Veterans Could Teach Pharmacists a Few Things About Leadership

As we celebrate Veterans Day this month, I�d like to tell you about an excellent book entitled Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.1 In it, the authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share their hard-hitting, Navy SEAL combat stories that translate into lessons on teamwork and leadership for personal and professional life. I think these teachings can easily be applied to health care, especially for pharmacists who may be working with other health care providers on a clinical care team or leading a staff of pharmacy employees.

As we celebrate Veterans Day this month, I’d like to tell you about an excellent book entitled Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.1 In it, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share their hard-hitting, Navy SEAL combat stories that translate into lessons on teamwork and leadership for personal and professional life. I think these teachings can easily be applied to health care, especially for pharmacists that may be working with other health care providers on a clinical care team or leading a staff of pharmacy employees. Key lessons about leadership from this book are as follows:

  • The leader must always “own” the mistakes and shortcomings of their teams—that is, take responsibility for the team.
  • You must work with others and teams to achieve mutually beneficial results.
  • Keep your plans simple, clear, and concise.
  • Check your ego. Nobody is too big to be independent of others.
  • Figure out what things you want, and then act on them—one at a time (see my article about what we can learn from Alice in Wonderland)
  • When appropriate, involve (or at least inform) your supervisors in your efforts; keep them in the loop.
  • Plan carefully and act decisively, even when things are chaotic (like in an emergency department).

The book also explains how certain qualities of a leader may be inherent or learned by humbly being open to criticism. Such qualities include charisma, eloquence, wit, decisiveness, willingness to accept risk, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the description of the balancing act of seemingly opposite traits one must possess in order to be a good leader:

  • Competitive but a gracious loser
  • Attentive to details but not overly preoccupied by them
  • Humble but not inactive
  • Aggressive yet not forceful
  • Able to listen but not completely silent
  • Calm and logical but not devoid of emotion
  • Close with those that they command but not too close to make one more important than the others and certainly not more important than whole

Not only is leadership, as a trait, an attractive quality for any job candidate, but it has implications in patient care too. If you see that something isn’t right (eg, with a patient’s care), you should understand it as your duty or obligation to step in and (politely) intervene when you can. Even if you don’t have an official title of leader or it’s not required of you in your position, a major takeaway and underlying theme of this book is that we all have the potential to lead and that leadership qualities are within our reach. We just have to continuously work on it and find our right balance of character traits.

So as we celebrate our veterans this November, please keep in mind the professional lessons that we can learn from their service and bravery. Leadership means going the extra mile—because you cannot lead if you’re not ahead of the pack.

Reference

1. Willink J, Babin L. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press; 2015.