Last Sunday night I reluctantly received a lesson in compassion, generosity, and servant leadership from a turtle; a box turtle with most of her insides hanging out of her backside. 

I had experienced an unusually busy weekend “off work” tending to a remodeling contractor, out of town family and an ill family member across town. Sunday evening, I finally thought that I was home free. Planning to write my blog and then relax in preparation for work on Monday. As I was driving home with my son from this long emotional weekend, I received a text message from one of my technicians. She wrote something that no veterinarian ever wants to read. Her 5-year-old box turtle had developed a large rectal prolapse earlier in the day. “What do you think I should do?” she texted. Because I was driving, there was a delay in my answer but once I was able, I texted her back that she should probably take the turtle to the local emergency clinic for treatment. I was easily an hour away and there was no way I wanted to spend what was left of my weekend replacing a prolapse on a box turtle.  

This started a text stream with the technician and an internal debate with myself over whether or not I should give up my evening to help with the turtle.  Should I “force” my technician friend to go to the emergency clinic to preserve my evening off? This is where I think many of us get into an internal compassion debate. We have this need to do what is best for ourselves by taking care to preserve our days off,  but we also have the compassionate servant side of us that does not want to say no to a friend, family member or client, when we know that we have the skills to help them.  

Who would I be if I said no? I think of myself as a compassionate servant leader, but what exactly does that mean? 

The term “Servant Leadership” was a term coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf who said that a leader should be a servant to the team. They should be a role model by giving a helping hand to those around them.  The leader should create opportunities to express appreciation to the team and invest in them by taking actions to help them feel happy and fulfilled. When a leader creates this kind of environment, the team will feel connected and loved. 

When I stopped to think about who I really want to be in this situation, a servant leader, I ultimately made the right choice.  

I believe that we get to choose how we want to feel about any difficult situation. I could decide whether I want to feel sorry for myself for not having a Sunday night off work, or I could decide to put on my big girl panties and go to work to try to save the gutted turtle.  

Of course, I chose the servant leader big girl panties. 

So, off I went to work to spend the next two hours slowly patiently pushing things that should never be outside a body back in, then placing sutures in her turtle butt to keep things from coming back out. If you have never worked on a box turtle, it is not at all easy.  They have the name box for a reason.  

The self-satisfaction and pride that comes with overcoming the “feeling sorry for yourself” feeling and being empowered to do what is right, is more rewarding than sitting on the couch writing a blog.  

I saved a life and also set an example for the team that I lead. 

Ultimately the turtle was happy (with her insides back inside), the technician was happy, and I was grateful for my lesson on servant leadership and generosity of spirit from this little shelled creature.  

Maybe next Sunday, I will have a day off.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

Julie Cappel


Dr. Cappel works as a small animal and exotic pet veterinarian, leadership
and life coach. She has been a practice owner for over 20 years running a
four doctor veterinary practice in Warren, Michigan.  Dr. Cappel has studied leadership, employee relations, personality profiling, business management and has a strong grasp on interpersonal relationships and work life balance.  She has served on multiple veterinary committees, school boards and was an executive committee member for the Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association serving as their president in 2006.  She has also served on the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association executive board serving as their president in 2015, and continues to work as an advisor for the MVMA “A team” and on several committees.