Leading Pharmacy: Bringing Your Pharmacy Vision to Life Through Effective Leadership

Leading Pharmacy: Bringing Your Pharmacy Vision to Life Through Effective Leadership by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

How well can an independent community pharmacy run without effective leadership?

Patrick Devereux, Pharm.D., a pharmacist (and soon- to-be owner) at FMS Pharmacy in Bessemer, Ala., believes that the growth and sustainability of your business relies heavily on your abilities as a leader.

“There is no way possible to gain fulfillment from this calling that we have unless you are surrounded by the right people, who can help do the things that need to get done to run a business,” Devereux said. “Unless you learn how to lead your pharmacy and develop a strong team, you will end up trying to do everything yourself, and eventually burn out.”

Because the pharmacy industry is constantly evolving, as an independent community pharmacy owner or manager, you have to be willing to keep learning in order to lead your team and stay in the forefront.

“With all these new opportunities and pharmacists being involved in patient care, if you’re not trying to learn and surrounding yourself with people willing to learn with you, then you’re not going to be able to move forward,” said Audrey Newton, Pharm.D., co-owner of Chad’s Payless Pharmacy and Singing River Healthcare, a primary care medical clinic, in Florence, Ala.

Devereux acknowledged that pharmacy ownership isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re not comfortable working to be a good leader. “In order to be a successful pharmacy owner, you have to be deeply passionate about leading people, not just about the business and practicing pharmacy,” he said.

Being a team leader

Being a successful leader isn’t something you can do alone.

You have to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone and learn from others, said Jake Galdo, Pharm.D., BCPS, CGP, assistant professor and director of the community pharmacy residency program at the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

And, being a pharmacy leader means nothing without the support of your team. “You can have a vision for your business and the future of your pharmacy, and have a really good grasp on that, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have the buy-in from your colleagues or employees,” said Frances Cohenour, Pharm.D., co- owner of Chad’s Payless Pharmacy and Singing River Healthcare in Florence, Ala.

The ability to grow your business and achieve the goals you’ve set for your pharmacy stems from leading your team effectively. When your team believes in you and what you want to accomplish, they’ll work harder to make those dreams a reality.

“It’s not only having the innovative vision, but the ability to share it and inspire others to buy into your vision,” Cohenour said. 

Learning to be a leader

Most people aren’t born great leaders. There’s a lot of learning that goes into it. “Step one is acknowledging that you don’t know everything,” Devereux said.

Newton shares a similar outlook. “So much of learning to be an effective leader is knowing that you don’t have all the answers all the time and that’s okay,” she said. “People want to know they can approach you with new ideas. It’s being open to those new ideas that’s difficult, and it’s a learning process.”

Pharmacy school probably didn’t cover the skills needed to be an effective leader. But you have many resources at your disposal to learn effective leadership skills, such as looking to mentors and reading leadership books.

“When I start a new leadership team, I have them read “Strengthsfinder” by Tom Rath,” Galdo said. “I have them identify where they excel, so we can build upon those strengths.” Understanding your team’s strengths is vital to your success as a leader, but you first have to learn what those strengths are and how they differ from your own.

Galdo also suggested that independent community pharmacists join a buying group or other pharmacy services organization because these companies provide opportunities for pharmacy owners to attend conferences and events. And, you can use these events to build relationships with pharmacy leaders and to find mentors whose footsteps you’d like to follow.

Cohenour said mentorship was essential to her
 own success. “We chose pharmacy because we’re scientists,” she said. “So often we’re placed in leadership roles and we’re not adequately prepared.” She stressed the importance of having strong mentors and taking their advice.

You can also learn by looking at how other pharmacies lead their teams—even national chain pharmacies. It doesn’t hurt to do some research or gain some experience actually working in a chain pharmacy, Galdo said.

“If you shadow and work a little bit in that realm and understand what they do well and what they don’t do well, you can do the good and ignore the bad,” he said.

Use what you’ve learned from literature, your mentors and other pharmacies as a basis for forging your own path and finding a leadership style that works for your pharmacy. “Effective leaders need to be committed to finding avenues to grow themselves personally and professionally,” Devereux said.

Leading Pharmacy: Bringing Your Pharmacy Vision to Life Through Effective Leadership by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

The necessary skills

The leadership skills you learn are invaluable, but there are also certain abilities and characteristics that make a good leader—and they might not be what you expect.

Your willingness to fail and pick yourself up is important, Galdo said. As a leader, he chooses to focus on excelling in his strengths rather than building on
his weaknesses, and he surrounds himself with team members whose strengths complement his own.

Newton said pharmacy leaders need to have a thick skin. “You’ve got to believe in yourself and in what your abilities are, and have the faith of your own convictions to move forward,” she said.

And, just because you choose to be a leader doesn’t mean you’re perfect. You have to continue to learn and grow, and you can’t let others knock you down.

Cohenour encourages staying open-minded to other people’s thoughts and opinions. She also advises stepping out of your comfort zone and away from the ‘Type A’ mentality. “You can’t just rely on the way you have always done things,” she said. “In a profession that changes so much and where there’s always new challenges, you’ve got to be ready and willing to take it head on.”

Leadership styles

Every leader has a unique style and it takes time to find the leadership style that will work for you—and your business.

Your team members also have different strengths and personalities, and you have to be able to effectively communicate with them based on—or despite of—those differences to get things done.

Devereux describes his leadership style as asking his team members for input, but maintaining the ability to be extremely decisive and not letting the pressure get to him.

While for Galdo, it’s more about creating a family-oriented, team atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable. This helps him nurture relationships with his team members. “I love breaking bread with people,” Galdo said. “You can always have a great meeting over food.”

Newton and Cohenour find that ensuring employees feel appreciated and that their ideas are valued works best in their pharmacy. “I get the most positive responses from staff and employees when I give them the autonomy to do things on their own,” Cohenour said. “People want to know their ideas are valued and that you’re not just there to delegate.”

Leading vs. managing

Just because you can manage your pharmacy, doesn’t mean you can lead it. There’s a big difference between being a leader and a manager, which some pharmacy owners fail to realize.

In order to be an effective leader, you have to first be an effective manager, but you can’t stop there. “Managing is just making sure the doors are open and the lights are
on; leading comes down to casting the vision, figuring out how to get to where you want to be and surrounding yourself with the right people to do that,” Devereux said.

Pharmacy managers are often put in charge of a team, and therefore assume they’re leaders. But according to Galdo, “a manager is someone who builds up the team, while a leader is the one the team follows.”

Cohenour referred to leadership in terms of a team approach. Managing can be done on your own, while leadership indicates that you’re a team, you’re all on the same page and working together towards a common goal, she said.

Getting others on board

Part of leading is inspiring others to embrace your ideas. Devereux suggests asking your team members for input, and actually valuing that input. It’s easy to get wrapped up in doing things the way you’ve always done them, but sometimes you just have to listen to others and accept that there may be a better way, he said.

“You don’t know everything and are surrounded by people with different strengths who may have a different perspective,” he said. “Articulate the value proposition in doing it your way, and make sure that everyone is on board.”

When introducing a new idea, Galdo looks to Dr. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, New York Times best-selling author and well-known thought leader
in the fields of business, leadership and change. Dr. Kotter founded the eight-step process for leading and accelerating change, which starts with creating a sense of urgency in order to get your team on board and institutionalize that change. “When you try to cast a new vision, ultimately you are leading change,” Galdo said.

But there’s more to implementing a change than just getting your people on board. “Having a well-thought-out idea with a well-supported plan, and having the financials to back that up is essential,” Cohenour said.

Overcoming obstacles

While getting others to accept your ideas is arguably the most difficult task for a leader, you have many other challenges to overcome.

Galdo said he sees reprimanding and holding people accountable as the toughest part of leadership, although it’s one of the most important jobs a leader has to do. It’s never easy to tell others they’ve done something wrong
 or need to improve, but as a pharmacy owner you have to find a constructive way to communicate this to your team members, he said.

According to Devereux, the most difficult part of being a leader is “finding the time to have face time, one-on- one, with each of your key people.” He said that the reprimanding gets easier when the communication lines are open and comfortable, and you aren’t only meeting with employees when there’s a problem.

You’re not only a leader, you’re also a boss. “It can be lonely and challenging being a leader, but also a boss and employer,” Cohenour said. Having to say “no” and enforcing hard concepts is more difficult than it looks, especially when you’re trying to please both your patients and your employees, she said.

Leading Pharmacy: Bringing Your Pharmacy Vision to Life Through Effective Leadership by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

Leading outside the pharmacy

Being an effective leader in pharmacy today means leading outside of your pharmacy, too.

Newton said it’s important to step outside the pharmacy and show your patients that they can trust you because you’re doing good not only for them, but for the community as well.

The community counts on your pharmacy. “It’s amazing how much independent pharmacy gives back
to the community. Oftentimes our rural, independent pharmacies are the only small business in a town and are the lifeblood,” Galdo said.

But Devereux cautions remaining balanced. “There’s a balance between running your business and being overly involved,” he said.

Even if you don’t sit as a chair or a president for
 an organization, you’re still a leader when you are a successful independent pharmacy owner who others can look up to, Galdo said.

Galdo seeks out pharmacy leaders who excel in patient care and in helping their community, and highlights their successes. He hopes that highlighting these industry leaders will motivate the entire profession to get better, as they’ll forge a path for others to follow.

Evaluating your success

It’s beneficial to find a way to measure your success as a leader so that you know when to make improvements, and can ultimately keep working toward your pharmacy’s goals.

Depending on your leadership style and the goals you’re trying to achieve, your way of evaluating success as a leader may differ from other pharmacy owners or managers.

Devereux attributes his success as a leader in his pharmacy to whether or not his team is growing and doing something better than they were before. “I may have coached that person to do something better, but they also may have seen what I was doing and are trying to model that,” he said.

Devereux believes that your team will emulate the behavior you model, and you achieve success when you effectively communicate objectives to your team, and see those outcomes come to fruition.

Your ability to inspire other team members can also be a marker of success. Newton gauges her success as a leader by the number of students who decide to become pharmacists after working in her pharmacy.

She believes she’s doing something right when students who don’t plan on being pharmacists really connect with her pharmacy’s mission and decide they want to be a part of that.

“I feel pride and success when I can influence someone’s life in that way,” she said.


Leadership Literature

Check out these popular leadership books to help strengthen your leadership skills as an independent community pharmacy owner or manager.

“Strengthsfinder 2.0” by Tom Rath
The new and improved version of the popular assessment is loaded with hundreds of strategies for applying your strengths.

“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
Examines women’s progress in achieving leadership roles and offers solutions on how to lead a team involving both men and women.

“Entreleadership” by Dave Ramsey
Ramsey outlines his principles of leadership and how to achieve success by being an entrepreneur and a leader.

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins
Describes how companies transition from being average to great, and how some can fail to make the transition.

“The Leadership Fables of Patrick Lencioni” by Patrick Lencioni
Lencioni is the founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to helping leaders improve their organizations, and has authored multiple successful leadership fables including best-seller, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”


8 Steps to Accelerate Change

Dr. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, New York Times best-selling author and well-known thought leader in the fields of business, leadership and change, founded the eight-step process for leading and accelerating change.This process is designed to help organizations, like your independent community pharmacy, develop the mindsets and skillsets necessary to lead change.

1. Create a sense of urgency.
As a leader, you must describe an opportunity that will appeal to individuals’ heads and hearts and use this statement to raise a large, urgent army of volunteers.

2. Build a guiding coalition.
A volunteer army needs a coalition of effective people—coming from its own ranks—to guide it, coordinate it and communicate its activities.

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives.
Strategic initiatives are retargeted and coordinated activities that, if designed and executed fast enough and well enough, will make your vision a reality.

4. Enlist a volunteer army.
Large-scale change can only occur when very significant numbers of employees amass under a common opportunity and drive in the same direction.

5. Enable action by removing barriers.
By removing barriers, such as inefficient processes or hierarchies, leaders provide the freedom necessary for employees to work across boundaries and create real change.

6. Generate short-term wins.
Wins are the molecules of results. They must be collected, categorized, and communicated—early and often—to track progress and energize your volunteers to drive change.

7. Sustain acceleration.
Change leaders must adapt quickly in order to maintain their speed. Whether it’s a new way of finding talent or removing misaligned processes, they must determine what can be done— every day—to remain on the course towards the vision.

8. Institute change.
To ensure new behaviors are repeated over the long term, it’s important that you define and communicate the connections between these behaviors and the organization’s success.

Source: Kotter International

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Elements is written and produced by PBA Health, a buy-side solutions company.

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