Heroines in Leadership: Common Themes That Span a Career
The diverse threads that unite physical therapists
By Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT
When I was a new leader within APTA, I often felt my generation was misunderstood. Appointment to the APTA Recruitment and Retention of Early Career Members Task Force gave me the opportunity to scrutinize the research behind factors that motivate various generations to engage in organizations and leadership roles. Data we analyzed reinforced the importance of comprehending the impressive diversity of ideas gained through experiencing the world at different stages and ages. The five heroines featured here are all in different phases of their career and have varying levels of experience as leaders, clinicians, and business owners. When interviewing them, I noticed common themes that encompassed the breadth of a career.
EARLY CAREER (1-5 years as a clinician)
Lindsey Durand Massumi has been a private practice pelvic health physical therapist in Northern Virginia since she graduated from physical therapy school in 2021. Initially, Lindsey worked in a cash-based out-of-network clinic and over the last two years has transitioned to working full-time as the co-owner of Virtual Physio LLC, a concierge physical therapy and health coaching practice.
EARLY-TO-MID CAREER (5-10 years as a clinician)
Keaton Ray is the co-founder and COO of MovementX, a mobile physical therapy practice with over 60 providers nationwide. Initially, Keaton worked in the private practice outpatient orthopedic world as a Certified McKenzie practitioner and Orthopedic Certified Specialist. Keaton spoke of her entrepreneurial inspiration: “In 2016, while on the phone with my now co-founder Josh D’Angelo, the idea of MovementX was born out of the opportunity we saw to improve the lives of those on both sides of the treatment table — the patient and the provider.”
MID CAREER (10-20 years as a clinician)
Alicia Backer is co-founder and COO of North Born Physical Therapy, a private practice in rural Minnesota. Alicia has been almost exclusively working in private practice since she graduated from PTA school in 2010, first for a chiropractic and physical therapy clinic, then for a rural hospital where she helped a physical therapist colleague open his private practice near her hometown. After eight years of managing the practice as a clinic administrator, Alicia decided to take her own plunge into business ownership and open North Born Physical Therapy with two of her best friends.
MID CAREER TO LATE CAREER (20-30 years as a clinician)
Karen Litzy is the owner of Karen Litzy Physical Therapy, a boutique mobile practice in New York City. She hosts “Healthy, Wealthy and Smart,” a podcast where healthcare meets business. She is co-founder of the Women in PT Summit and creator of the Strictly Business Blueprint — a program designed to help physical therapists uplevel their business. Prior to owning her own practice, Karen worked in a variety of settings including inpatient hospital, outpatient orthopedics, and backstage for Broadway shows.
LATE CAREER (30+ years as a clinician)
Carrie Hall is the owner of Sisu Physical Therapy and Mentoring Services, PLLC. In 1995, Carrie founded Movement Systems Physical Therapy, P.S., which consisted of three locations and 21 staff by the time she sold the practice in 2021. When asked to summarize her career, Carrie said, “As a 40-year veteran in physical therapy, I have worn many hats including clinical instructor at several universities and continuing education circuits, textbook author, business owner, advocate, and practitioner — all driven by an insatiable curiosity, desire to live a life of meaning and helping others while remaining committed to high standards of excellence.”
What Makes A Successful Leader?
While each heroine had their own thoughts as to the three most important leadership characteristics, there were three common themes: Successful leaders are curious listeners, effective communicators, and have excellent self-awareness.
Luckily, these are areas where women tend to excel.
Acknowledging what’s been said can create an environment of receptivity and openness where new solutions can be born and people are not afraid to take strategic risks and make mistakes.
The crucial thing is to know your strengths and weaknesses, and then make intentional efforts to surround yourself with people who support you in those.
Vulnerability, trust, and self-awareness are attributes that are essential to ensure competency in delivering high-level leadership, authenticity, and success.
Lindsey Durand Massumi:
Good communication [is key] to effectively engage and communicate with other leaders [as well as] the people you’re representing so the work you do benefits the majority. Good leaders can take a step back from the table to hear the opinions and perspectives of others. They listen so they can determine what is best for the group they are representing as a whole.
How Have Other Female Leaders Shaped Your Career Path?
Everyone interviewed agreed multiple interactions and observations of women in leadership shaped their success.
[I have] a friend and colleague who motivated me to not only become a member of the APTA but also [encouraged] me to share my expertise through speaking engagements at national conferences. She believed in me and my capabilities, and I can confidently say that I would not be anywhere close to what I am today without her encouragement and inability to hear me tell her “no.”
In my career, I have been fortunate enough to have great female leaders to follow and not-so-great female leaders to learn from. I believe every interaction is an opportunity to learn and grow as a person and professional — my experiences with female leaders who were not the best taught me what not to be as a leader. The “bad experiences” taught me that I would never want to make someone else feel the way I felt during those times. My positive experiences with female leaders have been invaluable, either directly working with them or indirectly by watching them. I have learned it is better to collaborate with our colleagues (especially our female colleagues) instead of constantly feeling like we are in competition.
What Is Your Leadership Philosophy?
Leaders frequently have a mantra that drives their behavior and leadership style.
Work hard, have confidence, ask questions, and listen to your people. When I started my entrepreneurial journey building MovementX, I didn’t know the first thing about building a business. What I did know is that I believed in myself and the vision we were working towards, and that if anyone could figure it out it would be my team. Nobody knows the answer to everything, but collectively I believe humans can solve any problem no matter how big. The answers to many of our questions lie in those who interact with us day to day. No first effort is the best effort, perfection and success take iteration!
“I have learned through many hard lessons that our deepest strengths often have more to do with gentleness toward ourselves and others. Gentle power is the power of nurture and care for all living beings that turns a spark into something graceful, caring, patient, resolute, and sustaining. With that in mind, leadership can be viewed as actions infused with the intention to help people become empowered themselves. Leadership is the everyday pursuit of integrity, grace, and betterment of the human condition.”
“Lead by example. To be a great leader, you need to set an example with both your skills as well as your passion. That will drive others to step up to the plate and encourage them to get involved.”
EXCEL IN LEADERSHIP
The themes explored in this article can be helpful for people at all phases of their leadership journey. People who possess qualities of curious listening, effective communication, and self-awareness often excel in leadership roles. Leaders frequently interact with others who observe their behavior. These interactions can have a lasting effect on the human psyche and may contribute to the evolution of another’s leadership development.
Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT, MSCI, is an APTA Private Practice member, former Nominating Committee Chair and current APTA Nominating Committee Chair-elect. She can be reached at email@example.com and @TheSteph21 on Twitter and Instagram.