The Stuff Leaders Are Made Of

Apr 22, 2018

What is a leader in the fitness industry? CEOs and managers are often tagged as leaders, so it’s not just someone who shines on stage and enthusiastically teaches group fitness classes. Where do leaders come from? Are they genetically predisposed to have charisma and influence? Or did they work hard to cultivate those skills?

“I believe that some individuals are born with better abilities to lead, due to their personality and presence,” says Natalie Johnson of Population Health Consultants in Bradenton, Florida. “Others who are not born with those abilities can learn them.”

Susan Finley, owner of TrainSmarter in Birmingham, Alabama, says, “People who are ‘born’ with strong leadership potential still may not succeed if they can’t work well with others. Others who think they would be more comfortable as a ‘follower’ may discover leadership potential they didn’t know they had—under the right mentor or the right circumstances.”

In the fitness industry, instructors and presenters stand in the spotlight and are the most publicly recognized leaders. However, many factors play a role in changing lives. What about the people “behind the curtain”? Even though these “underdog” leaders are sometimes expected to act like their more visible counterparts, they make a difference in their own way.

While natural-born leaders may make a fitness manager’s job simpler, it’s satisfying to help the less-likely leaders emerge. Of course, assembling and motivating a team and aligning them with appropriate roles is easier said than done. Cultivate your staff to be happier, more effective and more productive by understanding what makes your leaders tick and maximizing their potential.

Recognizing the Leader

A leader is anyone who guides, leads or shows others the way. According to researcher Daniel Gerdes (2001), “teacher,” “leader” and “coach” all have the same phenomenological meaning. All people who take on one of these titles have the potential to influence attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, regardless of the delivery mechanism. Each may lead by writing, speaking, listening or being an example. “Anyone who follows a passion, and who shares that passion with others, is a leader,” says Jeremy Manning, owner of La Jolla’s Finest Training in La Jolla, California. “If you lead, others will follow.”

All fitness professionals need effective communication skills, as well as a sense of responsibility and timeliness. However, one leader might be better at research, writing and planning, while another excels at speaking and teaching on the fly. Silent skills like research and planning don’t always get the credit they deserve. Notice and encourage these traits in your quieter team members, and watch them attract more business.

Leaders can be born or made, and each one falls onto the continuum of introvert and extrovert at a different place. This uniqueness makes it challenging to use the terms, which were developed by the psychologist Carl Jung in 1921 (Kahnweiler 2013). As Finley says, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. I thought of myself as an extrovert for a long time, but now I think I’m probably an introverted extrovert.” Don’t presume you know who is who!

Introverted leaders seem to be incognito, and they’re not always shown the same attention as extroverted leaders unless they mimic extroverted traits. In Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD, writes, “I have become convinced that introverts can be highly effective influencers when they stop trying to act like extroverts and instead make the most of their natural, quiet strengths.” She also mentions the advantage that introverts have with social media because of their thoughtful usage of it.

Amanda Vogel, MA, a fitness writer/blogger and social media consultant for the fitness industry, is an excellent example. “I consider myself an introvert,” she says. “I gain a lot of energy and creativity from being alone in my home office. Pursuing a career as a writer and social media consultant has allowed me to educate and influence others using platforms that I feel most comfortable with—the written word and the creative nature of social posting.” She also presents and teaches group fitness part-time. She’s an introvert at heart, playing extroverted roles.

Does anyone on your team fit this description? Do you have introverts you’re unfairly trying to mold into extroverts? Encourage them to help with social media or produce a newsletter for the company or for their own business. Some fitness professionals can work with people 40 hours a week, while others are better suited to splitting their time between public and private. Get behind them and their natural tendencies; it’s where they’ll shine.

For more information, please see “Are Leaders Born or Made?” in the online IDEA Library (October 2016 edition of IDEA Fitness Manager). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.

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