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09/01/2011, 10:30pm EDT
By Daniel Dale, PT, DPT

Dan Dale's Perspective on Leadership

APTA Student Assembly President

 Leadership is a diverse and confusing topic. Can it be defined? I think it can, but not in a Webster’s Dictionary sort of way. The uniqueness of leadership comes from the fact that it is defined by those who seek it or portray it. You can ask your classmates or fellow professionals what defines a leader, and you might get an array of qualities or character traits from them. Certain words always seem to come up in conversation. A leader is courageous, charismatic, passionate, etc. These are all important traits for a leader to have. However, I personally think of three character traits beyond those that I have learned from my mentors that have helped craft my leadership skills.

The first trait I think of when defining leadership is that of perception. A leader must understand any situation that comes before him or her, thinking of every possible option that the constituency he or she serves might undergo. Having led the Student Assembly, an organization that is now nearly 19,000 students strong, I have strongly believed in having strong perception. Many situations that I have encountered while serving involve me to think outside the direct thoughts of the Student Assembly Board of Directors, and even beyond the needs of our student members. A leader must perceive the possible outcomes, in order to better understand the possibilities. This is important in our profession as well. We as physical therapists and physical therapist assistants must be perceptive for the sake of our patients and our profession. As the future of health care changes every single day, we must all be aware of the possible outcomes for the patients we represent and keep a watchful eye on the situation for the betterment of the profession.

The second trait that I feel is necessary for a leader is that of understanding. A leader must understand the people he or she serves, but more importantly, must understand how best to deal with situations with the resources available. My most important lesson I have learned over the years as a leader of students, both as the Georgia Student Special Interest Group President and the Student Assembly President, is in how to best utilize my other board members by understanding their needs and desires. If a leader does not understand what his fellow board members’ strengths and passions are, then that leader may not utilize them to the best of their abilities. It does a leader and a constituency no good if someone is assigned to a task that they do not enjoy, or do not feel passionate towards. For example, on my current Student Assembly Board of Directors, I have made it a point to talk with each of my board members to help them find topic areas that truly interest them in their future careers. I then encourage them to pursue these areas of interest, which they do so wholeheartedly. Without taking the time to truly understand those I am surrounded with, I feel that I would not utilize them to the advantage of the Student Assembly.

Finally, and most importantly, I believe that a leader must be filled with imagination. He or she must be able to have vision and insight as to where the organization being led should be headed. Imagination is what creates those history-altering moments from leaders. I can only wonder in awe at the amount of imagination Mary McMillan had back in 1921 when she was elected the first President of the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association. In front of her was a distinct need for rehabilitation services. However, the United States had not yet fully understood the need for the profession. Mary McMillan, with her desire and imagination, guided the profession during the early years, helping to mold and develop it into what it is today. Without imagination, those daring decisions would never have been made. Today, our profession faces health care reform, therapy caps, and payment reduction, to name a few. How we enter the future will depend on the imagination of our leadership. Having observed the APTA Board of Directors and the House of Delegates officers in action, I can honestly say that we are in good hands.

Again, I echo my sentiments that a leader is defined by the needs and wants of the constituents he or she serves. As a current leader, as well as a hopeful future leader in our profession, I have been able to define myself based on those that I serve. At the end of the day, I never have any reservations about serving as a leader. It is truly an honor and a privilege to serve those that have elected me, and I hope that I have done so to the utmost satisfaction of those I represent.


Daniel Dale, DPT

APTA Student Assembly President 

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