The potent potential of pharmacists leading across

Around 2008 I began learning about performance measures for pharmacy and I was enthralled. What an amazing concept! What if we could describe a way to determine how well a therapy serves a patient?
Jesse McCullough
Founder, Keystone Pharmacy Insights
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As we continue examining directional leadership this week, we will be looking at leading across. Directional leadership is in relation to the direction of authority. When leading across, there is no line of authority. You are leading someone with no authority over you, and you have no authority over this person. 

This is such an important area of leadership, and sadly, it is often under utilized. It is under utilized because either we are unwilling to lead, unwilling to be led (learn), or a combination of the two.

As pharmacists, we are the medication experts. Yet, every day we are learning something new. What do you do with that knowledge? Many of us keep that knowledge to ourselves. When we do this, we are not leading. We are not helping anyone get to a better place or we are not helping as many people as we can get to a better place.

Learning new things was a real benefit of covering so many different pharmacies early in my career. Every store is unique and has its own personality with its patient base and prescriber practices. As such, I was able to pick up all sorts of random bits of knowledge and carry them with me to the next pharmacy I staffed. 

Yet while I learned all sorts of helpful things to put into my mental bag of tricks, I was not intentional about leading my colleagues with the things I was learning.

Around 2008 I began learning about performance measures for pharmacy and I was enthralled. What an amazing concept! What if we could describe a way to determine how well a therapy serves a patient? I thought this was an interesting concept. So, I started studying these measures in great detail. I was learning the various nuances around these measures – the rules and the exceptions. But I kept what I was learning to myself. I thought that would make me more valuable to the company. The reality was that I was harming the company by not sharing the information with my colleagues. By not leading across, I was impeding literally thousands of pharmacists from being able to better lead their patients to better health.

I realized this as I would have conversations with co-workers who completely misunderstood the measures and I would find myself correcting, educating, and describing strategies that could be used to benefit everyone.

As a result of doing this many, many times, it finally clicked. I needed to lead across. I was not sophisticated enough to call it that way back then, but I realized it was what I needed to do. I decided to head to the recording studio where I began recording videos describing the various aspects of the performance measures and then sent the videos out to our teams so they could learn at their own pace. 

What happened next, I did not expect. I started getting some really thoughtful questions from people who were learning along with me. These questions revealed even more areas to explore and to strategize.   

This all happened when I decided to lead across.

Not everyone is willing lead across. Some people feel the need to keep this information to and for themselves. The results are always painful. Less progress and more hardship. Several years ago, I had the privilege of attending the Institutes of Healthcare Innovation conference in Orlando, Florida. (Yes, going to Florida for a conference is a sacrifice I am willing to make. Always.) The keynote speaker for one of the days was Michael J. Fox, who was encouraging healthcare workers at a healthcare innovation conference to share what they are learning – good and bad – with each other. He was encouraging everyone in the room to lead across. He was encouraging everyone to share what was working and what was not working, so that people with needs, like him, could benefit.

Leadership is about getting people from where they are to a better place. That place is always uphill. That place is always difficult. There are often many ways to get there. And sometimes we take a wrong turn and have a detour that slows us from getting to where we want to be. Michael was sharing the very real struggles he and countless others in similar situations were dealing with and how those situations could be improved.

Yet many do not lead across.

This is made worse when we do not accept the opportunities to let someone lead across to us. In a column like this, this statement probably does not apply to you. After all, by the definitions that we have described, I have been leading across to you for however long you have been reading this column. But I am convinced you are very much the exception to the rule. I encourage you today to continue to be a student.  Always be looking to learn. 

When I returned from a vacation, I was with the larger clinical team, and we were planning the next flu season and how we needed to train so many pharmacists and get so many other pharmacists recertified for CPR. Jim, a paramedic and pharmacist on my team, told me that we could internalize our CPR training at a substantial savings. Jim was leading up. I bought into the vision that Jim shared and now I had to lead across and get my counterparts to buy into the idea. It was not easy. But when we came to agreement, we had improved the standardization and quality of our training, invested in our training staff, created potentially a new line of business, and done all of that while saving the company half a million dollars.

I am a firm believer there are ideas and opportunities like this all around us, we simply need to be open to being led across by our peers.

For now, we have looked at directional leadership in three directions: up, down and across.  What more could there be? Actually, there is a fourth direction of leadership!  We will look at that direction when we meet next.

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn

P.S.  A great environment for leading across can be found at conferences.  One of the best conferences of the year is coming up soon at Pharmacy U Toronto!  You will have the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with hundreds of peers and colleagues that help take your practice to the next level.  If you are not already registered, you can learn more here.


More Blog Posts In This Series

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    The beginning of a new year often has people looking hopeful at the possibility of what may be. Yet we know the vast majority of people who set New Year’s resolutions drop them within days or weeks of starting them. And they do this year after year.
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  • The hope of healthcare – trade-offs!

    Within the world of pharmacy, we must be intentional to show the value that is provided to our patients. In the absence of recognizing the value, a patient can become disengaged with his care.
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  • The hope of healthcare—value-add or adding value?

    If your experience is anything like mine, the ability to add value to our patients and customers is a seismic shift! I wish I could say it is just as easy as offering value-add programs, but it not.
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