PTO 87 | Leaders In Your Company


As your business grows, it is important that you learn to entrust it to others as well. That is why, for this episode's returning guest, the job of a leader is to develop other leaders. CEO of Performance PT and FitnessStephen Rapposelli, PT, is back to bring tremendous value about developing a leadership team. Having written an article in Impact magazine about the qualities to look for in potential leadership, Stephen shares those with us and discusses how we can structure our own leadership development programs to assess, test, and develop our own leadership teams. This episode is very valuable for anyone looking to continue to grow their businesses because, at some point, you become the stumbling block to your progress.


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Cultivating Leaders In Your Company With Stephen Rapposelli, PT

I've got a returning guest, Stephen Rapposelli out of Delaware, who on a prior episode, discussed an Impact Magazine article which he wrote regarding creating values for your company and how to go about doing that. It's one that I've recommended to coaching clients and friends a number of times in the past. I highly recommend you go back and check that. He also turned the tables and interviewed me about my professional path. If you're interested in my history, you can go ahead and look at that. I brought him on again because I saw that he wrote another Impact Magazine article about developing leadership teams, most notably qualities to look for.

We also delve into how to develop your leadership team, find those best candidates and what to do once you find them, how to train them and how to coach them going forward. They can take the burden off you eventually and continue to grow and expand your practice, and maybe make up for some of the flaws that you have as an owner. As always, Stephen shares a lot of wisdom and even asks me some of the things that we did to develop our leadership team. We go back and forth, sharing some experience on how we develop our leadership teams to move forward.


I've got a returning guest Stephen Rapposelli, Physical Therapist, CEO of Performance PT and Fitness in Delaware. He is also the VP of the Delaware PT Association. First of all, I’d like to welcome you, Stephen.

Thank you, Nathan. It's always a pleasure to be with you.

Thanks for coming back. I appreciated and I've referred plenty of people, including coaching clients back to our previous episode where we discussed values and how to establish those and it's still vitally important. I recommend everyone to start with purpose and values as they're developing a structure to the business model. Thanks for sharing and being such a valuable part of history.

It's always fun to talk about values. On the surface, that sounds boring, but it helps guide every decision you make as an owner.

The reason I'm bringing you on is because you had an article in the Impact Magazine about developing leaders. Foundationally, we can say that before we even consider leaders in our company, we have to go back and establish the purpose and values of our company. Otherwise, how are we going to determine who's in alignment with us to become those leaders in the future? How are we going to base what kind of leaders we want and what is expected out of them if we don't have those things, to begin with?

Your job as a leader is to create other leaders. Click To Tweet

Your values are your ultimate filter for everything.

It starts with hiring but your leadership team who eventually will be your leaders of your team should be the people that are completely bought in. They live and breathe the values as you do. They are making their business decisions on your behalf or on the company's behalf according to those values like you.

If you manage by gut reaction, think about it, and spend the time to think it through, that gut reaction is an identifiable, quantifiable series of filters which are your values.

A lot of times it's based on those initial gut feelings that help us determine those values, to begin with. We eventually put words to them and we do quantify and qualify them but it's that gut feeling of, “That explains us,” or “That feels right.” That's how we know when we have the right ones and when people are in alignment with us.

All of us who think we're good clinicians, we feel that we have this special magic of why we're good. Nathan had his magic. Steve has his magic. That “magic” is something that can be identified and more importantly, it can be taught. As an owner, you should be constantly thinking of how you can transfer whatever magic you have to your staff in order to elevate them.

It's vital to transfer that same knowledge in order to grow because we can't expect everything to be on us. If we do so, we're going to be burning the candle at both ends. We don't have the energy for that and we will be the limiting factor in the growth of our company if we don't write down and set that purpose and values, and hire and fire accordingly. Other leaders can step up, develop and continue to the growth of the company.

The number one job of a leader is to make other leaders. That's it.

On the surface, talking about values sounds boring, but it helps guide every decision you make as an owner. Click To Tweet

You listed a number of things in the article about qualities that we can look for and this goes beyond values. We hire and fire accordingly. There are some people that you might consider as leaders but are simply good therapists. They have the values but maybe good at leading other people. They share the values, but they may not have that skillset. Besides that, what are some of the things that you've listed out that you think are important to acknowledge and people who could be potentially good leaders?

There's a number of them. You bring up a good point, which is, “The best leaders aren't necessarily the smartest people in the room. The best leaders of your business aren't necessarily the best physical therapists.” Those are different skillsets. They both need to be identified and groomed by you so those people are behaving up to their fullest potential. The first thing that I talk about is intellectual humility. You are never done learning. You look for people who are insatiably curious. Insatiable curiosity are those people who are asking questions and always wanting to know how something works, “I wonder what would happen if this or that.” Those are the people who are going to be constantly growing. They're going to be lifelong learners and that's one of the characteristics that not only you should have, but you should also be looking at others.

You can't expect two people to naturally know how to lead and to naturally run a business because that's essentially what you're wanting them to do. You're wanting them to run at least a portion of your business. That's something that if they've been through physical therapy school, they haven't had any business training. You would expect them to be wanting and willing to learn more. Either through working with the same coach or consultant that you work with or reading some of the same books that got you to the point where you are so they're in alignment with some of your thought processes. They need to have some of that same intellectual growth.

The thing that I look for is the people who are raising their hands. Who are the people volunteering and saying, “I'd like some help and direction. Show me this. Tell me how to do this. I'm looking for this?” There has to be that innate sense of volunteerism that demonstrates to me that they are going to be the ones that go and get it. It can be something simple. We have a road cleanup a couple of times a year where we go out to a local road and clean the trash up. Who are the people that show up? Sometimes, you need to tell people, “This demonstrates to me that you want to do a little bit above and beyond. Therefore, I'm going to give you more to go above and beyond. We're going to be limited by whatever your ability to grow is going to be.” A lot of people in this day and age don't understand those behavior traits that the leaders look for future leaders. We need to tell them. We can't assume that they know that that's what you're looking for.

It's the leader’s responsibility to develop other leaders and part of that is coaching your team. You're going to have one-on-one conversations with them. Either they express a desire to grow in a leadership path or you've talked to them about, “You might have the desire or the capabilities to do so.” You start having one-on-one conversations. It's imperative to say, “This is what a leader looks like. This is what I would expect.”

We all make assumptions that we shouldn't be about what people already know, what you think maybe basic or even intermediate level thinking. You can't be that way. You have to express it and communicate it. A key to that starts with being vulnerable and being authentic to your staff because that's how you develop trust. If they don't have trust because you haven't been authentic and vulnerable in your leadership path, they're not going to meet you halfway.

I learned that when we had our two-day Annual Leadership Conference. We spent a good part of the day trying to be vulnerable and authentic with each other because we felt that there was a certain level of trust that was missing among our leadership team. It was exhausting and it was hard. People were visibly stressed but then we had a breakthrough. I'm not saying that every interaction with your staff has to be an intervention. You do have to be able to allow yourself to be seen as a fallible human being that is trying to do the best that they can. A lot of times, leadership starts with yourself and how you are leading yourself. You become either an example to others or a warning to others based on your behavior and what people can see that you do.

PTO 87 | Leaders In Your Company
Leaders In Your Company: As an owner, you should be constantly thinking of how you can transfer whatever magic you have to your staff in order to elevate them.

That's a huge quality that you need to look for in your leadership as well. You talked about the ability to be vulnerable, not have to be right or correct in every circumstance, be willing to recognize when you've done something wrong, and ask for questions. It might expose you to someone who doesn’t know you. You talked about insatiable curiosity. That touches into that a little bit, but there are some people that get a feel. The gut reaction has to be right or they have to be seen as better than so you have to be wary of those people. Help them to understand that being vulnerable and being fallible is okay.

The bottom line with all of this is a lot of these behaviors that we see are a result of fear. It's a fear-based mindset and you have to recognize it, appreciate it, move people from that and look for other people who have that ability and that capacity. Those are the leaders of your business.

Considering you went through this exercise, did you follow any particular book or program to get you guys through that stage to expose yourselves, become vulnerable and increase the trust of your leader as well?

As it may have been said in other places that leaders are readers. My ability as a leader is directly proportional to the amount of time that I spend reading. With that said, there's a whole list of great books out there but I'll break it down to 2 or 3 books that are almost required reading for anybody on our leadership team. Some of these, you might outgrow a little bit and you might be like, “That's an old one.” I'm going to go on a tangent here. A lot of the things that we hear is a rehash of ancient wisdom that goes back a long time. The more you're in the space of leadership and the more that you read, the more you say, “I heard this before. This was somewhere else.” I'm a big fan of going sometimes 4,000 years back. Let me give you some examples.

Number one, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. That's the one that everybody should probably read once a year. The way not to read is to read a book once and then put it up on your shelf. You have to take that thing out, you’ve got to dog-ear and underline and you’ve got to use no cards. You’ve got to talk to somebody about any tactic you can think of to squeeze as much juice out of that book as you can. Number two, How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I read that book when I was fifteen years old. I don't know what possessed me to read that book. It was truly dumb luck and his lessons are basic but they're not done by 90% of the people. You can be exceptional. It's easy to be exceptional by following some of the things that Dale Carnegie speaks of. For example, looking people in the eye, calling people by their name, and shaking people's hands. People like to scoff at that but how many times do you go down to your local department store and nobody even looks at you or talks to you? Getting these basics down is fundamental in being a leader.

Next is Executive Toughness by Jason Selk. That is an outstanding book. I finished it twice and I'm going to be implementing it like that. Emotional Intelligence 2.0, you've heard that one before and that's a good one. Here's one that you probably haven't heard of The Art of Living by Epictetus. Epictetus was a stoic. He lived about 4,000 years ago. It is a short book and it is basically one lesson a page. It is life-changing to read that book. One of the things that Epictetus says is, “Don't take things personally.” That'll change your life when you come to the realization that not everything that comes into your world is about you. I like to think that you need to get to be about the age of 40 before you finally realize that to be true, but some people get it earlier. You get to a point and read the book, The Art of Living by Epictetus. Those are some of my required readings for leaders. The list can go on and on but the older wisdom and truce are the ones that have lasted the test of time.

I want to reiterate that this is expected reading for your leadership team. At least some of these if not all. We had the same thing. If they were a leader, they were going to be expected to read some of the same books that we thought were important. Whether it's The E-myth Revisited, Good to Great or Leadership and Self-deception and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I thought you were going to go with Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Lencioni in terms of developing this meeting that you have.

Your values are your ultimate filter for everything. Click To Tweet

As he says, the first level that you have is to have as an effective team is trust and ability to be vulnerable so you can get a commitment, buy-in, and conflict. That's a huge book. The first time I read it, I was like, “Okay.” Sometimes, you have to read things over and over for it to stick. Maybe it's my own simple mind but you have to keep revisiting these things. The other thing to recall is when you try any new skill, you're going to be lousy. We operate by Gino Wickman's book Traction and the first year and a half, we were lousy. We weren't hitting any of our rocks, our rocks were poorly defined, and issues were all over the place. Anything you do, you have to stick with it. You do get better with time.

I have a couple of coaching clients that are voracious readers. They've read them all. They're at a point where I'm like, “You need to focus on one. I know that you know the concepts. You need to start drilling a mile deep and an inch wide instead of an inch deep and a mile wide.” Take any of the concepts that ring true to you and start implementing them. Dedicate yourself to one thing. It's interesting that you talked about focusing on Traction by Gino Wickman because there are plenty of people that have read it but haven't implemented what he’s recommended.

There's a huge difference between planning and executing. As Mike Tyson famously says, “Everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” He’s a great philosopher.

You have a bunch of books that you have your leadership team read. Are there any other qualities that you're looking for as people who could potentially be leaders on your team as well?

There are stages to an employee's life. The first stage of an employee is they don't know what to do. The first stage is, “What do I do?” The next stage is, “What do I do next?” The next stage moving up the ladder is, “Is it okay if I do this?” The fourth stage, which you're trying to get me to go to is, “I did this and then this happened. Now, I'm going to do this.” What you look for are people that have some initiative, willing to try things out and see what happens. I don't know how else you coach that other than giving them the opportunity to know that they're safe if they fail and there are few things that are going to be fatal in a physical therapy office. There are some things that could be, but by and large, there are few mistakes in this world that can't be understated if I can use bad English. You encourage that, give them room and latitude and make sure that they're safe in doing it. You see where it takes them and it might be something simple and it might be something big.

The area where most leaders have to remind themselves is the WAIT philosophy, which is, “Why Am I Talking?” When you are about to talk, say the word WAIT and think to yourself, “Why am I talking?” As the owner, oftentimes you say, “I know it all. I have done it all. Let's get this done. Let's move on to the next thing.” You're stunting the growth of your future leaders if you don't give them the opportunity to stumble, fumble, be inefficient, awkward and to try to find their way. I find that personally difficult to do. I literally had to write it down in front of me before a meeting to keep reminding myself, “Wait, stop talking.”

That's an effective coach to someone who lets the other person verbalize, process and come up with the solutions. To say it another way, “We're looking for people who are willing to generate solutions to the problem without you being the answer.” To give you an example, we would give some of our potential leader’s homework assignments like, “What's a problem that they see in the clinic?” Maybe there's an issue with the laundry. They're not happy with how the laundry is getting done at a particular time in an efficient manner. Pick anything and come to me with the problem like, “Check it out,” and let them find a solution for it. We'll discuss how we're going to implement it and then have them oversee that process that they recommended. It’s something simple like you said.

It changes your life when you come to the realization that not everything that comes into your world is about you. Click To Tweet

Did you find when you were in practice that as you were evolving that you had to fight against not knowing what the front line problems were in your practice? Did you feel you knew every problem and every issue?

No. I was open to saying that I don't have all the answers and I know there are plenty of issues.

Do you encourage your employees to come up with those issues and then think of a solution based on what they felt the problem was?

As I grew over time as a leader, they would come to me with problems. This patient will say such and such and instead of giving them the answer, I started saying, “What would you do?” I let them voice their opinion on what they would do and if that was okay with me, go ahead and try it. I’m like, “Are you sure you're okay with that?”

You said something golden there, which is, “What would you do?”

A lot of them have the answers but they think that this is your clinic and this is how you would want things done. You have to get over that at some point and say, “No, this is our company. You need to own your position like I need to own my position. You need to be the CEO of your own role and recognize that you can affect things for the positive. There's a lot of latitude underneath my umbrella to perform and I'll check you if you go too far.” We would give them homework assignments like, “Find a solution for a problem that you might see in the company.” We get to task them with leading out on the team meetings so that we didn't have to be the people who’d establish the topics of the agenda and all that stuff. We let them do that and let them lead out. The peers appreciate seeing that from their leadership and letting someone else step forward and lead the team instead of the leader sharing his wisdom from the top of the mountain.

Was there a difference in your business between staff meetings and leadership meetings? Were those two different mutually exclusive groups?

PTO 87 | Leaders In Your Company
Leaders In Your Company: A lot of times, leadership starts with yourself and how you are leading yourself. You become either an example to others or a warning based on your behavior and what people can see that you do.

There were team meetings at the different clinics on a weekly level where the clinic directors were responsible for getting everybody together, discussing topics at hand calendaring, and sharing statistics. The leadership team was a different 3, 4 or 5 people that would discuss what’s going on between all clinics.

When someone moved up from the staff meeting level to the leadership meeting level, was it eye-opening for those people in your business?

Yes, especially when we shared financials then they could see that there's a lot going on behind the curtains at that point.

Did you see a change in their behavior once they were able to be a part of and witness the leadership level meetings?

Yes, for sure.

How can you let everybody get a taste of that? That's a challenge.

The best you can do is to give as much authority as you can to the people that are closest to the situation. That gets down to the clinic director level at least so that they can have immediate oversight of what's going on within each clinic since I can't personally be there. We're talking about a situation where there are multiple clinics and multiple physical locations.

All good things come to you with the price of an effort. Click To Tweet

It's a moving target because I know that in the past, I've shared an abundance of data with the entire staff and the feedback was, “Why are you telling us this? Do you think we're falling asleep?” You're like, “I overshot that one.”

We would have quarterly “town halls” according to Scaling Up by Verne Harnish with everybody. In those situations, we were talking from more global perspectives. Their favorite part, honestly, was talking about the values amongst the team, in which people within the team had exemplified those values in the past quarter. We'd share larger perspective items like the organization chart of the entire company and what their responsibilities were within the chart or discussing what charity or what value we're going to focus on in that quarter. We'd look at bigger picture things. We'd share some higher-level statistics here and there, especially if we met some great goals and whatnot. We didn't get down to the nitty-gritty, which is too much as far as statistics.

One of the top parts of our meetings is when we give each other what we call attaboys. It doesn't come from the leadership team but you let the staff members stand up and give each other praise for something that they were observed dealing that adheres to our values. Once you get that started, it becomes like a ball of fire and that raises everybody's ship. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits says, “Praise others. It will bring them peace of mind. Do not expect others to praise you. It will bring you peace of mind.” You look for that leadership trait in others and that is, “Be quick to praise others to lift them up but don't do it to expect praise yourself because you don't need it.”

Our team meetings were most successful when they were able to recognize each other and how they exemplified values in the past. It can become emotional, tears, excitement and almost without fail. That was the favorite part of their meetings. In developing that, that's where you start honing the values of your company and you also start getting buy-in from your company as we start going through these processes. Of course, you're looking for the initial qualities whether that's curiosity, first to share, first to raise them or volunteer. Every person should be able to sketch a leadership progression and it's typically tied to how you grew as a leader and what those steps might take.

It's the books we read, sharing some of the wisdom we received from coaches and consultants, maybe give them a little bit of homework that a leader would do, and start sharing some of the statistics that you were looking at on a regular basis. Also, maybe delegating some of the responsibilities over to them, especially if you're going on vacation for a week, “You're in charge. This is what I do and I expect you to do the same. See your patience because that's what I had.”

The goal of the owner is that the people that are under you don't have as long of a learning curve as you had. You want to try to eliminate as many of those mistakes. It is shocking. I tell people that I was successful in spite of myself. I was ignorant of everything and it took so long. You want to try if you can shorten that for everybody else because they'll make their own share of mistakes eventually. If you can save them some of the pain that we all have to endure as we move from novice to expert, that's a valuable and admirable goal as a leader.

That's your goal. When you consider a leader being powerful, how can you get the same effect in a shorter amount of time? If you can generate that type of power from a leadership development perspective, the power that comes with your leadership team and the opportunity for growth and acceleration, then it increases for that.

The best leaders aren't necessarily the smartest people in the room. Click To Tweet

You'll agree with me. It is so much fun to watch others grow into that role, make it their own and take it to the next level. It's fun.

I had an employee and her name is Stacy Sullivan. She tragically passed away but she stayed with me for probably 15 or 16 years. She was one of the first employees that I hired. She was a PTA. She left for a period of time to work somewhere else and then came back. I brought her on with open arms because she was amazing. Without me knowing, it had bought into the values. I don't know what it was but she was all-in on whatever I did and every mistake I made. We worked through and we talked through. I asked her a couple of times, “Why are you so loyal? Why do you care so much?” It's almost like she cared more about my company than I did and I couldn't understand it.

She did it and people liked that out there that will carry the banner for your company when they know that they're in alignment with you. You've probably recognized this yourself with some of your leadership team members. They're willing to go above and beyond and they hurt when the company is hurting. They're staying up late at night when the company is facing problems like you do. They'll own their position and that company will take on part of their lives.

Face it, Nathan, it's easy to get discouraged. There are many times where you say, “Am I the only one here? No one helped me plant the wheat.” You also have to remember that there are six billion people on this planet and they don't all have to agree with me. I need 10, 15, 20 or whatever your number is, of people that share those values and that's when the magic happens. Those people magically start to develop and flourish before your eyes. You have to water the plants. That's all you have to do. These are some of the things that you look forward to making sure that you're finding the right plan to work.

That's fun when you can start developing some of those people and see them grow in a capacity that maybe they didn't see for themselves. Going back to Stacy, one time, one of our coaches showed her the org chart and said, “Where would you want to go on this?” She said, “Don't tease me like that. I want to be over here. I want to be the vice president of marketing.” She's like, “Why don't we set up a path for you?” She was almost in tears. She couldn't have imagined as a PTA that she could become an executive within a PT company. She wasn't the greatest therapist. She had such amazing kindness and exuberance of personality and light that she brought to the clinic. She became one of our better clinical directors when she was given that mantle. She was a great marketer. She did want to build relationships across the town for us and she had that path. There are those people out there that will grow with you. The fun part is to see them grow.

Nathan, that story leads to my final tip, which is, “Leaders ask.” You never would have known that about her if you did not ask. You couldn't assume that she wanted to be VP of marketing or whatever position she aspired to be. Somebody had the wisdom to ask and it is amazing what you discover when you simply ask. The converse of that is, “How many mistakes do you make when you assume that you know?” That gets me every time.

When you ask, you show that you care. That's easy for them to buy in when they know that somebody cares about their growth.

PTO 87 | Leaders In Your Company
Leaders In Your Company: You're stunting the growth of your future leaders if you don't give them the opportunity to stumble, fumble, be inefficient, awkward and to try to find their way.

That comes from getting to know your staff personally. You have to take the time and the effort to get to know them. I'm talking about easy things like, “What did you do this weekend? Where did you take your kids? What's going on with your parents?” When you ask those questions, over time, you find out those answers then you have that connection with that person. You understand that person and then that can change everything about the whole relationship. It's my truth bomb.

You dropped it well. It goes back to you have to take the time and you can't be doing that if you're treating it full-time.

All good things come to you with the price of an effort. You're constantly thinking to yourself, “Where can I best apply my limited resources of time and energy to move the ball forward for everybody's good?” That's what you wind up doing. It was in another show and maybe yours where the girl from Alaska said, “I was getting to the point where I was treating patients and I was distracted by it. I couldn't focus on the patient. I knew I had to get out of patient care because I was thinking of other things.” That was golden to hear that because people say, “How come you're not treating patients anymore?” “I only have many things I can do in a day and my number one function that cannot be delegated is I’ve got to ensure that this business keeps its doors open because people pay their mortgages because of me.” That's a pretty big responsibility. You have to guard your energy well. That's why I love your show. I learn all kinds of stuff.

Thanks for joining me, Stephen. When I saw your article in Impact Magazine, I got excited and I'm like, “I know Steve will come on.” Not only because of your willingness to come on, but the topic was great. I know you share a ton of great information.

We're all in this together and we're all stumbling and fumbling our way through. None of us are experts. We're all learning as we go along. I have found at this point in my life that the more I share, the more I get back. Thank you.

If people wanted to contact you, are you open to that?

You can reach out to me but I'm not going to sell you anything. I will probably refer you anyway. You can reach me at my email address at or look me up on the internet.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

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About Stephen Rapposelli

PTO 87 | Leaders In Your CompanyStephen opened his private practice in Delaware in 1992, at the tender age of 26, because he was told by his former employer that he couldn’t afford to buy into that existing business. He has since grown to 3 clinics, and has been voted best PT business in his state for numerous years. He also serves as Vice President of the Delaware PT Association, as well as sitting on the IMPACT editorial board. Stephen plans on devoting the rest of his career to promoting independent practices across the country.

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