Sustainable Engagement: Know Yourself First

Woman holding mirror
By Matt Slimming, PT, DPT

When I was a young boy growing up on the South Coast of Australia, my mother (Mum) told me, “Always tell the truth. It’s too hard to remember all the lies.”

I think that nugget came after an elaborate cover-up plot came crashing down. It was probably related to trying to sneak out of the house in the pre-teen years with some mates.

Mum made a lot of sense. The stress of having to remember the details of what lies you may have told someone is way worse than the exposure of just being honest. That lesson has followed me to my work life. It bears remembering specifically when we are talking about engaging with potential clients and staff. In that context it can be rephrased as “Just be who you are.”

We must be content with knowing that we won’t fully engage with every single potential client or staff member. That’s okay. We only need to engage with the ones for whom you and your organization are the best fit. In fact, trying to truly engage with staff and clients for whom you aren’t the best fit would be like trying to constantly remember a string of lies. You would be exhaustingly focused on trying to be someone you aren’t. So who is the best fit for you? To get closer to this answer and to attract and engage with our best fit, first we have to know ourselves.

I think a great place to start is to find out your “Why.” Simon Sinek, in his famous TED talk, “Start with Why,” explained that great organizations and causes separate themselves from the pack by knowing why they are passionate about what they are doing. This can be an elusive answer and often requires peeling back the onion. For example, you may be in business as a physical therapist because you know how important physical activity is to being happy. But why is this important to you? Well, because you feel that bringing happiness is a noble calling and your gift is in helping bodies get healthy. Why is that your area of expertise? Possibly you suffered an injury at a formative time in your life and you saw the effect of quality PT on your life.

You can see how asking yourself “why” repeatedly eventually uncovers the true reason and passion behind your work. The more clearly you understand why you are in this rewarding profession, the better you will be able to communicate your “why” and connect and engage those with whom you are a good fit.

Specifically for me, I had a tough time figuring out my why. Yes, I love people. I love helping them. I really love seeing patients get better. But I knew deep down that my true passion and gifting was not in healing individuals. That’s a hard thing to admit to yourself when you are surrounded by good people in a profession who are only passionate about that very thing. It took me some years to realize that what I was really passionate about was seeing my team thrive, grow, succeed, and reach their goals and dreams. That’s what really got me fired up. To see an employee truly love their work, be able to afford a car for the first time, take an overseas vacation because of some influence I had, become a leader in their community, that was reason enough for me to pick up my bag of to-dos and climb that hill every day. That is what brought a tear to my eye. Knowing that why has allowed me to engage much better with my team and our patients and public. I think it is obvious that my specific why lends itself very clearly to achieving high engagement scores with our team. However, just knowing that isn’t enough. Once we know it, we must talk about it, transparently and consistently.

My team needs to know that I am passionate about their growth and success. They may not believe it at the start. But as long as my walk matches up with my talk, eventually most of them will understand. Sure, I fall short. I can’t always meet everyone’s expectations about what it means to be their ideal employer. But if I am consistently honest about what I am willing to do for them, we are on the same page and relationships grow. Knowing my personal “why” also helps us work out what our “why” is as an organization.

So, why are you working as a physical therapist? Why are you leading a clinic? What fires you up every morning? Take some time to understand this. Write it down. Then tell everyone you can about it. As a result you will see your team and clients grow, a community of people with shared values, led by someone who understands the “why” behind those values. Just make sure that it’s the truth. So you aren’t having to remember the lies.

Matt Slimming

Matt Slimming, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and founder of STAR Physical Therapy and STAR Fitness Center, in the Greater New Orleans area. STAR has 8 locations. He can be reached at

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