Good Chief


What do you need to become an effective leader?

By Scott C. Spradling

When you think of leadership, what image comes to mind? For me, it is that touching image of the young poets in the movie Dead Poets Society standing on their desks and declaring, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” Why is this so powerful? It is powerful because a person empowered them to think for themselves and believed in them, engendering their passionate respect.

Leadership is not a title that is given; it is a role that is earned. The only way to truly earn that role is to fully understand those you are leading and how and why they need a leader. Business will always incorporate a hierarchy, but the “my way or the highway” era is a thing of the past. All members of an organization need to be an integral part of the machine; they should know that their opinions matter and that their voices are heard.

The key to effective leadership is the ability to empower your staff, starting with the very first interview. I say to every potential new hire, whether for a clinical or administrative position, “If you want to be a partner, then you are in the right place; if you are looking to be an employee, this is not the position for you.”

When I first started with this practice, I did nothing but observe and ask questions for the first 30 days. Even if you have been with an organization from the beginning, I challenge you to step away from your desk and just go sit in the waiting room. You can learn a lot from the waiting room. Then talk to your staff—have them describe their experiences throughout a normal day.


I typically ask staff about a given task: the reason for it and their manner of performing it. I also ask if they feel it could be performed differently to make it more effective or efficient. Responses typically involve the standard, “That is the way I was told to do it” and the ever popular, “We have always done it this way.” The responses to my final question is usually a confused look of “Why are you asking me?” which grew into, “Well, if it were up to me, it would be better if it were done like this.”

Therein lies the answer to good leadership. You do not have to actually perform the task, but you must ensure that the task is completed and accomplished efficiently and accurately. The manner of completion is of no real consequence.

A good leader tells you what needs to be done, not how to do it. Those who are given the opportunity to manage themselves and what they do often produce far superior work because they have a personal stake in it.

Not every idea will be a good one, and you can’t possibly have 10 people doing the same thing 10 different ways—that would just make your life miserable. But collectively this approach allows you to set procedural guidelines that are understood and appreciated by everyone.

Lastly, the notion that a good leader is the go-to person for all the right answers is simply ridiculous. Sure, maybe you have the right answer, but how does that help the person asking the question? When staff members bring me a question or a problem to solve, I simply ask that they also recommend a solution. It shows me that they have at least tried to solve the problem, and then my job is to help them cross the finish line.

The ultimate compliment about my work is not how well I have done, but rather how well my team has done. When I hear those words, I know that I have truly become a leader.

Scott C. Spradling is member of the PPS Administrators Council and a certified administrator since 2011. He is the administrator of Movement Systems Physical Therapy in Seattle, Washington, and can be reached at

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