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For pharmacists, THIS is the most important skill

During my time in pharmacy school, I took a lot of classes – important classes. I learned all sorts of things during my time in school. But there was one class that started in a very memorable way. The professor came in and said, “Every one of your professors is going to tell you that his or her class is the most important. I am here to tell you that my class is the most important class you are going to take.” He then picked up a piece of chalk and wrote $30,000. “You see,” he continued, “if you don’t pass my class, you will not be able to pass your licensing exams and you will have to wait 6 months to take them again. That will cost you $30,000.” The class was Pharmacy Law, and he was exactly right. If you couldn’t pass the law part of the licensing examinations in those days, you would have to wait several months. It would cost you. Significantly.

The fact of the matter was, he was right. I did need to pass his Pharmacy Law class and by doing so I would be well prepared to pass my licensing exam. Where he was wrong is that other far more important skills are necessary to be successful and impactful in the pharmacy space. This is a fact that took me several years to realize.

Consider two pharmacies that are for all intents and purposes equal to start with. They have access to the same resources and access to the same customers. Yet over time, one pharmacy begins to stand out while the other fades to the background. What separates the two pharmacies? I used to think that it must be customer service. That could be true. But what business tolerates poor customer service? I would be hard pressed to believe that any business starts the day with the intention of offering the absolute worst customer service. Yet it happens. Every day. What I have learned over my 20+ years in the pharmacy space is that an educated and competent workforce is key, but what separates one pharmacy from the next is LEADERSHIP.

Once I learned of this topic and began filtering my encounters with pharmacists through the lens of leadership it became more and more clear. There are thousands of good, educated, well-intentioned pharmacists out there. However, many have poor leadership skills.

I recall a time when I was about to hire a young pharmacist for my team. He had likely forgotten more about drugs and care plans than I ever knew. I was standing in his pharmacy telling him to expect a job offer in the next few days. Then something went on in the background, and he rolled his eyes and muttered, “I can’t get anyone to do what I need them to do.”

I went on to hire that young man, and he worked hard. He trained hundreds of pharmacists. Then he quit my team.

In those days, I thought I had smart people on my team, so everything would be alright. I was wrong.

It was several years later and I was listening to a podcast while I was taking a walk when I heard words that would change my life. This moment was so impactful, that I could take you to the exact sidewalk in Mechanicsburg where I was when I was told that leadership skills are learnable.

Prior to that time, I was under the false assumption that leaders were born. The truth is leaders are made. And the good news is that we – you and I – can improve our leadership skills.

That is the purpose of this column. When we meet in this forum, we will look at some principles that we can use to become better leaders.

For now, let me leave you with the same encouragement that started me down this path. Leadership skills can be learned. You can (and will) become a better leader.

Until next time....

Jesse McCullough is the founder at Keystone Pharmacy Insights, Cochranton, Pennsylvania, and a frequent presenter at Pharmacy U.

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