I took my first management job with a long-term care pharmacy about a year and a half out of school. I had a variety of reasons I wanted to take it, but one driver for me was that I knew it would be easier in the future to get a management job if I wanted to or needed to.
That hunch turned out to be right; my next move was in community pharmacy management, which I got quickly after applying, and the move after that, into my current role as a manager for an outpatient pharmacy within a hospital, I got because the hiring manager ‘noticed I had management experience.’
Forget my board certification in geriatrics, teaching experience (including a teaching award – and teaching is part of the job), quality initiatives in my past roles, or publishing and continued active involvement in the pharmacy profession. What mattered most, in the eyes of the hiring manager, was that I had done it before.
While that worked out well for me and I got my number-one job choice at the time, it really makes me wonder – does experience really matter that much? Above all, just that I had done it before? After all, I’ve worked with a technician who had been at the pharmacy eight years but still could not run one of the most common insurance cards encountered in the pharmacy. Surely it could mean the same in management, but yet nearly all positions being advertised for a manager want experience managing.
I would argue not only does it not predict success, but it:
- frustrates potentially incredible leaders because they have not had a formal management title before, and
- starves employers of hiring the very best leader they can and then developing them to produce top-performing management.
In fact, there is some evidence I’m right: in an article in HBR entitled “Great leaders don’t need experience,” Mukunda describes ‘filtered leaders’ and ‘unfiltered leaders.’ The safest leaders are filtered leaders; those are the ones that typically are very experienced and followed a “normal career progression.” The unfiltered leaders got their job “through fluke circumstances.” What he found is that the unfiltered leaders were at the top and the bottom in terms of effectiveness, while the filtered leaders were in the middle. In other words, the filtered leaders were the ‘safe’ ones who would not rock the boat too much. In the case you have a filtered leader, all of which look good on paper, it actually might not matter much who you hire, because they will all arrive at similar conclusions.
Unfiltered leaders end up at the top and the bottom because they are the risk-takers. They bet big and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. While most companies can’t run entirely on unfiltered leaders they will all benefit from having some in the pack. In addition, I would argue that healthcare absolutely needs these unfiltered leaders because of the stagnant, overly bureaucratic nature and the lack of focus on the patient experience. I hope that Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack as well as their joint healthcare venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan will be examples of the unfiltered leaders we need, with little or no healthcare experience but enormous business and supply-chain experience and incredible vision.
So, where does all this leave employers and employees?
For employers, focus on aptitudes and personal qualities that demonstrate the potential for effective leadership. In another article from HBR entitled “Why good managers are so rare,” Beck and Harter suggest these qualities in the best managers (taken verbatim):
- They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.
- They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
- They create a culture of clear accountability.
- They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
- They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.
Question your candidates to determine if there are times when they have demonstrated these capabilities, regardless of their job title. Are there even any times in their personal life they have done so? Maybe they have coached a school sports team, led something in church, or been influential in a local club, non-profit, or society. I promise you that you can train the technical knowledge much more easily than the soft skills.
For employees, look at the above list. When interviewing, think of those times when you have demonstrated these crucial leadership qualities and be prepared to elaborate on how you did so. Of note, don’t prepare word-for-word responses, but do think about the background and situation. Use the STAR model to help you fully answer each question. If you can demonstrate your technical knowledge on paper and demonstrate your potential for leadership in person, you’ve really got a shot at the job.