To the Editor:

I have read Ernie Anderson’s “Leadership in Action” column with great interest. I have spent 38 years in the field—20 as a technician and 18 as a pharmacist. My career has been mostly hospital-based, where I worked at facilities ranging in size from 50 to 450 beds in eight locations. I have always had great interest in the ideas Mr. Anderson has expressed. But I have to say that I have had a considerable amount of difficulty implementing them with my staff.

I have been initiating the conversation about these same principles of trust, communication and interaction in every practice setting for my entire career. In all but one environment, I have been met with either “the deer in the headlights” look or open hostility. I suspect that one might think I am a confrontational sort, but I am in fact soft-spoken and easygoing.

I observe that there are many reasons for the resistance I’ve met; two are most prevalent. The first is that communication is a very complex beast. As I suspect you have long observed, most folks who practice pharmacy fall into a personality/intellectual profile that is proficient at remembering enormous amounts of information filed in many small mental boxes. Although this makes them good at tasks relevant to our profession, it gives us a group of people who are, for the most part, not very creative or flexible. I also have observed that as a group, we are very good at expressing ourselves, but very poor at listening. Put another way, we are very good at doing, but very poor at contemplative skills.

The second reason for the pushback I’ve seen has to do with the nature of leadership. I observe that pharmacy administration is overwhelmed. The kinds of issues that you raise rarely get attention when competing with budget, staffing and all the rest. Education also is related to this. Most pharmacy leaders have no formal training in administration.

But I don’t want my negative experiences in this area to detract from what Mr. Anderson has accomplished with his writings. Indeed, in the stacks and stacks of pharmaceutical journals that I have been exposed to over the years, his is the first voice that has expressed these kinds of ideas on leadership and its impact on pharmacy practice. I congratulate Mr. Anderson on finding a publication that supports what he has to say; I wish him well in his journey.

Mike Lahr, BS, Pharm, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist
Salem Regional Medical Center
Salem, Ore.

Mr. Anderson responds:

Thanks for your feedback. Regarding your first point about the “deer in the headlights look” when you ask pharmacy managers about some of these leadership concepts: I would say that if these managers do not even acknowledge the merits of those concepts, they are lacking in emotional intelligence, a quality popularized in Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”

What I have found over the years is that a good clinician does not a manager make. In pharmacy we are taught to think scientifically (left brain) and not to see the relational aspects of a given situation. Pharmacists may have high IQs, but that does not necessarily mean they have high EQs—emotional intelligence quotient, if you will. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned (as opposed to IQ). So much of EQ has to do with communication and feeling in your gut. I often ask managers the following question: “If you got a sense that something was wrong in a particular situation, could you read the situation between the spoken words?”

You state that pharmacy managers store information in unrelated sections in their brain and lack creativity and flexibility. Both of these attributes tend to be right-brain functions. Again, pharmacists, being scientific-based people, are more left-brain than right-brain.

What needs to be learned is to use both sides of the brain. Again this goes back to the EQ. Over the next several months, I am going to start a new book called the “Leaders Playbook,” which I will mention in some of my upcoming columns. I intend to deal with some of these issues and hopefully I will be able to teach a few practical ways that pharmacists can learn some of these skills.

I agree with you that pharmacists have so much to keep up with in the scientific literature that they may not have time to read some of these books on leadership and life planning. This is part of the reason why I address leadership issues in my writings; I’m trying to give pharmacists “Cliffs Notes” on some of these concepts. What I often find is that pharmacists agree with the concepts but have trouble putting them into practice. We are creatures of habit and habits are hard to break.

Lastly, Pharmacy Practice News has been incredibly supportive in all that I have published. I do get a fair amount of feedback, which I encourage.

To all of my readers, keep the comments coming!