New Pharmacists Can’t Lead Change if We Don’t Lead Them

I spent some time recently talking to new pharmacy grads.  Just starting out in their careers, we spoke about expectations and current situations.  These enthusiastic new pharmacists all expressed to me the fear of falling into apathy.  They see the dispensary environments around them, the seasoned pharmacists as well as the pharmacists who were just new grads but a few years ago, all seemingly disillusioned with the profession. 

New grads are often burdened with the “hope for change’.  They have been told “You’re the hope for the future of the profession.  We’re counting on you!”  But once out in practice environments, they have no tools and no support for being such an agent for change.  It is an impossible expectation we have set upon their newly professional shoulders. 

We cannot expect new grads to change the system when they are entering into a culture that does not support practice change and moving forward. 

We keep saying ”You’re the next generation of leaders!”  But wait….we’re the leaders right now…we’re in control!  What are WE doing?  We set the environment, we set up the practices, we are the “leaders” of our teams. 

Pharmacists today often complain of the lack of leadership in our profession. This is not a surprise since our training is in how to be a pharmacist. No one ever teaches us how to be a leader.   Leadership is a skill like any other skill, it can be learned, but there is no training for pharmacists in this area, no system of mentorship to become a leader.

Leadership is also not the same as the functional position of manager.  We all know this. 

Managers in pharmacies come from pharmacists who are excelling as staff pharmacists. 

When we’re a staff pharmacist our only job is to work hard and learn how to do our job really really well.  When we do our job really well, then we may become a manager, being responsible for the people who used to do our job.  The reason managers often micro manage their employees is because they actually know how to do their staff’s jobs, better than the staff themselves, at least at the beginning.  But a transition in the manager has to happen.  They need to transition from being a manager to to being a leader.  Some managers transition quickly, some transition slowly, some unfortunately never transition.   The transformation is going from somebody who knows how to DO the job to someone who knows how to look after the PEOPLE who are responsible for doing the job. 

Leadership is a learnable skill that you can practice.  Like any skill, if you incorporate learning and you practice it regularly, you will become stronger at it.   Simon Sinek compares being a leader to being a parent, in that it comes at great personal sacrifice.  As a leader you are not IN charge, but responsible for those IN your charge.   This is tough.  It’s teaching and mentoring, it’s encouraging others to “try again”. It’s being the calm in the storm, it’s working through your own negativity or struggles so it does not impact your team.  It’s discovering and working with both the gifts and talents of each team member as well as accepting and working with their limitations.  It’s taking the overwhelming pressures on yourself so that it dampens the impact on your team. 

At the end of the day, a great leader is not responsible for the job, they are responsible for the people who are responsible for the job.  Leaders are not even responsible for the results.  They are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.  I probably sound like a broken record on this, but it is just that crucial for leaders to understand that they need to take care of those they are charged with leading.  Understanding this one concept allows leaders a complete change in perspective as to what their job really is.  And with this understanding, to embrace the learning and personal growth that needs to go along with it.  Leadership is a continual growth journey, it is not a destination.   It is up to us to be the leaders and the agents of change.  We need to embrace this and create the environments where our new grads can thrive.