Take the Lead


Would you rather be a leader or the “boss”?

By Phyllis Levine, PT, DPT

Being the owner of a business does not make one a leader—it simply makes one the boss. Most business owners concentrate on gaining skills to improve the management of their business. The main job of a manager is to control the work environment and solve problems as they occur. This involves planning, budgeting, staffing, and organizing. The outcome of these actions is readily predicted and usually driven by profit margins. On the other hand, a leader is responsible for establishing the direction of the business as stated in their vision statement. Their passion should be evident as they are responsible for motivating, energizing, and inspiring the staff. A leader should seek out future opportunities and take risks. A leader is an agent of change, creating turbulence that can produce unpredicted but dramatic results. As physical therapy business owners we typically attend classes to improve our managerial skills and the metrics of our businesses but insufficient time is spent on learning how to lead.

A leader is someone who has eager and willing followers. The key to becoming an effective leader is not to focus on making others follow you but instead by making yourself someone others want to follow. Followers need to trust your ability to take them in a desired direction. Great leaders do not work for personal gain but rather to serve others. Leadership can be defined as relational influence. Positive relationships must be built with passion and effort. Change must be created. One of the ironies of leadership is that you become a better leader by sharing your power rather than holding it all for yourself.


In August of 2015, I had an opportunity to attend the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), which offered insights into successful leadership characteristics. Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of the 25,000-member Willow Creek Community Church, originally organized this summit in 1995 to develop and mentor leaders worldwide. Through the Willow Creek Association, the annual GLS is directed to leaders in all arenas including, but not limited to, politics, education, health care, church, families, and a multitude of businesses. By 2015 the two-day summit has grown to over 250,000 attendees, and is presented in 460 sites across North America, and in over 120 countries worldwide in 51 languages. Over the years the faculty has been composed of impressive leaders from all walks of life. Past speakers have included Bono (former Time magazine Co-Man of the Year and U2’s lead singer), author Ken Blanchard (The One Minute Manager), author Marcus Buckingham (Strength Finders), business consultant and author Jim Collins (Good to Great and Built to Last), and Mike Singletary (NFL Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears). There have been live and taped sessions with Colin Powell, Carly Fiorina, Floyd Flake, Michael E. Porter, Richard Curtis, and former president Jimmy Carter. (Many of the past leadership talks are available online.)

At the 2015 GLS, Bill Hybels opened the summit with a talk on the five intangible characteristics of successful leadership; and, although one may not initially possess these intangibles, they can be developed.

The first intangible characteristic is grit, often defined as tenacity. Grit assessment tools are readily available online with the best work by Duckworth.1 The actual development of grit demands that we endure some difficulty to attain our goal. Advancing grit in any one arena provides overflow to other areas of performance. Therefore, intense physical or mental work can increase one’s grit in the workplace. Some examples of recognized leaders with obvious high grit levels are Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi.

The second intangible deals with the development of self-awareness. Identifying our own strengths and weaknesses leads to stronger relationships with others. On average, most of us have three to four blind spots hindering reliable introspection. Until we can identify our specific weaknesses, we cannot begin the needed process of correcting for these flaws. In addition to recognizing these deficient areas of our personalities, Bill Hybels feels it is crucial that we recognize how our past lives influence our current status. Everyone wins when we grow in self-awareness.

Resourcefulness is considered the third intangible. This is thought of as high learning agility, quick responsive skill achievement, and/or curiosity. Folks with strengths in this area surpass the average leader by 25 percent in reaching set goals. We develop resourcefulness when we successfully work our way through confused and dysfunctional situations. Therefore, stress is needed to grow in resourcefulness.

The fourth intangible characteristic of leadership is self-sacrificing love. To lead effectively one must make the relationship between a leader and his followers personal. A servant-leadership style is most successful. We are all more likely to follow someone who we believe cares about us and that we admire and trust.

The fifth and final characteristic is that a leader must create a sense of meaning throughout their leadership. In all organizations the workers must know the what, how, and why of the tasks at hand. What and how are readily defined, but why can be challenging. This can be considered the core of why we do what we do, our “top box.” Recognizing this and working toward it is more important than identifying the actual task. The single most determining factor of whether your followers are going to own a vision deeply is the extent to which they think you possess that same vision.

After more than 45 years of being a physical therapist, I find myself wondering, have I been more of a boss and manager than a leader? Since the GLS, I feel that my self-awareness has been enhanced, and I am compelled to continue in my education about effective leading. How much true leading is occurring in our profession? Are we helping with identification of visions? Do we motivate, energize, and inspire the younger therapists? Are we agents of change driving the profession forward? Are we scaling our leadership skills as our businesses and profession grow? To ensure the success of our profession, we must accept these roles of leadership and seek the education needed to become great leaders.


1. https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth/pages/research Accesses November 2015.

Phyllis Levine, PT, DPT, is a Private Practice Section (PPS) member and owner of Functional Therapy and Rehabilitation, PC, an outpatient practice in Homer Glen and Joliet, Illinois. She can be reached at Phyllis@functionaltherapy.net.

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