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Are you practising directional leadership?

I trust the new year still finds you well and well on your way to achieving your goals for 2023.  Over the course of the next several articles we are going to look at the idea of what I will call “directional leadership.”

You are likely familiar with idea of "positional leadership."  This is leadership that someone has by means of a title they have or a position (or office) they hold. 

A manager has positional leadership. Everyone on the manager’s team reports up to that person, who has some level of leadership authority based on title.

I don’t want to get on my soapbox here, but there are huge differences between managers and leaders. Please do not misunderstand me, this isn’t a good versus bad difference. They are simply fundamentally different. Too often we look at our managers as leaders yet there are different and unique skill sets for each position.

As we look at directional leadership, know that this kind of leadership is essentially independent of the positions we have relative to others. 

The first time I was exposed to this concept was when I joined the clinical team for a large pharmacy chain. At that time, there was traditional pharmacy dispensing and practically anything other than traditional dispensing was labeled “clinical” and sent to our department to sort out. Our department existed outside our traditional operations, and it was not uncommon to feel like you lived on the Island of Misfit Toys. It was at this time our team was told we would need to “influence without authority.”

If you have been reading this column for any length of time, you know that I define a leader as someone who is able to get someone at some time to do something or go somewhere. I kind of like the way it rolls off the tongue, but it can be distilled down greatly from that phrase. In a nutshell, leadership is influence. When you have influence, you are able to get someone at some time to do some thing or go somewhere. 

Our little clinical team was told we would need to lead without authority. I certainly did not know it then, but I absolutely understand it now that this a must-have skill. 

This brings us more formally into directional leadership. Everyone has the opportunity to lead four directions. Today, we will identify the first three: Up, Down and Across.

Leading Up is when you influence those who have direct authority over you. 

Leading Down is when you influence those you have direct authority over.

Leading Across is when you influence those where there is no connection of authority. 

We will unpack these more in the coming weeks, but I trust this brief description will get the wheels turning.

Everyone has the opportunity for directional leadership, but I suggest, and I believe you will agree, that pharmacists have a unique blend and intersection of directional leadership. Improving our leadership skills can improve our influence and effectiveness as we lead in different directions.

Next time, we will begin to look specifically at leading up. I look forward to meeting with you again then.

Until next time –

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn



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