should be looking for people who want to grow, and you should be growing too! If you have motivated people on your team who contribute to a positive and open practice culture, they will push for the success of the practice. Leadership is not a one-person job, it requires cooperation from the whole team.

Never skimp on the recruitment and onboarding process. This is your chance to select candidates that truly align with your values and that you can help to grow.

How to Achieve a Team Growth Mindset

Hopefully now you are ready to grow as a veterinary leader by:

  1. Tackling the things you aren’t so good at (yet) and pushing beyond your comfort zone:
  2. Defining your cultural ‘niche’ so behaviours are optimum for growth to occur.
  3. Hiring to these cultural standards and then providing opportunities for others to grow. 

These are three vital components of success in leadership that will have a positive impact on the bottom line of your business. 

To finish things off, we are proud to offer our readers the new VetX Leadership ebook, From the Expert’s Mouth. It’s a collection of comments from veterinary leaders at the top of their game, which we believe you will find insightful (whether you are a new leader or experienced one).

Access your complimentary ebook here.

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