Aside from frustration with facility-specific policies and reimbursement processes, one of the frequently cited reasons why some of my PT friends would seek new employment is dissatisfaction with their supervisors. It’s not that they can’t get along with their supervisors. It’s that some of them feel their supervisors are poor leaders who are reactive to crises, rather than being proactive and prepared with an action plan. Others complain about their supervisors’ management style, especially those who do not communicate their plans and expectations to their staff. These conversations led me to research the difference between being a leader and being a manager. Initially, I thought that they were one and the same, but I was wrong.

I reviewed several articles focused on leadership, in which I learned that being a manager requires the ability to cope with complexity. For instance, when a supervisor is told that a cut in reimbursement for PT services is to be implemented and this is coupled with increased demands for staff productivity, a good manager should be able to bring order to the situation by planning and budgeting appropriately, organizing the department’s staffing pattern and solving problems that arise.

On the other hand, leadership requires the ability to cope with rapid change. Given the same situation, a good leader should be able to set the direction for the department, coordinate staff and provide motivation through the coming changes, instead of adding a sense of panic to the situation.

I also found in my research that having charisma and vision are half-truths about leadership. Leadership skills are not innate; they can be acquired and honed. The question is where and how can these skills be acquired? My colleagues are quick to identify the academic program and training their supervisors received in PT school or the mentoring their supervisors received during their early years in the field as logical sources for these skills. Yet from their descriptions, it appears that my colleagues’ supervisors received inadequate leadership and management training while still in PT school or from poor mentoring. So, is it just about training and mentorship?

For a recent accreditation-related assignment, I was fortunate to work with a well-regarded university president, who has served in this capacity at the same institution for 26 years. I took the opportunity to ask him questions about leadership and management in the hopes that his responses would reveal characteristics that could help distinguish between leadership and management. I also was interested in knowing if the secret to his longevity as university president can be attributed to his leadership or his management style.

When I asked him what excites him to come to work every day, he replied that he has always been motivated by the prospect of being a change agent. Being innovative and forward thinking are attributes that he takes pride in and he always provides opportunities for the people he works with to demonstrate these attributes. It appears that the key to his longevity as university president is deeply rooted in him being a leader rather than a manager.

He seemed self-assured every time he replied to my questions — until I asked him my final question: “What makes you angry?” After almost a minute of silence, he reversed the table and asked me the same question. I was quick to offer my response: “When a person says he or she will do something, but does not deliver. It’s about being accountable.” I said this angers me because it is a violation of my values. He eventually offered a response to the question: What angers him is dishonesty.

This discussion revealed to me one more thing that contributes to successful leadership: Good leaders should be aware of their values and use them as a guide in their decision-making.

How about you? “What makes you angry?”