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Pharmacists can suffer from lonely leadership

Considering what to write this week, I am reminded of how many leaders are lonely and feel isolated and disconnected from others.

As we head into the new year, a topic that frequently comes up is how this time of year can be difficult for many people. We can define difficult many ways, but for the sake of our conversation today I limit the definition to those individuals who are isolated and alone. Feelings of loneliness can negatively impact people of any age or walk of life.  This negative impact can magnify during the holidays and the dark days of winter.

Considering what to write this week, I am reminded of how many leaders are lonely and feel isolated and disconnected from others. It's not that there are no other people around. By definition, leaders must have people around to lead, after all. Rather, there is a disconnect where the leader intentionally distances from the rest of the team. It is self-imposed. The result: lonely leaders.

When I started practising as a pharmacist, it was only a few short months before I was given the opportunity to become a “pharmacist scheduler.” When I started out, the workforce situation was terrible. We barely had enough bodies to cover the vacations and vacancies in our 30-store district at the time. As a kid right out of college, I was working pretty much as many hours as I could anywhere in the district. The invitation to become a scheduler was presented as a way to make my own schedule. If I didn’t want to work a particular day, I simply needed to schedule someone else to cover the shift. Sounds good, amirite?

This opportunity was going to be great – or so I thought. It wasn’t. It was too good to be true. The reality was that I struggled greatly with the position. I don’t think that it had even been announced that I was going to schedule before I learned that at least two of my colleagues were going to leave the company. The difficulty factor of this position skyrocketed instantly. As I look back on it now, I realize I lacked leadership skills. Truth be told, I probably lacked about every leadership skill out there. I found myself isolated from my colleagues who viewed me as “corporate,” which was laughable, and I somehow held this belief that if I asked my boss for help, it was a sign of weakness or failure, so it was better not to talk with my boss. I was tasked with leading and I found myself all alone. I found myself working seemingly every shift. I found myself working tons of weekends. 

[Side note: one of the perks of scheduling was that I would only work weekends when I wanted to (and who wants to?). One year I worked part or all of 46 of 52 weekends. I share this with you not as any commentary on working weekends, but rather to illustrate how much I struggled as a leader.]

Loneliness is horrible.

Something I have learned – and continue to learn – over the years is if you are leading alone, you are not doing it right. 

There is an old proverb that goes something like this: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” These words are so true! Going alone is great if you are in a race or if you are going to the grocery store. The truth is, there are far too many people in this world who are going nowhere fast.

Going far, doing something of significance, requires more people and more time. As leaders, we need to bring people along with us. This will undoubtedly slow us down.  But as we bring people along with us, we are going through a very important process. We are preparing the people with us to become better leaders. We are building our bench of talented individuals, many with talents far different from ours, to help equip the team to move forward.

They will see things we do not see. They will think things we would not think. And when we foster an environment where we are developing the next generation of leaders, we will find that we are no longer lonely and we will find an environment that is thriving!

A major project I worked on was to train 12,000 pharmacy staff to provide immunization services. This involved dozens of states each with its own unique laws and regulations. One of the regulations that varied greatly from state to state concerned what pharmacy interns were allowed to do or not do pertaining to immunizations. Some states were very permissive while others were not. This brought an important question to the table for the team to consider: should we train interns to provide immunizations? There was obviously a cost to do this, and one of the questions we had to really wrestle with was: What if we train these interns and they leave the company upon graduation from school? It was a valid concern. Should we invest in these students who may not even stay with the company? 

As I look at this through the leadership lens, I can clearly see that this would not develop leaders. During a training, a facilitator instead posed a different question: “What if we don’t train the interns, and they stay?” Would we look to develop new leaders, or would we discourage some motivated pharmacists-to-be to leave?

I share these stories to encourage you not to lead alone. Find other leaders, even leaders outside of pharmacy, with whom to grow and learn and improve your leadership skills. Identify people on your team you can raise up alongside you to develop as leaders.

If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

Until next time –

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn

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