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Pharmacy leaders resemble triathletes in at least 7 ways

The make-up of a triathlete is not all that different from that of a pharmacist. Years of triathlon training and racing have taught me many translatable skills and qualities that have translated into my becoming a better pharmacy leader.

Dulcius ex asperis, Latin for sweeter after difficulty, sums up the feeling you get after crossing the finish line of a triathlon. Regardless of your finishing time or rank in the field after the swim-bike-run feat, you have accomplished something a small portion of the planet’s habitants have not. You have attained something most believe is unattainable and it changes you. It is special because it is hard.

The make-up of a triathlete is not all that different from that of a pharmacist.

Years of triathlon training and racing have taught me many translatable skills and qualities that have translated into my becoming a better pharmacy leader.

Beyond the health benefits of focusing on quality nutrition, better sleep and balancing workouts and recovery, triathlon forces you to push yourself harder than you would otherwise. It extends the competition possibilities that we miss out on as adults.

As children we compete all the time. At recess, in after-school sports and with siblings or other neighbourhood kids. Then we become adults and something changes. We settle. Somewhere in the grind of day jobs, bills to pay and taking care of a home and dependents, we lose the opportunity to compete. We get accustomed to being comfortable and our threshold for dire problems is lowered as is our feeling of true accomplishment.

Over the years of being in the pharmacy trenches and writing about the anecdotes of leading teams through hard dispensary days, 7 themes appear recurrently. I call those themes the 7 characteristics of great pharmacy leaders, represented by the anagram: LAYERED. Remarkably, those same characteristics are woven into the fabric of the triathlon.

Layered acronym
Layered acronym

Limitless humility

Like pharmacy, triathlon humbles you. It brings moments of deep difficulty, often by way of mindset. It develops resiliency by forcing you to pick yourself up after falling. It forces you to practise being at your best while tired and while things are not going well. You can maintain empathy while a patient complains about co-pay if you have overcome the feeling of being out of breath in deep water one kilometre from shore without a life jacket.

Absolute autonomy

Like being the pharmacist on shift or the manager of a team, you choose the direction in triathlon. You have to muster the effort to work out, to eat well and to get to bed on time. You choose how deeply to commit and how hard to push. No one is forcing you and no one gives you the right answer. At times, you feel alone or figure that others cannot relate, and only you have to make the decisions.

Yearn for culture

Both pharmacy and triathlon have clear language, ideas, behaviour and clothing describing the “way” they are executed. Both are performance-based and seeded in principles of wellness and aim to promote high-quality health span.

Having an understood description of how things are done instils confidence that future challenges will be met using building blocks from precedent events. We crave culture, actively seek it out and understand it internally, be it a pharmacy mission statement, meal plan, sleep journal or training log.

Elemental belief

In a conversation with a patient, while managing a pharmacy or while racing, the moment you stop believing you can succeed is the moment things start to crumble. In many ways we fight against our own negative thoughts, which when left untamed can spiral into further downstream damage. Elementally, we must believe in ourselves otherwise who else will?

Understanding what makes us tick and how strong we truly are fuels creativity and adaptation. It is not until we push ourselves and succeed that we have something tangible to believe in.

We get others to believe when we see actionable proof: like finding the perfect pharmacy assistant hire or performing a seamless bike dismount. But for that to happen we must believe in ourselves first.

Relentless systems & structure

Running a stand-alone pharmacy, a small network or a large corporation requires descriptive and predictable systems analogous to a swim, bike or run workout, a multisport workout day or putting it all together on race day.

Small pieces of workflow and movement have to be analyzed as a small sample before scaling the volume to get bigger results in a safe and effective way. Pharmacy leaders, like triathletes, examine the impact of small, repetitive steps like blister pack production scheduling or adding lunges to bike workouts. The routine is perfected then replicated on a larger scale and optimized for relentless power.

Esoteric grit

There are moments with a pharmacist’s staff, patients or business that are raw. There are moments in a triathlete’s shoulder weight room set, hill interval workout or flat tire that are raw. There are tasks that are repetitive and duties that are grinding work. In the day of the pharmacist and the triathlete, at times we need to possess gristle.

It is coming out of those moments that we can claim accomplishment, having pride that we have won. Through the ensuing tenacity, we find small wins and oddly, enjoy that grind.

Decisive discipline

Being a pharmacist is much like triathletes deciding to start the course, knowing full-well tough moments are ahead. They resist the urge to stop, quit or leave. They commit ahead of time to long shifts or long bike rides and plan meals around everything. Then repeat it all again tomorrow.

Triathlon provides an avenue to unlock 7 personal characteristics for impactful leadership. It raises your threshold for what is difficult, forces you to practise being comfortable in uncomfortable situations, builds mental and physical durability. Triathlon is not easy and that is what makes it so relevant to pharmacy.

In sports we consider the anabolic theory behind the workout, putting smaller pieces together to build bigger and better products. The 7 LAYERED leadership characteristics are the anabolic essentials to being in charge in the dispensary, in the water or on the road.

As pharmacists, we totally understand.



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