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Don’t Be That Manager: The Yes Person

Learn to embrace the power of saying no.

Many personal trainers are promoted to manager or director solely on the basis of their success as a trainer and not necessarily because of their management skills. Now it’s your turn: you are the new personal training manager. You’re finding out how different being the manager is from working with clients on the floor.

This series explores common managerial types and how they affect you, your staff and your business. You will learn how you can make better choices to ensure you are not that manager! This third installment looks at the “yes manager” and builds upon the first and second installments: the “invisible manager” and the “micromanager.’’

The Yes Manager

Everyone has met a “yes woman” or a “yes man.” The word no is absent from this individual’s vocabulary. Such a person will accept every challenge, take on any responsibility and do anything for anyone at any time. At first this might strike you favorably. The yes manager appears to be easy to work with, flexible, supportive and an all-around team player. But let’s look beyond the yes.

The yes manager faces a challenge: the inability to say no. Knowing when to say yes and when to say no can have a complex effect on relationships with clients, trainers and operations. What are the motivations behind a yes? What implications does yes have for the manager’s job performance, team and business? Can the yes manager learn to say no?

Behind the Yes

The personal training manager deals with one constant: the need to balance the three distinct and often-conflicting constituencies of owners, trainers and clients. Managers are constantly being pulled in different directions and, at the same time, asked to be fully engaged on each duty and project. In order to meet these demands, managers have a tendency to say yes.

Some managers always say yes to please everyone. This is especially true for new managers, who want to be liked and accepted by everyone as they establish themselves. They avoid conflict so as not to appear difficult or unpleasant. When faced with the options of saying yes or of potentially ruffling someone’s feathers, most choose the former. However, they are then left with the consequences.

Yes managers may also want to have control and influence over as much as possible. The extreme version of this shows up in micromanagers, who want to feel important and to have an impact on everything within their reach. These yes managers prefer to take on more duties, tasks and projects—in order to keep their hand in every basket. This takes the focus away from key drivers that may make these managers successful.

The desire to please people and the illusion of control can lead to overcommitted and overstressed managers. None of these are beneficial for the overall sphere of influence. Read on for some practical examples of how yes managers can influence staff, clients and operations.

Staff Impact

A personal training manager’s job includes giving trainers a framework and constructive feedback on their projects, as well as guiding the overall work of staff toward a desired outcome. The personal training manager is not there to do the personal trainers’ work.

For example, manager Gail asks trainer Mark, a veteran of 5 years, to take on a new client who has fibromyalgia. Mark has never worked with this population, and he does not feel confident in his current abilities to provide a safe and effective program. Mark asks Gail to help him research how to train this client. Gail says yes and ends up spending 3 hours pulling together articles on fibromyalgia, meeting with other trainers and exchanging e-mails with the in-house physical therapist.

For Gail, saying yes to Mark resulted in her doing Mark’s work. She did not enforce Mark’s job responsibilities nor did she encourage him to develop ownership for his clientele. Mark did not gain professional knowledge about this special population, and he did not learn methods for attaining information for future clients. The outcome was short-sightedness on Gail’s part with regard to Mark’s long-term development.

Client Impact

“The customer is always right,” right? However, this adage does not go on to say “and the manager must always say yes.” The manager needs to be selective when approving client requests. For example, long-time customer Sarah just used the last session in her current package. She is up for renewal, and because she trains frequently she feels she deserves a discount on her next package.

The personal training manager, Joe, says yes to Sarah and the flood gates open. Now Sarah expects a discount every time she repurchases. Other clients find out that Sarah got a discount, and they also demand a discount. Furthermore, other trainers feel resentful because their clients did not receive a break. The manager is seen as a push-over in the eyes of the client, who may try more ways to take advantage of the manager’s need to please everyone. Before making the decision, Joe failed to think through a series of questions:

  1. What is Sarah’s overall revenue generation for the club in comparison to that of other clients?
  2. If I say yes to Sarah, do others also deserve a discount?
  3. Should the club consider developing a “preferred” discount program for its best customers?
  4. What should be the criteria for a “preferred” discount program, and what would be the financial impact of such a program?
  5. How should owners, department heads and trainers be engaged in developing the program?

Business Impact

If you always say yes to staff, clients and ownership, your focus gets blurred. You spend the majority of your time putting out fires and meeting other people’s deadlines. Pretend you are a manager and your facility is opening a second location just a month from now. The new facility needs its personal training department to be fully functional by the soft opening. At the same time, one of your trainers at the base location is launching a group core training program in 2 weeks and is having problems with marketing materials, logistics, recruitment and training manuals. You agree to help the trainer, but in spite of your promise the new location’s opening sucks you into a whirlwind of commitment and details not pertaining to this departmental priority at the base location.

The three examples presented in this article show how a manager’s response to day-to-day needs of staff and clients can interfere with staying on track. In his book The Practice of Management (HarperCollins 1993), the late Peter Drucker described this commonly seen pattern as the “activity trap,” where managers get caught focusing on activities rather than results.

Objectives Drive the Yes

To address the problem, Drucker introduced the technique of Management By Objectives (MBO). MBO uses organizational, departmental and individual objectives to help yes managers maintain control. You can use this technique as a filter to eliminate tasks that decrease your productivity, thus allowing you to keep an eye on your purpose.

MBO has the following characteristics:

  1. the cascading of organizational goals and objectives

    Example: Increase personal training revenue during summer months.
  2. specific objectives for each trainer
    Example: Increase number of individual and group sessions for summer 2011.
  3. participative decision-making
    Example: Trainers work with the manager to determine a goal for number of sessions, tactical methods for achieving the goal and ways to make mid-course corrections.
  4. an explicit time period
    Example: Set the goal timeframe between June 1 and August 31.
  5. performance evaluation and feedback
    Example: Schedule 15-minute monthly meetings to evaluate and provide feedback.

Using the five-part framework above, managers can identify the key activities required to meet the overall goal, which is increasing personal training revenue during the summer months. If an activity does not fit within this objective or the other overarching objectives, the manager should and must say no.

Just Say No

The yes manager is an agreeable, supportive and flexible person. These are great attributes in a friend, but in a manager—and when taken to the extreme—they are not. Yes managers must feel empowered to say no to activities that fall outside of a manager’s job responsibilities. If they do not say no when necessary, this pattern will ultimately jeopardize the business and the manager’s career and quality of work.

SIDEBAR: Before Saying Yes, Ask Yourself . . .

  1. Does it advance my strategic department goals?
  2. Am I stepping onto someone else’s responsibilities?
  3. Can I defer the decision and/or delegate?
  4. What are the implications for the big picture?
  5. Realistically, what will happen if I say no?


Drucker, P.F. 1993. The Practice of Management. New York: HarperCollins.

Lance Breger, MS

Lance J. Breger, MS, is a fitness and wellness consultant and a 2010 IDEA Program Director of the Year finalist. He is the president of Infinity Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit organization that delivers its WELLKIDS program to students and teachers in the Washington, DC, public school system. Breger is also the head private trainer at MINT in Washington, DC.

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