Monday, January 4, 2010

Leaders and Doers, Redux

My fiancee is a pharmacy technician at CVS. By way of analogy, pharmacy technician is sort of like Specialist to Colonel -- your work generally involves a lot more drudgery for a fraction of the pay, but you don't have as much responsibility, authority, or required training/schooling.

The other day after I picked her up from work, she was pointing out the difference between the pharmacists she enjoys working for and those she doesn't. The key distinguishing feature seemed to involve the way they treat "the help" -- there are certain pharmacists who, when things are busy and the staff is short-handed, will voluntarily move themselves down a rung or two on the prestige ladder and do the little things, i.e. ringing up a customer at the register, running around to pick things up from the back, etc.

Then there are those who say "that's not what I do" and just watch the techs run around like crazy while the situation gets hairier, without helping to move the proverbial chains 10 yards downfield. And if you don't believe that things get crazy, you should hear some of the stories I'm privy to about some of the surlier and nuttier regular customers that you might see at a pharmacy anywhere, let alone in Lowell.

Anyway, back to the point -- the pharmacist who just sits there insisting on not doing things outside his/her job description sort of has a point, which I'll happily concede -- there are reasons high-priced lawyers have secretaries and paralegals, reasons why doctors have medical technician staffs, and, yes, reasons why pharmacists have pharmacy techs -- their time is valuable, and it's not efficiently used if it's all spend on administrivia or other drudgery.

Got it.

In a perfectly-ordered and perfectly-stable world, that makes, well, perfect sense. But when things have to happen, there isn't always some junior enlisted or equivalent thereof standing by to help. In those times, I believe that good managers will see the need, roll their sleeves up, and dive in so that some triage can be performed on the situation at hand.

By contrast, managers who are too wrapped around their job description to engage in "the little things" from time to time are often an impediment to the entire organization, whose progress often depends on the execution of the little things.

I'm okay with the idea that a Fortune 500 CEO doesn't take out his own trash or clean the bathroom in his executive suite. I *get* that that's not the best use of his, and by extension the company's, time. I would no sooner expect a four-star General to be shining his own shoes and pressing his own uniforms.

But I'm also willing to bet that your organization is neither a Fortune 500 company or a four-star military command.

And if that's the case, sometimes a little elbow grease never hurt anybody.


KMM said...

I was discussing a business problem with one of my newest staff member and mentioned the fact that the "big boss" was attempting to negotiate a solution. She asked if the "big boss" would even have any idea how to fix this problem...I was relly surprised and I told her that if no one showed up for work tomorrow our "big boss" could sit at any one of our desks and do our job. Now that I read this I realize what an advantage it is have have a superior at work know what you do and be willing to pitch in at any moment she is needed.

The New Englander said...

Well said. In fact, that might be a good litmus test as to whether your boss is worth his/her salt -- if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, COULD your boss step in and do what you do?

The smartest person I've ever met (he was the Commanding Officer at my first command) once gave me a good talking-to about the difference between scrutiny and micromanagement. They're not the same thing!

And too often, managers or bosses just stay way too "out of it" under the guise of "not being a micromanager."

Kudos to your boss for doing what she does..