How to safely and effectively climb the leadership ladder.
Whether you’re a new group exercise coordinator or a seasoned veteran, you may have aspirations to ascend the leadership ladder or grow your fitness career in new directions now or in the future. Some coordinators go on to become regional or corporate managers. Many successfully expand their roles to include workshop presenting or course instruction.
This column—the last in a series of five on managing group exercise—looks at what it takes to climb the ranks in the fitness industry. You’ll learn how to use your current position as a group exercise coordinator as a leg up to reach new career heights, whether you work for a small facility or an international chain.
The first step in advancing as a manager is to identify when your role as group exercise coordinator has reached a natural turning point. For example, you may have come to sense that your position seems far less interesting or challenging than it used to. Or perhaps the idea of receiving one more “emergency” call from an instructor who can’t find a sub is more than you can take!
On the other hand, you may still be reasonably content with your coordinating position, but ambitious about making an even greater contribution to your company and/or the fitness industry. Donna Meyer, of Costa Mesa, California, began her role at 24 Hour Fitness by managing group exercise at three clubs. Today she is the company’s corporate director of group exercise, overseeing 104 group exercise coordinators. She says that her positive vision for the group exercise department at 24 Hour Fitness, coupled with her drive to work hard, led to several promotions, including her current high-ranking position.
I know how she feels. The desire for a new management challenge and a burgeoning freelance writing career motivated me, in 2000, to resign from my full-time position as group exercise coordinator at FitCity for Women, a growing chain of women-only clubs based in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the same breath, however, I proposed that I take on a new, part-time position as executive director of group exercise. My job was to supervise the incoming coordinators for the company’s two locations. Last year, when FitCity for Women opened its third club, I became vice president.
The very qualities that helped you become a successful group exercise coordinator, and the many skills you honed in that role, will assist you in advancing your leadership position. Here are just a few points to consider if you hope to take the next rung up the ladder.
Build a Strong Team. Successful coordinators are often sought-after instructors and are generally well liked among staff and members. However, they must be willing to share—or even step away from—the spotlight. “A coordinator should be able to let a staff member be the ‘celebrity’ [at the club] and should not have an ego or need to be the center of attention,” says Shonna Krecker, executive director of group exercise at Pure Fitness in Seattle. Meyer concurs and says that your primary role should be to manage, not to be the best instructor.
Commit to the Job. Impress your supervisors by proving your commitment to the job. Use your influence as group exercise coordinator to demonstrate that you care about the company’s progress and vision. “Every boss loves to hear when an employee makes a difference in the bottom line—for example, by growing membership, building larger classes, reducing instructor budgets in creative ways or positively representing the company,” says Meyer.
Remain Loyal to the Company. As a manager, you know that training and mentoring an instructor who quits shortly afterward is disappointing and frustrating. Demonstrating your own dedication and loyalty to the company will work in your favor when it’s promotion time. Just make sure to align yourself wisely. “Seek out a company that shares your vision for group exercise to ensure your talents and skills are best utilized,” advises Krecker.
Show Initiative and Leadership. Being appointed a manager at any level doesn’t guarantee that everyone will automatically view you as the leader. “You must earn the respect of staff and members,” says Krecker, who has been involved in group exercise coordination for 10 years. “This makes your job much easier and increases the chance that staff will carry out your vision.” If you want to be considered for a promotion, going above and beyond what’s expected also helps. “It’s your opportunity to be remembered,” Meyer says.
Just how do upper-management jobs in group exercise differ from your current coordinator position? It depends on the job and the company, of course. Generally speaking, however, you may have more accountability and more staff. If you work for a chain, you might focus more on procedural consistency across clubs.
Lead by Example. At the higher rungs of management, chances are you will be responsible for managing other managers, who are leaders in their own right. This requires especially strong supervisory and leadership strategies. “My goal is to influence the group exercise supervisors enough so they do what needs to be done in their jobs,” says Meyer. “They are not micromanaged.”
Think About the Big Picture. “My responsibilities are more global with regard to group exercise,” explains Krecker. “I administer the program on an executive level.” Setting up the instructor pay structure, creating and adhering to budgets, researching programming options and marketing group exercise are just some of the tasks Krecker performs for the six clubs she oversees. “I work with the executive team and the owners to ensure that the group exercise department is on track and an asset to the company. I am also the voice to address and resolve any needs the department may have,” she says.
Waiting for a promotion can tax your patience. Your employers will likely want to see that you can handle upper-management responsibilities by how well you handle your group exercise coordinator role. Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take today to pave the way for your career tomorrow. “Live your future job every day,” advises Meyer. “Creating your professional persona and style doesn’t happen overnight.”
Expand Your Horizons. Fitness professionals who net upper-management jobs typically can offer a variety of specializations. Ask yourself how you can develop and showcase your current management skills. For example, during my 3-year stint as group exercise coordinator at FitCity for Women, I began organizing special events, such as fundraiser classes. Acquiring that new skill set let me add the qualification “special events coordinator” to my title and taught me a lot about marketing, event planning and how to track industry trends. These skills have proven instrumental in my upper-management positions as well.
Develop New Career Directions. Building a reputation as a leader and manager may persuade employers in the industry to seek you out. “Learn as much as possible about fitness, marketing, writing, developing a team and great leadership,” advises Krecker. Even if you don’t foresee advancing in a management role, you can still use your current coordinator position as a solid and credible foundation for other career paths. For example, many group exercise coordinators are also successful presenters or fitness course instructors.
Know What’s Out There. If you have set your sights on a higher management position, it helps to know what’s available. Investigate management positions in your company or within the industry by networking, perusing current job postings in industry publications and paying attention to the job titles and bios of conference presenters whom you emulate. Which positions can you imagine yourself doing? (For ideas, see “Oh, The Places You Can Go.”) What qualities and skills do the people currently filling those positions possess?
Make Something out of Nothing. Perhaps you’re discouraged by the lack of upper-management opportunities at your facility or company. If so, consider creating and then proposing a position you want! “I went after the [corporate director of group exercise] position before it existed,” says Meyer. “I let everyone [who] might be involved in establishing the position know that I wanted it and it was needed.” Similarly, before I became FitCity’s executive director of group exercise, there was no such position at my company. Ditto for my current job as vice president. Of course, you do need to convince your boss that there’s a need for the new position—and that you’re the perfect candidate!
Learn From Others. “Find a role model and a mentor,” suggests Krecker. Hire the top instructors in your area if you can. “I was lucky to have an opportunity to be coordinator of a club that housed some of the best instructors and presenters in the country. That experience took both my leadership skills and instructing skills to a new level,” she says.
The fitness industry offers many opportunities for job advancement. Once you align yourself with a company that motivates you to work hard and develop a reputation as a strong leader, you open the door to many career options. “Let people know what you want,” encourages Meyer, “and be available when opportunities arise.” u