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'I have witnessed the best and worst of pharmacy managers'

Dispenser Benjamin D'Montigny recalls his experiences of good, bad and indifferent management in his community pharmacy career

“The way I see it is that people in senior roles should have some leadership skills, but that isn’t to say that they should necessarily be managers.”

This line – from a recent C+D blog by The Pharmacy Technician, triggered several questions in my mind. What makes an effective leader, and an effective manager? Can they be one and the same? And what happens if you have one without the other?

This last question intrigues me, and is worth mulling over. Over the decade I have been in community pharmacy, I have witnessed various examples of both good and bad leadership and management.

The good

I’ve seen mentors who have trained others in their roles with tolerance and persistence, and pharmacists who have encouraged their staff through troubled times. I’ve also seen pharmacy managers who always seek to empathise and pursue the best for their teams, even when it would be less bother to take the easy road and neglect compassion – which goes a long way in sustaining staff dedication and loyalty.

I’ve known pharmacy owners who have been prepared to get involved in unglamorous tasks. I particularly appreciated one contractor who appeared in his branch one day, got on his hands and knees and scrubbed the toilet to a sparkling finish, then proceeded to buy us all ice cream and praise everyone for doing a good job. Incidentally, that particular team remains in place today.

Once, I had a patient phone up just before the pharmacy closed. I was expecting an impossible last-minute request, or thought perhaps something had gone amiss. But it was them just calling to thank me and the team for working together to send them their medicine that day.

Ultimately, that was our job. But the gesture lifted my spirits tremendously, and I made it a priority that everyone involved knew that the efforts they put in were noticed. That recognition is important to the whole team.

The bad

On the other hand, I have seen the worst of bad management and leadership as well. High-stress situations within a pharmacy are made worse by the intervention or absence of an ineffectual leader. Sometimes difficult circumstances can be prevented by a pure gesture: a heartfelt thank you, or an acknowledegment of an individual’s concerns.

It may not seem consequential to others, but to an unhappy staff member, it could be life-changing. Sometimes, even though there is nothing a manager can do about a situation, just offering to talk can help someone. As The Pharmacy Technician says, managers who want to be leaders must be approachable.

A leader’s disingenuous criticism could be the final indignity that destroys an employee’s motivation. I have no doubt that in these situations a manager will soon be posting a new vacancy and have to start at square one with a new staff member – meanwhile, the disgruntled ex-employee will tell others about their experience.

You only have to look at some company reviews online to find many examples of this. One person might be just a bad employee, but when patterns emerge, is that perhaps a sign of a more systemic problem within a company?

I have chaired disciplinary meetings before. Even when the outcome was not desirable for the attendee, they were at least happy with how they were treated – if they were listened to, given opportunities to have an open discussion, and shown respect. But in some meetings, I felt that they would not have needed to occur in the first place if these things were done earlier.

Getting it right

I have always considered a leader to be someone who makes others around them better. In fact, I don’t think you can be a good manager without being a good leader. The two are intrinsically linked. How can you be an effective manager of people without having the skills to lead them effectively? Without supporting your team you are no longer enabling them – you’ve become a barrier to them working effectively.

If someone is struggling to do their job correctly, maybe they need coaching? If they are having difficulty performing at the expected level, maybe something is going on in their life outside of work?

Consider someone whose partner is in hospital. Their poor performance might be because they are distracted, worrying about their loved one. In these situations, we managers need to step up and support our staff.

In these times of uncertainty in community pharmacy, we need effective, compassionate leaders to help us in these rapidly changing times.

Benjamin D'Montigny is a dispenser and pharmacy branch manager in the south of England

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