Managing Millennials Takes Heart: 8 Leadership Rules From Olympic Gold Medalist Abby Wambach’s New Book “Wolfpack”

by Kate Zirkle / April 25, 2019


Take a look around your practice and you’ll likely see an abundance of employees who fall into the millennial category. According to Forbes, millennials will comprise almost 35% of the workforce by 2020.

Since this unique generation is often deeply misunderstood, managing millennials can present challenges to even the most seasoned professional.

However, successful practice managers and owners recognize that a strong, productive team requires finding a way to effectively lead millennials.

Managing millennials takes heart

Abby Wambach's book Wolfpack

Gone are the days of intimidation, dominance, and blind obedience. The millennial workforce craves strong yet compassionate leadership. Clear objectives and feedback coupled with independence and trust.

Millennial employees will almost certainly challenge you to raise your leadership game to the next level.

Thankfully, two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup Champion, and all around total badass Abby Wambach has a new book that points the way. Wolfpack is based on Wambach’s inspiring 2018 commencement speech at Barnard College.

With the audiobook coming in at just over an hour, Wambach succinctly provides a blueprint for upping your personal leadership game. If you want to see change within your practice, you must first start with yourself.

So let’s look at Wambach’s 8 rules from the book specifically applied to practice management.

8 new rules to change your game

1. You were always the wolf—create your own path

A woman standing on the beach at sunset

Wambach flips the script on a classic fairytale by relating us not to little red riding hood, but instead the wolf. She encourages us to venture off the beaten path, get curious, and create our own way.

If we want different results, we’re going to have to kick it up a notch and try new things. Refresh your mission statement, jumpstart your staff meetings, and get creative to inspire not only yourself but your team to new heights.

Feed the need for variety and watch your staff light up.

2. Be grateful and ambitious

Gratitude and appreciation are key motivators for pretty much everyone, but even more so for millennials. When we feel appreciated, we’re happier and more likely to stick around. What mechanisms do you have in place for recognizing employees? Go beyond the trite “Employee of the Month” award and instead build feedback and recognition into your culture at every level.

But don’t stop there. Push yourself and your team by demanding what you deserve. Set expectations and have the hard conversations when employees aren’t performing.

Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants (not literally) to wake us up to our potential.

3. Lead from the bench—from wherever you are

You expected at least one sports metaphor, right? This one is all about demonstrating leadership even if you’re not technically the ultimate head honcho.

Don’t wait for permission to take charge and make change. Don’t wait for the practice owner to come to you. Start asking the right questions, tracking the right metrics, testing your theories, and generating meaningful action.

Lead, right now, from wherever you are.

4. Make failure your fuel

Failure is inevitable. We’re human. It happens. What we do with failure makes all the difference. Click To Tweet Make failure a welcome guest in your practice—perhaps not with medicine, but marketing campaigns and client education? Sure!

Have a tech who wants to try a new way of recommending preventives to clients? Let her try, even if she fails miserably, because on that second, third, or even fourth try she might land on an idea or sales pitch that actually works for her.

Don’t let failure prevent new ideas.

5. Champion each other—be for each other

A group on millennials in the workplace

Millennials thrive on camaraderie and support. Wambach urges us to create a culture of being for each other, not against each other. We need to watch how we talk about team members and DVMs—gossip kills connection.

Have a vet tech who’s the queen of landing an IV or anal gland expression? Now that’d be a unique award to receive from another coworker. Perhaps a good old fashioned white board full of awards and quotes in the breakroom is a good start.

Enable employees to recognize and encourage each other.

6. Demand the ball—believe in yourself

Another sports metaphor. This one means that you have to believe in yourself enough to speak up and take charge. Strong leaders don’t play it safe. They arm themselves with knowledge and have the courage to step up. Click To Tweet

You know your practice could be doing so much more when it comes to lapsing patients, dental health month, capturing email addresses, cat wellness visits, etc. So make a plan and demand the ball. You’ve got this.

That crazy idea percolating in your brain? DO IT.

7. Bring it all—lead with humanity, cultivate leaders

Lead with humanity not dominance. Cultivate leaders, not followers. This is the secret sauce. This is what makes work environments exceptional and moves the needle on millennial employee retention.

If you lead with authenticity and bring your whole self to work, you’ll set your employees up to do the same. Compassionate communication doesn’t make you a doormat, it makes you a boss worthy of respect and admiration. Remember, people leave bosses, not jobs. Click To Tweet

Be open and honest to create a space for others to do the same.

8. Find your pack—you’re not alone

Wambach rounds the list out nicely with a reference to creating your own wolfpack. You don’t have to go it alone. Connect with other practice managers, tap into the VHMA forums, and attend networking events.

You can even create a pack within your practice. Connect with DVMs, techs, and office staff to create a supportive team environment.

Competition only gets us so far. Support takes us to the next level.

Summary: Channel your inner wolf to effectively manage millennials

a howling wolf

As Wambach mentions in her book, we all have an inner wolf. A strong, capable, authentic expression of ourselves that’s hungry for more. Millennials, having grown up in more open and accepting times, are naturally more in tune with their inner wolves—and thus keenly aware of those who are not.

To effectively run your practice and manage millennials, you’ll need to harness your inner wolf and make personal development a priority. Millennials sure do get a bad rap, but if you think about it, they’re actually our greatest catalysts for positive and progressive change.



Kate Zirkle is a Marketing Manager for VetSuccess. She is passionate about animal rescue, personal development, and travel. When not working to advance the veterinary industry, she can be found kayaking, reading, and planning her next trip. You can reach her at kate@vetsuccess.com.

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