Spotting a Successful Leader


I would imagine if I asked all the CAWLM readers to tell me how they recognize a good leader when they see one, the answers would be varied. I am always trying to key-in on what makes someone stand out. This past summer when my pet had a health crisis, I spotted another local leader, Dr. Joshua Gehrke, the head of Neurology at MSU’s Veterinary Animal Hospital. In just two conversations, I thought, “wow, this guy is a natural leader.”

Here are some of the things Dr. Gehrke did so well:

He was genuine.  Authentic leaders are key in our current times. It’s easy to spot a fake. It makes us uneasy when we don’t think someone is being authentic and that can erode trust.

He actually said, “I am going to do my very best for you and your pet.” Can you imagine if more leaders said that to their teams?  A promise to do their very best. I already envision employee engagement skyrocketing.

He communicated clearly and checked for understanding. This guy could have thrown a lot of medical terminology at me, especially because he had vet students in our meetings. But he clearly told me the issues with my dog and asked several times, “Does this make sense? Are you comfortable with our game plan?” Good leaders make sure their message is delivered with clarity and they check for understanding.

He communicated often. He explained the next steps and when he would give me an update. Think about how often you communicate updates with your team or how often you are briefed by upper management. Is it enough? 

He told the truth. When my dog came in through the emergency room at 3 a.m., my pup was really in trouble. Dr. Gehrke did not sugarcoat the severity of the problem but he maintained a reserved optimism. He also relayed that if my dog made it, we would be looking at life-long supplemental treatments. Even if leaders have to deliver bad news, employees want to know the truth.

He shared stories. While we were waiting to visit my dog, he told me how he came to work at MSU after going to vet school there. He talked about his wife. He shared success stories of other dogs that had successfully come through what my dog was experiencing. When leaders share stories, it creates connection.

He acknowledged his team. When I brought in cookies from Bake N’ Cakes as a thank you, he made sure I took them in to the ICU so everyone could share the goodies, since it was a team effort in helping my dog. Good leaders make sure everyone gets credit for a success.

He celebrated success. He took time to share in the happiness of a beloved family pet making it. Great leaders make it a point to celebrate the many successes – getting the new contract, launching the new project, exceeding revenue goals, adding new team members, expanding the business. In our fast-paced work environments, this crucial aspect of leadership can be overlooked as we zoom on to the next new thing. Good leaders pause to celebrate and acknowledge wins.

Good, caring successful leaders are all around our community.  And a big thanks to the fantastic, compassionate team at MSU Veterinary Hospital.


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.

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