Obstacles are Opportunities

plant emerging from concrete
By Secili DeStefano, PT, DPT

Everyone loves an environment where reimbursement is high, pandemics are non-existent, business is growing, financials are soaring, employees and customers are happy, and operations are running smoothly and consistently.

Yet, that’s not a very real world. In the real world, we make mistakes, tackle problems, and face obstacles along the way. The barriers to success in healthcare are prevalent; however, perhaps the solutions lie in the obstacles themselves. At the very least, it is the lessons learned from facing those obstacles that give us the tools to turn those obstacles into opportunities.

As leaders in health care, one of our most critical roles is to self-reflect and learn from the mistakes we make. Here are six leadership mistakes I have made and the lessons I’ve learned.


In the words of Nelson Mandela, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”1 Being optimistic is valuable, but most optimists pay less attention to the negative possibilities, which can lead to poor decisions, including hiring. Expecting things will just “work out” or that employees will react in the way you expect them to is a common pitfall that we have all experienced.

Lesson Learned: Have realistic expectations, good or bad. Prepare yourself by analyzing the possible negative side of every issue. Clearly communicate expectations to employees and colleagues, providing plenty of context and including every relevant detail and piece of information, even if you believe it is not essential or that they should already intrinsically know it. Both are paramount to success and achieving goals.


We designated an employee to be in charge of ordering and restocking supplies and equipment. Trying to be helpful, I placed an order. She felt micromanaged and that I didn’t trust her to do her job. Luckily, she had enough trust to talk to me about it, and we were able to get back on the right track. Trust is critical in relationships, as we all know.

Lesson Learned: Stay in your lane. Hire and train well, then trust your employees to do the job they were hired to do. Hire people who fill the gaps in your leadership, so you can stay in your lane and focus on what needs your time and attention. When people trust their employers, they are more efficient and innovative.


I have given many talks on mentoring and leadership and truly believe it is important, but the reality is that often there is not enough time to have frequent check-ins in a busy, fast-paced practice. When communication is on the fly and in passing, employees are left feeling resentful and bitter. They may also need help or your input in order to take projects to completion.

Lesson Learned: Slow down and take time. Be accessible, personable, engaging, and approachable. This will actually save you time in the long run and lead to happier and better employee outcomes. Schedule frequent times to check in with employees and colleagues to ensure everyone is heard.


NTKB occurs when we give an employee the least amount of information that they need to do their job. This happens because we are too busy, afraid of the impact, or afraid of someone stealing our ideas. We have all had to pivot because of COVID-19, including furloughs, layoffs, and telehealth implementation. These challenges can lead us to a “need to know basis” temptation, but withholding information leads to distrust and disgruntled employees which makes tough situations even worse.

Lesson Learned: Be transparent, especially in difficult times. Transparency strengthens relationships, instills loyalty, improves productivity, and fosters innovation. Always keep employees informed, listen to them and support two-way communication.


Too many times, I have been in a hurry and fired off a quick email, only to realize minutes or hours later, I had to send five more. And what about all of the platforms? Email, agile technology, and a variety of messaging platforms leave us all overloaded. Before we know it, we have multiple platforms on which we communicate information to colleagues and employees.

Lesson Learned: Minimize irrelevant communication and increase valuable communication: Shoot for timely, meaningful, and objective communication and feedback in clearly organized platforms. Use agile communication platforms to improve efficiency, but be clear as to which information is to be communicated where and how often that communication and responses are expected.


Handing out titles like candy can quickly lead to confusion, entitlement and disruption.

Lesson Learned: Create an organizational structure that enables ALL staff to be empowered and feel valued. If the organizational structure rewards those who climb the ladder with power, recognition and input, those who don’t achieve or seek to achieve as such will feel under-valued. The right organizational structure harvests talent from all staff – from the front desk to the CEO. When employees feel valued, they are empowered and enabled be more innovative. Those in leadership positions should strive to be servant leaders, focusing on the staff’s needs before their own and ensuring that they have the support, tools and resources they need. As a leader, your example trickles to the rest of the team. The result? They help and serve each other and patient and employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention all soar. 


1Payne J. Long Walk to Freedom – The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Move to End Violence. https://movetoendviolence.org/blog/long-walk-to-freedom-the-autobiography-of-nelson-mandela/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20am%20fundamentally%20an%20optimist,give%20myself%20up%20to%20despair. Published July 21, 2015.

Secili DeStefano

Secili DeStefano, PT, DPT, , is the owner of Optimal Motion in Herndon, Virginia. She can be reached at secilidestefano@optimalmotionpt.com and @secilid.

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