Vet Business

Humbled and Smarter – More Tales from an EMBA

squirel and bird


Two months in to my EMBA at Ivey I am constantly reminded of how humbling the learning experience is. On my first day back in class earlier this month I was chatting with a classmate who has a senior position in a marketing company. I asked her how does she feel about everything so far and she gave the one word that exemplifies how I feel as well – humbled. All 51 of my fellow students are all very good at what they do in their jobs, yet we walk out of class here shaking our heads hoping that one day everything we learn will sink in. For example, I’m fairly confident about my abilities to perform a pre-purchase examination on a horse or diagnose a lameness. I’m dealing with a living animal that can’t talk so there are limitations to my abilities, but day in and day out I get the job done fairly well. Now ask me to prepare a spreadsheet model that creates a formula that will allow someone to bid on a project and be the winner 66% of the time and I might as well be learning a new language. I can identify certain letters and punctuation, but I have little idea how it works together. This is humbling, but at least I knew nothing about spreadsheet modeling before I came into the program. Any knowledge gained is a huge win and when I did learn  how to do this example I felt pretty good about myself. Until the next day.

What is particularly humbling are the areas where I felt I came into the program with a fair amount of knowledge and experience. During the Marketing and Leadership classes I can’t help but think, whew, at least I found an area that I don’t have to be so stressed about. Not so fast. A recent incident drove this lesson home.  In our leadership classes we are often put into situations where our small learning groups work through scenarios that result in good coaching or communication lessons. All elements that a good leader should have. I have always felt that I am pretty good at this “soft” side of business. When I work with my teams at work, or lead a staff meeting everyone seems engaged with me. Other than my writing is a mess, I seem to do a good job communicating with people. During one of these exercises we were going down a path that didn’t seem right to me. The exercise was built on a previous one we have done, so the inclination was to pick up from where we left off.  I just knew that there was another point to what we were doing. I kept voicing that and to my frustration nobody in my group was listening. One of my team members had the same realization, but instead of doing what I was doing, with no one changing what they were doing, he went to the professor and started asking questions about our goal in the exercise. As he began asking better questions the professor revealed little by little what the outcome of the exercise should be. He didn’t come right out and tell us because that would defeat the point he was trying to make. With the information my team member was able to capture we shifted what we were doing and came up with the desired solution.

How was this humbling? I learned that unless I have something concrete to offer with good reasoning behind it I can not expect people to change their behavior because I think they should. In our exercise I was right, but I totally failed in convincing my group to change our course of action. Up until them I was fairly smug in my ability to lead people with my vision. It works at our company most of the time, unless I am way off base. Then it hit me. My co-workers follow my lead because I am the head of the company. I sign the pay cheques! As long as what I want is fairly reasonable they will go along with me. What an eye opener. It seems very obvious that was the case as I write this, but when one is in the midst of a situation, and has been for a long time, the actions of others are rarely questioned. I’ll use the word again. I was humbled, and I also felt that I have let me co-workers down all this time. Instead of giving direction with real reasons behind my thoughts I have often been happy to say “lets do this” and they of course attempt to do what I ask. How much wasted effort has gone into poorly thought out plans or how often have I confused them with sudden shifts in strategy? Now, it isn’t all doom and gloom, but I have not given my team the proper leadership they deserve. What is also galling is the laziness of my thinking. Instead of preparing a thoughtful plan I skipped that step and went with the easy part. It is much easier to say I want to go there, rather than we should go there and this is why and how we are going to do it. I wouldn’t plan on performing a dental procedure without knowing why and how I am doing it. That is part of what makes a trained professional

There is never a better lesson than the one that is personal. As a business leader and veterinarian I have become complacent in my role as leader. What this incident reinforced in me is that sometimes you have to get in a vey uncomfortable situation to learn the best lessons. The medical errors I have made still linger. When I do certain procedures the mistake I have made in the past doing the same thing are front and center. I have been in certain situations with the business side of things too, but those lessons seem to come less often. Probably because I have rarely pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. I won’t be that complacent again.

Here’s to being very, very uncomfortable. It’s humbling, but worth it when a lesson can be learned.

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  1. Mike,
    Thanks for this post. I have an appointment to sit down with my senior veterinarian this coming week to engage in a “help me to understand” conversation. Your latest is a God send for me. I, who sign the checks, am determined to step off of that pedestal and try to understand the world as she sees it. Thanks for writing your article on being humble , and for the the insights you have shared, and mostly for the courage to have written it.
    Personal regards,
    David Jefferson

    1. David,

      It is always great to hear from you. How did your conversation go?


  2. Great post Mike! I’m also impressed that you are reflecting deeply — a mark of excellent leadership.

    1. Thanks Derrick. Coming from someone like you who has fought so many business leaders that is a true compliment.

  3. That is an interesting point that you brought up. Do you plan to post on a weekly basis?

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