The crisis in pharmacy management


How many good managers have you had? Same for Mike Lahr. In this article, he tells you why.

Mike LahrThere is a serious crisis of leadership in pharmacy. In my 42-year career I have only had one good manager. Only once did I clearly know what our objectives were and what was expected of me. Only once was I treated with fairness and equity. Only once did my manager effectively deal with personnel conflicts and personalities. Only once did I have a manager who rewarded good work while at the same time confronting and dealing with those who were manipulative, lazy, incompetent, or dishonest.

That’s a pretty sad record. I suspect you can tell a similar story.

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It’s everywhere

I have worked in hospitals, medical clinics, outpatient IV centers, retail stores, and university health centers. I have worked for both public and private companies; for nonprofit and for-profit institutions. This situation exists in every type of pharmacy setting. I have associates and colleagues in most every state in the country, and their experiences mirror mine.

Why is this so common? How could this be so prevalent in all regions of the country, in all types of pharmacy settings?

It turns out that there is a simple two-part answer. First, 99% of pharmacy managers have no training. Second, experience does not give a person managerial skills. Unskilled managers repeat the same mistakes and ineffective techniques year after year.

I want to make it clear that my managers tried their best. They wanted to do a good job. But in all cases except the one I noted, managers in every one of these settings had either no management training or no management experience. Sometimes they had neither.

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Pharmacists make good pharmacists

Why does this situation exist universally? Again, the answer is simple. In almost all cases, pharmacists become managers because the job is simply there and someone needs to do it. In many cases, becoming a manager is the only upward career move that exists in the company they work for.

Now, don’t get me wrong; most pharmacists are fine people and are very good at the things pharmacists are trained to do. People who become pharmacists are intelligent, logical, and linear, which makes them good at remembering countless facts and at assessing and processing huge amounts of information.

However, human behavior is not logical and linear. New managers are completely confused and bewildered by the behavior of the employees over whom they now have charge.

Becoming a manager is hugely disorienting. One instantly goes from being very good at his or her craft to being very bad in the new position. Overnight one goes from being efficient, respected, listened-to, and included to being ineffective, misunderstood, disregarded, and isolated.

Equally, most pharmacists are NOT good at evaluating employees, resolving conflict, confronting problems, understanding human behavior, holding meetings, conducting interviews, or hiring employees, not to mention more serious issues, such as dealing with substance abuse, identifying and understanding sociopaths, or handling sexual and racial harassment.


There’s hope

The good news is that training is available. Pharmacists can become better managers. The first step is to decide that becoming a better manager is a priority. Yes, I know managers are already overloaded, but I assure you, making time for training is the very best use of any manager’s time. It will make any manager’s entire career more efficient, effective, and rewarding.

If you are a manager, decide that you can never be overskilled. Get some training, and then get some more training. Put it into your schedule. Put it on your calendar.

Your staff and your company are relying on you to be proficient in your position. It is not unreasonable for you to ask for help from both. Tell your supervisor that training is a priority for you and ask for funding and time off to get it. Have the courage to partner with your staff about your strengths, your weaknesses, and how you can better lead.

If you are not a manager: Post this on your wall! 

Mike Lahrpracticed pharmacy for 42 years in a wide variety of settings. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon. E-mail him at

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