The leadership vacuum

Are pharmacists taking the lead in running their own businesses? Or are they outsourcing too much of this role to others? Bruce Annabel and Mal Scrymgeour take a look at leadership 

Being nice and helping people are both things that many would say are foundation stones for successful pharmacies. We agree. It’s a positive thing to be nice, but what is not so positive is that it can also show, in certain circumstances, a lack of leadership. 

This doesn’t mean that leaders are not nice, but they do need to know where they are going, have purpose and a vision, taking their people with them and deliver success. Being nice is a part of that, but by itself it’s not enough.

Most follow others

A crude way to analyse leaders is to contrast them with those folk who are not leaders. We shall call them followers. They tend to enjoy the ride when things are good and tend to look in the mirror admiringly at the reason for success. But, they look out the window if things don’t go so well, using a well-developed skill in allocating blame—always to others. It’s rarely their fault. Read these words carefully because you could be a follower.

Do these pharmacy owners’ quotes seem familiar?

“We are trying to be everything to everyone and not doing anything well. Staff, including pharmacists, are resistant to change. Aim is to get the customers in and out in minimum time with minimal interaction.”

“Staff felt not part of a team, forgotten about and they weren’t good enough. Their jobs were not rewarding. No leadership or vision. Culture was come to work do whatever you think and go home.”

Our experience is that some pharmacy owners are not just followers, but even worse, they outsource leadership to others such as the Guild, PSA, brand, banner, wholesaler or sales representatives. But outsourcing leadership doesn’t work. Of course working with these organisations can all add great value. But make sure you remain informed and interested in what they are doing and the direction in which they are going.

For example, most banner groups are well intentioned, but we’ve seen some banner groups telling owners to reduce margins—and when the owners did this they discovered that the sales haven’t lifted to recover the lost margin as promised. Or worse, some owners knew they wouldn’t make the income the banner promised yet they still did it!

The lesson—leadership isn’t something that is done to you, it’s something you decide to do.

What makes a leader?

These days change seems faster and with a harder edge to it. To quote former racing driver Mario Andretti—“if everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough”.

With change thrust upon us, we need to decide what we want to do. We learned many years ago one of our favourite one liners: ‘Good operators always have good businesses’ but have updated it to ‘Good leaders always have good businesses’.

In our view, there are five characteristics of a good leader regardless of industry or situation:

  1. Strong communication—if you can’t bring people on the journey, you’re going nowhere.
  2. Passion and commitment—enthusiasm energises people, commitment means focus.
  3. Positivity—a positive attitude is contagious, happier people work harder and smarter
  4. Innovation—with a good splash of practicality and realism are all enablers of a vision.
  5. Collaborate—with your team, wholesaler, brand, banner or advisors—you can’t do it alone.

What are the drivers for a successful business?

These five characteristics are the personal elements you should be good at but there are some business drivers you can leverage regardless of your personal style. These drivers are the structural elements any successful business should have.

  1. Purpose and a vision: Without a purpose and a vision you are rudderless. And so is your business. These are key for any business. A clear vision is something that engages and excites not just you, but your team, your customers and your patients.
  2. Building innovative strategies: This is really about working out the three or four critical elements that you need to deliver your purpose and vision. Notice that we say innovation—it’s not change for change’s sake. It’s building ways to deliver your goals and strategies.
  3. Delivering the result: This is about tactics and, most importantly, the actions you need to undertake to achieve your goals. Allocate specific times against those actions. You don’t need to do it all yourself, but you are responsible for organising and coordinating it.

We’ve explained the five characteristics of leadership and the three key business drivers. With an understanding of those elements you’ll quickly discover that leadership is about behaviours, specifically how you show up and present yourself to your team. If you are an owner, your attitude will have a huge impact on your team.

We have some great examples of leaders in our industry showing up in a big way. Four of these—Elise Apolloni, Samantha Kourtis, Amanda Bryce and Swarup Afsar—‘show up’ and lead great businesses. These leaders have daily practices that we would recommend to all business owners.

Those daily practices are being positive, forward focused with an orientation towards action. Interestingly, a couple of them are very organised while others are creative. They are also solution focused. Because they have positive behaviours, their teams come with them.

Here’s a quote from one of the best pharmacy owner leaders that demonstrates perfectly what we’re saying:

“As challenges are presented we may need to make another transition in the near future. But if we do, I’m confident my staff and I will pull it off. I don’t think you can ever be complacent about your business. We’ll continue to evolve as our industry changes, by being goal-focused, individually and as a team.”

The ‘vacuum’ leader

One way to determine if you’re a good leader is to ask yourself: if your pharmacy is open, say, 80 hours per week and you work 40 of those, how does the pharmacy function for the 40 hours you’re absent?

We often find some owners who ‘get it’ (i.e. out the front with their patients at all times) are very good at delivering fantastic service themselves, working in a vacuum while the team rush around filling in the gaps. But the service standard falls in a heap when the owner signs off and others take over.

So an attribute we look for in great leaders is whether the pharmacy operates just as well with or without the owner being present.

Good leaders always have good businesses

About now you might be thinking what is the relevance to me of this article? Well, it’s about skills, attitude, mindset and your approach. You control all these things.

Your mindset will determine your behaviour and your reaction to situations, all of which determine how successful you are. If you decide that the world is a dark and evil place and that the results in your business will be poor—that outcome is assured. Or, you can decide to take on each challenge and determine an action that will help deliver the result you are seeking.

It doesn’t mean being delusional about the chances of success, but it does mean being realistic and practical and trying to find a way to succeed. Good leaders always have good pharmacy businesses which manifests in the financial results.

Think about your mindset, your attitude and how you will lead in 2019 as the industry tightens further, presenting both challenges and new opportunities. Your leadership starts with you. 

Bruce Annabel is a pharmacy business consultant and Adjunct Professor of Pharmacy Management, QUT. 

Mal Scrymgeour is a retail management consultant and director of Zumo Retail Ltd.

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