I Am Not a Leader: A Case of Mistaken Identity
By Beth Collier, PT, DPT
I am a taskmaster. My life is full of lists of things to do: lists on post-it notes, lists on organizational planners, and sometimes lists on the back of my hand. I get great satisfaction from scratching off tasks as they are complete. I use lots of ink to strike through each task one by one. I feel total satisfaction when my paper is covered in ink from my write-ins and scratch-offs.
I am a learner. I love learning new things. I have participated in a postgraduate residency program and 2 fellowship programs, and now I'm back in school in pursuit of an EdD degree. Basically, I haven't been out of school since I got out of diapers. In my free time, I use apps to learn different languages, listen to TED talks, and read books. I am a consumer of information.
I get things done, and I am teachable. I am not a leader.
That's what I told myself for most of my life. Each time a leadership opportunity presented itself, I convinced myself: I am a cheerleader for others, a great member, and a team player. I am not a leader.
Then it happened. After several years, my mentor mentioned an open call for nominations for leadership positions within our state professional association. His mention wasn't offhand. It was not casual chat or a simple sharing of information. No, his mention came with a look—a look that anyone with a long-time mentor would recognize. It said to me that this baby bird was about to be pushed out of the nest. It's time to fly or fall.
I did not want to fall. But I pursued the opportunity anyway. Because when someone who has invested so much time and energy into your development gives you the look, you do not say no. Only being 5 years' postgraduation, I told myself I didn't have enough knowledge or experience to be a leader. I was terrified. But I did it anyway.
And it was the most influential experience of my professional career.
As a board member of the Physical Therapy Association of Georgia, I participated in leadership development activities through the R.M. Barney Poole Leadership Academy. I thought this would teach me how to function in my new-found role. I was wrong. It did so much more. Through the Leadership Academy courses, I learned that leadership is much more than a position or title. Leadership simply means that you are influencing others around you.
In this way, leadership happens every day. Every day in the clinic, my actions and words are influencing how my patients perceive themselves and how they behave. Interactions that are observed by other staff members influence their own interactions with other people. My behavior and thoughts are observed by students and influence the way they perceive our profession. I even influence myself, in a weird philosophical way: the way I perceive the world influences the way I interact with the world. And I have control of my own perceptions and actions—I can lead myself. Mind blown!
It turns out that I am a leader. I have been a leader my whole life. And so are you, whether you know it or want it.
Physical therapists are not "treaters" or "fixers" of peoples' problems. We are not educators imparting knowledge to others who will listen. We are leaders. We empower others to maximize their potential through our influential relationships. The only way to achieve APTA's vision for the profession, transformation of society, is through transformational leadership. We need a leadership revolution!
I am a leader. You are a leader. We all lead every day. You are either doing it well…or you're not.
So this is me giving you the look. Pushing you out of the tree. It's time to step up and get involved.
There is no level of knowledge or experience that can prepare you to be a good leader. Just be your best self and keep an open mind. Check out APTA Engage for opportunities. Participate in leadership development. You won't regret it!
Beth Collier is a clinical assistant professor of physical therapy at Mercer University in Georgia, CEO of MentorEvolution, and former vice president of the Physical Therapy Association of Georgia. In 2018, she was recognized by APTA as one of the profession's emerging leaders. Collier is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopaedic physical therapy, and a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.