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Which way do we go? Directing directional pharmacy leadership

Over the last several weeks, we have looked at the various directions of directional leadership. That is all well and good, but what are you going to do with that information? 

Today we will look at how we should operate within this framework of directional leadership.

Knowing the four directions – up, down, across, and self – how much effort should we invest in each direction?

Keep in mind, our total effort must equal 100%. 

When I was first posed this question, the first thought that came to mind was that leadership was likely 100% leading down. My second thought was: that probably was not right. In fact, maybe this is a trick question. So, I adopted a new strategy. I decided 25% should be devoted to each direction. How's that? When the answer was explained, I found that I was only 25% correct. (Just one of the directions should get 25% of your efforts.) A fair balance of leadership directions? Or is this the wrong approach?

When the answer was unpacked for me, it made a lot of sense. So now, I will unpack the answer for you.

Of the four directions, which direction do you have the most direct and immediate authority and impact over? Leading yourself! This is absolutely where you should start, and it is absolutely where you should put the most effort. How much effort? Fifty percent of your leadership effort should be invested in improving yourself. This is where you can have the most immediate impact. This is also where you can see the most immediate results. And trust me, when you see those results, you will be even more encouraged to lead yourself.

After leading yourself, the next largest bit of your leadership effort should be invested in leading up. Here you want to allocate 25% of your efforts. Why should you invest so much effort here? After all we have two more directions to address and we are down to just 25% of our efforts to invest in these areas. You invest in leading up because of the downstream effects and impact they can have. When you invest in leading up, everyone who is downstream can benefit from those efforts. 

If you serve a team with three other people, and you lead up, you help your leader as well as your colleagues on the team and everyone your colleagues lead. 

This leaves us with leading down and leading across with only 25% effort to divide between these two areas. How do we divvy this up? The guidance I offer is to invest 15% in leading across and 10% in leading down. The rationale is similar to the rationale for leading up. When you are leading across to help your peers, you are at the same time helping everyone your peers lead. 

We always want to lead where we can have the greatest impact. That is why we start with ourselves, then leading up, then leading across.

I am not a betting a man, but if I were, I would hazard the guess that someone reading this article might be skeptical at this point. We now have 10% of our leadership efforts invested in leading down.   can just hear someone saying something to effect of, “The people I lead need more leadership than that.” You may well be correct, and you may very well be leading a team that needs more than that.

But consider this: if you are investing in leading yourself, you know what is happening? You are becoming more effective in leading every other direction – including down! 

When I teach directional leadership live, I typically draw 4 squares arranged something like a baseball diamond. I would put you at the third base position, leading up at second base, leading down at home plate and leading across at first base. When I first draw this, I have all the bases at roughly the same size, and I draw arrows from the “you” box to the 3 other boxes and a fourth arrow that loops back to you to signify the leadership being exerted. 

When you work on improving your leadership skills, you are actually making the “you” box bigger. When that happens, you can also draw bigger arrows going in all four directions to illustrate the increase in leadership going in each direction!

So now when you are leading down, the people you are leading are being led by a better you. And you know what else? They also get to see you leading in the other directions. They see you leading up and they become empowered to lead up to you.  They identify problems and bring possible solutions to you. They see you leading across, and they lead across themselves. They see how you interact with other people and your team pick up on it, even passively. This all works together to make you more effective and your team more receptive to leading down. If your experience is anything like mine, you will find that 10% spent in leading down will be very potent.

When I began to intentionally grow my leadership skills, I realized I had a great deal of power and authority to change my situation. And my situation did change. As I invested in leading the other directions, we generated momentum. I even got to the point where I prescribed time to my team each day to grow in an area of great interest to them. When new opportunities became available within the organization, I had colleagues reach out and encourage me to go after them. Now the “old” me might have been skeptical of their motives in doing such a thing. I might have thought they simply wanted to get rid of me. What I understand now is that I had helped my colleagues and my team grow and they were rooting for me to help others. 

We are not done in our study of directional leadership. There are at least two pathways I would like to address in the coming weeks.  The first is what I would call the grey area of directional leadership, especially for us pharmacists. We will look at that next time. The second pathway is to look at how we zero in on leading ourselves. We will examine this topic in the coming weeks.

Between now and when we next meet, I encourage you to consider how you are investing your leadership efforts directionally. How much effort have you been directing in each direction? While I have shared the framework above with you, it is completely understandable and realistic that your efforts may be distributed differently. That will become clearer in the coming weeks. However, if you are quite a way from 50% effort in leading yourself, consider increasing your efforts in that direction. I promise you will be glad you did.

Until next time

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn














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