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Managing the dynamics of power

Written by: Vet Times Jobs
Published on: 29 Sep 2015

The Boss

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Whether it's a nurse aspiring to practice management or a vet with his or her heart set on a partnership, a sudden jump up the career ladder can be an alluring prospect.

More money, more power and improved perks are obvious incentives; however, a reserved space in the company car park can come at an unexpected price.

Being asked to take charge of former workmates is not easy, as Ian McKelvie (pictured) of US management consultancy Becauz explained: “Moving from workmate to manager can be extremely complex.

“I have done it a number of times in various careers, started working on a team, then got promoted to manager. Of all the things I have done, it’s probably the most difficult transition to make – not just for me, but for the people who used to tell me all their deep dark secrets and complaints about what was going on.

“All of a sudden my role has shifted, it shifts the relationship and also what we call the ‘power and rank structures’ around you. It is very challenging.”

Ian McKelvieAccording to Ian, one of the biggest challenges veterinary professionals face when taking on a management role is moving out of their comfort zone. For skilled professionals with high levels of expertise in their chosen job, embracing such a fundamental change can often be difficult.

He said: “Whenever we are learning new things, be it a new instrument or a new activity, the first few times we do it are extremely hard and our competency levels are very low. So there is a problem when we come at this with an expertise mindset where we have to be good at something. So what we tend to do is not try things we have never done before. The reason we do that is it actually puts our identity and our competence at stake, and we don’t like that.

“When you move from ‘best friend’ to ‘manager’ it is a super learning opportunity – and guess what? You’re not going to be great at it to begin with.”

Ian refers to this dynamic as the “tyranny of competence”.

“The problem is the skill set I have actually sets me up for failure. If I do the same things I did when I was hanging out with the team at the pub after hours, complaining about the practice I work in, that’s not going to work any more because I actually represent more of the practice than I did before. It changes all the rank and power dynamics in the practice.”

But, while making this transition may be hard, it is often necessary and there are ways to manage the sudden shift in power dynamics that comes with assuming a leadership role.

“I want to talk about the edge model and how that can help deal with this,” he added.

“Edges are invisible psychological barriers, these edges are great to push on because the learning is on the other side. Every time we cross these edges we actually build muscle. So we get across the edge, and the next time we do it, we not only have more capacity, we are also going to go over the edge quicker.

“So you have got to step into your power, but it is going to have an edge and, to start with, you are not going to want to do it. Moving from friend to manager is an edge. On one side of that edge we are somewhere that is known and comfortable – we are on equal terms and can relate as friends, that’s the basis of the relationship.


“There are now going to be power differentials and rank differentials, conversations I am not aware of like I used to be. There are also going to be conversations I am now part of that I was not before.

“So what I have to do is travel with my own authority; meaning I have a role based on authority now, I have positional rank. So I have to stand with my new role and travel with my own authority while maintaining those relationships. It’s super hard, but it can be done.”

Ian McKelvie was speaking at SPVS/VPMA Congress 2015.