Creating Leaders


Develop leadership skills in your team.

By Jennifer E. Green-Wilson, PT, EdD, MBA

As a business owner, you might ask yourself the question: Why do you need to develop leadership among your team—what value could you and your practice gain by investing in leadership development? Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.1 Leadership is about behavior, not personality; and characteristics of admired leaders include honesty, forward looking, inspiring, and competent.2 Effective leaders have a high emotional intelligence (EQ), which focuses on how they handle themselves and their relationships.3

It is important to note that leadership is not management, although both management and leadership are necessary for success in increasingly complex and volatile business environments, such as health care.4 Good managers implement and integrate systems and structures. Managers plan, organize, and create order; they make the “day-to-day” more predictable. Managers solve problems, resolve conflicts, and tend to cling to the status quo. Ideally, individuals will be able to manage themselves when the right systems and structures are in place to shape their thinking and behavior, and ultimately push their day-to-day practices closer to the “ideal.”5

Indeed, we know that health care is experiencing significant and rapid change and dramatic change is still to come. Furthermore, change requires leadership because leaders inspire and fuel change! Leadership is connected with the process of innovation, bringing new ideas, methods, or solutions into use.6

Therefore, private practitioners and practice owners must develop their leadership capacity to change, adapt, and succeed in the future. What is the bottom line? Health care practitioners need to be personal leaders, every day in practice. Each person on your team needs to be an informal leader and engaged follower. Personal leadership is a self-driven style—leading self from inside out, and this style helps individuals move practices into the future. Furthermore, engaged followers work with passion, feel a profound connection to their practice, and drive innovation.7 Effective followers are: individuals with high organizational commitment; who function well in a change-oriented team environment; independent, critical thinkers; and demonstrate integrity and competency.8 Ultimately, by developing and inspiring empowered personal leaders and engaged followers, innovation in practice will flourish.9

As a business owner, the time is now to invest in leadership development for yourself as well as your team. Tangible ideas to consider include:

  • The first person you lead is you. This means that you have an opportunity to discover more about how you tend to lead and how your style impacts others. Read a book on leadership or take an evidence-based leadership self-assessment to become more self-aware about how you tend to lead and then to discover more about different leadership styles that are effective at engaging others and creating more positive practice climates. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Speed of Trust, both by Stephen R. Covey, are just a few books that you should read. However, reading about leadership styles is not enough. The real work requires you to learn how to adapt your own leadership style so that you can engage others to feel more empowered. Demonstrating a leadership style that connects to intrinsic motivation is critical.
  • Next, check to see if your practice is over-managed and under-led.10 In other words, check to see if the time you spend managing your systems and structures is actually bogging down your opportunity to lead. If so, instead of “looking down” most of the time to manage, spend time “looking up” to see what opportunities might be around the corner. Turn the process of “looking up” into a strategic leadership habit.
  • Encourage individuals on your team to become more self-aware of their own leadership and followership styles. Invite others to join you in reading a good book on leadership and then have a dialogue to explore how new leadership behaviors such as managing self, fostering greater trust, and building larger circles of influence, will impact and strengthen relationships with your patients and other key stakeholders impacting your practice.
  • Have a group conversation exploring ways to connect to intrinsic motivation by discovering people’s passions and strengths. Then create that culture.
  • Talk openly about the need to change and adapt. Uncover areas of resistance to change, such as fear and risk-aversion, and then by including others in the change process, work through ways to make change happen together.
  • Include others in the process of innovation. Carve out time to find innovative ways to do their work more efficiently, possibly by adapting an existing process or by creating one that is brand new. A great resource is Innovation is Everybody’s Business, by Robert Tucker, in which he claims that innovation is fundamentally how you get your work done, not something you do after work, and he identifies seven different “I-skills” that everyone on the team can develop.

Developing leadership skills is essential for successful private practice. Personal leaders and engaged followers inspire change, innovate, and build strong relationships with people based on trust and credibility.


Jennifer Green-Wilson, PT, EdD, MBA, is a PPS member and principal of the Leadership Institute in Rochester, New York; formerly the Director of the Institute for Leadership in Physical Therapy (LAMP) for the Health Policy & Administration (HPA) Section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), as well as a member of the Private Practice Section (PPS) Education Committee of the APTA. Currently serving as a Director on the Board of Directors of the APTA, she speaks nationally and internationally on topics related to leadership, business literacy, and management in health care, has been invited to submit short articles for APTA’s ‘Business Sense’ section of PT in Motion, and was awarded a national research grant from the HPA Section. She works with several physical therapist programs and diverse health care organizations across the country helping to strengthen the development of practice management, business literacy, and leadership skills at entry-level and in contemporary practice. Additionally, she serves as a Director on the Board of Directors of Rochester Hearing and Speech in Rochester, New York. Dr. Green-Wilson holds an EdD degree in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, an MBA degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and a BS degree in physical therapy from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She can be reached at


1. Covey SR. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press; 1990.

2. Covey SR. Principle-Centered Leadership. New York: Free Press; 1991.

3. Covey SMR. The Speed of Trust. New York: Free Press; 2006.

4. The Gallup Organization. Gallup study: Engaged employees inspire company innovation. The Gallup Organization. Published 2006. Accessed January 18, 2014.

5. Goleman D. Leadership that Gets Results. Harvard Business Review. March-April 2000: 78-90.

6. Kotter J. What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review. December 2001: 3-12.

7. Kouzes J, Posner B. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (5th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2012.

8. Kouzes J, Posner B. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2007.

9. Latour SM, Rast VJ. Dynamic followership. Air & Space Power Journal. 2004; 18(4): 1-7.

10. Northouse PG. Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 2009.

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