Identifying Future Clinic Leaders

Woman throwing dart at target

Are you throwing darts or targeting the bullseye?

By Robbie Leonard, PT, DPT*

Think about the best leader you have interacted with at any point in your life.

It could be a boss, coach, teacher, or even a colleague who had no formal leadership title. He or she was likely effective in achieving results that exceeded his or her individual achievements and contributed to the development of others on the team. Successful leaders not only achieve results, but they also develop and elevate those on their team.

The task of identifying future leaders challenges every company. This is especially true for physical therapy owners who often operate multi-location clinics where they are not in direct contact with staff daily. As your organization grows, having a system for identifying and developing clinic leaders is essential to long-term success—especially if your goal is to build practice value rather than just adding to your personal workload.

The goal of this article is to assist owners in identifying future leaders in a way that facilitates growth for both the company and current employees. By developing “bench strength” or future leaders, your company will be stronger today and ready for expansion when the time is right.


Identify the leadership traits that you desire in your company. Assessing your company values is a great place to start in identifying the characteristics you are looking for in future leaders. Key characteristics or values may include integrity, accountability, humility, being a team player, remarkable communication skills, empathy, and strong emotional intelligence. As you look at your company values, consider whether they describe your ideal future leader. If they don’t, consider making changes to your company values so that you are better communicating the characteristics that are important within your organization.


Once you have identified the key characteristics you desire in current and future leaders, align job descriptions, interviews, and staff reviews to assess and promote these values or characteristics. Some values are not easily identified by interview questions or metrics. They can, however, be observed if you know what you are looking for. Empathy, for example, can best be assessed by giving a candidate time to interact with a patient or two rather than asking about a time he or she displayed empathy. The ideal annual review should measure results such as productivity, quality of care, and customer service, as well as more subjective characteristics such as company values. By adding key leadership values into job descriptions, interviews, and reviews, you will better identify future leaders and consistently communicate the leadership culture that you are working to build.


Assess accountability. Accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. Leaders who lack accountability are going to struggle regardless of their other positive characteristics. A good leader will acknowledge when he or she needs to improve and take action to exceed expectations. Being accountable for achieving productivity and meeting quality care expectations is a great place to assess this characteristic.


Evaluate your high performers on coaching skills. All too often, high performers are promoted to leadership roles without regard for that individual’s ability to coach others. As a leader in a PT clinic, coaching others to succeed is even more important than personal performance. Consider providing staff with an opportunity to act as a clinical instructor to assess future leadership potential. Does he or she enjoy helping to develop students? Is he or she supportive without micromanaging? Therapists who make great CIs are more likely to be effective clinic directors than ones who have a hard time relinquishing patient care to a student who may not have the same level of skill as the CI.


Assessing time management skills is important as well. Effective time management is one of the greatest barriers to success for clinic directors, who are expected to manage while also handling a nearly full patient caseload. The key is not getting more done, but getting the right things done through proper prioritization. Promoting a therapist who struggles with time management can lead to frustration on all sides. If time management is a challenge for an otherwise promising future leader, provide that person with adequate coaching to see how he or she responds. Be aware that most young leaders will need to hone their time management skills to be successful in leadership.


Consider using an assessment tool to better identify the strengths of team members as well as their fit for future leadership roles. If you have not previously used assessment tools, consider taking a few of these yourself to see how well they resonate and identify the characteristics you are looking for in your leadership team. Common assessment examples include CliftonStrengths, emotional intelligence assessments, the DiSC profile, and the Asher Craft Personality Questionnaire (CPQ). While there is no perfect profile for leadership, each of these can point toward strengths as well as areas where personal development may be helpful.

Successful leaders are measured by the results they achieve and the people they develop. It is vital to clearly outline what is expected from leaders within your organization and to look for future leaders with everyone you hire. Invest in developing a culture of leadership, and you will find your staff are well positioned when growth opportunities arise.

Robbie Leonard

Robbie Leonard, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and practice consultant specializing in revenue cycle management and compliance assessment and training. She can be reached at

*The author has a professional affiliation with this subject.

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