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How to Gain Respect

by Christy Stevenson on Feb 07, 2009


Follow these tips to be the supervisor every instructor wants to work for.

As a group fitness supervisor, you’ve worked hard to earn your spot as a leader. Perhaps it was your industry experience, your sparkling personality or your connections with the right people that landed you in a position of authority. Whatever circumstance got you the job, you’ve probably discovered by now that being “in charge” isn’t as glorious as you originally anticipated it would be. You may even feel overwhelmed with the workload or unfit for the job. Or perhaps you feel great about your leadership prowess, but your instructors aren’t completely on board with your ideas or management style. Here are some time-tested tips for being the group fitness director every instructor can respect.

Communicate Clearly and Regularly

In this age of e-mail, texting and online networking, it isn’t difficult to stay connected. E-mail weekly or monthly updates to all your instructors, including subs. Use these messages to keep everyone in the loop:

  • Inform staff of upcoming facility events or fitness education opportunities.
  • Announce changes in policy or protocol.
  • Welcome new instructors.
  • Share special news.
  • Create camaraderie.
  • Invite input regarding schedule revisions or equipment needs.

By communicating often, you cut down on the frequency of formal staff meetings. Keep e-mails as concise as possible, to save everyone valuable time. Also, be prompt in replying to e-mails or phone messages from staff, even if the response is that you will need to get back to them at a later date. When you respond quickly, instructors feel that they are being heard and that you value and respect them. Despite the convenience of e-mail, you may sometimes need to pick up the phone or meet with certain instructors in person to address important or sensitive issues. Addressing instructors face to face can alleviate some of the negative feelings that can be read into a misinterpreted e-mail.

Be a Fair Problem-Solver

As soon as I became a supervisor, I realized it was much like being a mother, and I couldn’t play favorites. Sue complained that Mary wasn’t ending her class on time; Mary complained that Sue interrupted the end of her class and yelled at her in front of participants. When Robin moved away, Kelly and Jan both wanted her prime-time kickboxing class—and both were willing to fight for it! I decided to communicate with each instructor separately, gathered feedback and then made an informed decision.

When I learned that the reason Mary’s class ended late was that it started late because the swim team, who used the room beforehand, didn’t finish on time, we clarified with the swimmers what time they should be out. I also reminded all the back-to-back instructors to end class at 5 minutes to the hour, rather than on the hour, and made sure I specified exact class times on the schedule.

After speaking in person with both Kelly and Jan, we decided on an alternating teaching schedule and worked out the specifics so there would never be a no-show instructor. Despite some concerns, their shared class has actually grown. Participants like both instructors and enjoy the variety.

Problems won’t always have happy endings, but you must be creative and fair when trying to alleviate sticky situations. By listening to both sides of every story and engaging the instructors in finding a solution, you help keep the peace and your sanity!

Be Professional

You have expectations of your instructors—be on time, dress appropriately, stay current in the industry, fulfill job duties, etc. You should also hold yourself to these ideals, setting an example for your colleagues. Additionally, you must be organized. Keep your group fitness schedule current, be aware of class sizes and be prepared to make changes to keep patrons interested. Conduct frequent equipment inventories, checking for quality and quantity, and assess needs as determined by your budget. Periodically evaluate instructors and keep them accountable. Are they staying current with certifications (including CPR)? Can you tell if they’re feeling burned out?

Juggling these responsibilities is no easy task and requires strong time management skills so that you don’t get burned out. By spacing out big projects and spending a few minutes each day on details, you can stay organized without feeling overwhelmed.

You must also be diligent about what you say and to whom. Inevitably, patrons become your friends; they sometimes complain to you about an instructor they don’t like. It’s easy to agree and add your own opinions. But if you do this, you undermine the cohesiveness of the facility and the fitness family you are trying to create. When an instance like this happens, listen to the complaint and then provide a professional response. Sometimes, you can brush it aside as personal preference and recommend another instructor whose style may suit the patron better. If an instructor truly is teaching something improperly, say you will discuss it with that person, who may have been taught contradicting ideas. Encourage the participant to keep attending the class and give you feedback if the problem continues.

When in doubt, be quick to defend your instructors by pointing out their strengths and different styles. Speaking negatively is unprofessional and reflects poorly on you, the person who most likely hired the instructors in the first place.

Be Decisive

You are a leader. While you should receive and use input from staff, in the end, you must make a decision and stick to it. If an instructor just has to have the newest piece of equipment, but no other instructor intends to use it and there is no money in the budget, then you must say no. You can always leave it on the wish list for when the cost goes down or more instructors and participants express demand.

Extend your decisiveness to the class schedule. While most schedules are “subject to change,” you cannot change yours at every instructor’s whim. Consider having a policy for adding a new class format; for example, require the instructor to write up a proposal detailing the equipment needs and giving evidence of the class’s success at other facilities, as well as the instructor’s qualifications. Then set a time limit for that class to build numbers. Depending on your marketing strategy, that could be anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months. While you do not want your facility to lose money, it takes time to grow a class, and patience can pay off.

Be Personable

Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have to be bossy. Even though you supervise, you may also still teach. Even if you no longer teach, you remember what it’s like. It’s fun and rewarding, but it’s also frustrating—especially if there’s a lack of funds at the facility, or participants give up too soon, or everything’s broken. Be in a position to commiserate with colleagues, while at the same time trying to solve their problems.

However, don’t lay your own burdens on staff. Instructors should be aware of the efforts you’re making, but if you’re always complaining about your responsibilities, the meager budget or other employees, they’ll soon wonder why they’re working there, too!

Take time out to celebrate with your instructors—a new house, a baby or an engagement calls for a simple work party. Foster friendships by attending continuing education workshops together and holding instructor swap sessions, in which everyone shares their best choreography or ideas. You may also want to team up to work at fitness fairs or interoffice sports competitions.

Remember, just because you’re the supervisor doesn’t mean it has to be all work and no play. We are in the business of improving life, not worsening it, and we can begin by creating a joyful work environment for ourselves and our instructors.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 21, Issue 2

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About the Author

Christy Stevenson

Christy Stevenson IDEA Author/Presenter

Christy Stevenson, fitness writer/presenter and owner of the YouTube channel Real Fit for Real Life, has been teaching group fitness classes for 17 years and has certified with AFAA, ACE, and FiTOUR in Group Exercise, Yoga, Pilates, Kickboxing, Stability Ball Training, Group Barbell Conditioning, Core & Functional Training, and Personal Training. She has also certified with Reebok University in Coreboard Training & Body Training Systems RPM, a pre-choreographed cycling program, as well as Zumba® & TRX. She has taught virtually every land aerobics class format that exists, including specialty classes such as Go-Go Robics, Teen Sports Conditioning, Strollercize, Shakti Running, and Senior Strength and Stretch. Prior to moving to CT, Christy served as the land aerobics supervisor at American Fork Fitness Center in UT for over 4 years, designing a new schedule to meet the needs of expansion, doubling class sizes, and growing strong Yoga & Indoor Cycling programs. She tries to inspire the world to fitness by voluntarily teaching church & school groups, planning and promoting fundraising fitness campaigns, designing a personal training program for overweight children, and teaching yoga in schools. Christy has run 10 Ragnar relays, several half marathons, 7 marathons, and one sprint-distance triathlon. Christy graduated from BYU in 1998 with an English Teaching major and Theatre Arts minor & has taught 7th, 8th, and 11th grade. Her education background lends to her dynamic ability to lead instructor workshops, as well as her ability to bring fitness to youth ages. She is a freelance editor and writer and contributes to the prestigious IDEA Fitness Professional Journal & American Fitness. Christy is married to a wonderful husband and is the mother of 3 awesome and fit kids.