By: Michael W. Miller, DVM
I bet you thought this would be structured in a “Top 5 Tips” format. So did I, initially. I’ve been planning to write something with this title for a while and had a general idea partially formulated … until two of my staff showed me the single best way to lead our team even though they were not the boss. And since I’m the Harry Potter Vet, I’m going to tell their story by comparing their unexpected leadership to Fred and George. Yep, that Fred and George. (Not where you thought this title would lead, was it?)
In the wizarding world, Fred and George were two Gryffindors who many wouldn’t consider traditionally great leaders. But remember, they eventually led the successful Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes business during a very difficult time. But even before that, throughout their time at Hogwarts they managed lots of mischief through focusing on jokes and pranks that lightened the mood when it was needed the most. Even though they weren’t in charge, they still managed to create a fun atmosphere for their fellow Gryffindors.
Recently, my “Fred and George” helped me through a rough day. My morning was full of minor but frustrating break downs. First, the new blood machine wouldn’t work. Then it was a printer. After two more equipment malfunctions, my pen even decided to stop writing. By the afternoon, when I was presented with a sick patient who wasn’t responding to my previous treatments, I was depressed. My mood had hit rock bottom. I just wanted to go home, but I still had several more hours of patients to see. How was I going to make it through?
Cue Fred and George!
My two technicians, despite my obvious poor mood, stayed positive. They cracked little jokes between patients. The clock in the lab hallway suddenly had a pair of cat ears taped to it… and then a bowtie. My grumpy façade started to crumble. By the time the clock also had a dog muzzle with a tongue sticking out, I began to smile. These two vet techs had managed to completely flip my mood, and the environment of the entire hospital. It was pretty magical. And, it demonstrated amazing leadership.
Veterinary medicine can be very serious at times, and sometimes it should be. But, working in vet med doesn’t mean you have to be serious and somber all the time. Sometimes we need to find the fun. Joking around can be okay at a vet hospital. Humor can be a great way to stay positive to help survive the day. Even areas of vet med that seem inherently depressing can be comedic. I have witnessed wonderful oncologists and emergency vet techs find the funny. It is possible. Maybe it’s even more important to focus on the moments that make you laugh when you work in that setting.
But, please be careful. Fred and George were always getting into minor trouble at Hogwarts, but they knew where to draw the line. Avoid the veterinary dark magic. Humor at work can easily backfire. Time and place and audience are all extremely important. Obviously, never joke around in a way that can compromise patient safety. Also, make sure you respect that everyone’s sense of humor is not the same. If you are lucky enough to have a wonderful work culture, you will understand what can brighten your co-worker’s day versus what would be considered inappropriate. Especially if you are new to the team, tread lightly until you’ve integrated into the group. Some people might not find the Ten-Tongue Toffees hilarious, and it’s not worth becoming the hospital outcast – or getting fired – over a miscalculated joke.
The Weasley twins are not typical leadership role models. However, on our journey to find the magic in veterinary medicine, we may have to look beyond the expected. An old boot may be a portkey. A locket can be a Horcrux. Jokesters can be integral to changing the mood at your workplace. Spreading laughter can be one of the magical ways to be an effective leader when you’re not in charge.