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Don’t Be That Manager: Are You Invisible?

Spend more time connecting with staff and clients.

Many personal trainers are promoted to being the manager or director of their departments based solely on their success as trainers and not necessarily for their managerial attributes. Now it’s your turn: you are the new personal training manager. You’re finding out how different it is from being on the floor working with clients. You’re also figuring out things on your own. It’s “sink or swim” without support from the general manager or owner. How you choose to handle the new responsibilities may make or break your career.

This series looks at common managerial mistakes by exploring five leadership types, how they affect staff and business, and how you can make different choices to ensure you are not that manager! The first installment looks at the “invisible manager.”

The Invisible Manager

Do you know a personal training director who invests a lot of time in meetings and relationship-building with the general manager and owner? Or someone who puts in countless hours to make sure her reports are flawless? These are both characteristics of a good manager—unless the time spent comes at the expense of staff, clients and overall operations.

With promotion to a managerial position come changes in responsibilities, work hours and workspace (a move to the back office). Like magic, the office makes the new manager disappear into thin air. You never see this person again; it’s as if he were invisible. Sure, the invisible manager needs a quiet place to get his tasks done, because instead of crunching abdominals, he is now crunching numbers. The problem is that the powerful magnetic force that holds the new manager captive to his workspace eliminates his presence and influence in the rest of the gym. The invisible manager spends too much time in front of the computer and not enough in front of trainers, current clients and potential clients. This directly affects business.

Invisible to the Staff

The Gallup® Organization found that no single factor more clearly predicts the productivity of an employee than his relationship with his direct superior. Gallup also found that key drivers of productivity for employees include whether or not

  • they feel cared for by a supervisor or someone at work;
  • they have received recognition or praise during the past 7 days; and
  • someone at work regularly encourages their development.

The invisible manager has a difficult time keeping a finger on the pulse of the department. Consider these three staff scenarios:

1. Communication. The ability to communicate consistently and with positive energy lies at the heart of effective management. If you want to communicate well as a manager, you need to use your mouth and, more importantly, your ears. Imagine how it feels to be Christy, a veteran trainer who hasn’t received any feedback from her manager in over 4 months. Since she feels disconnected and underappreciated—and believes she lacks a “safe haven” to say what’s on her mind—her productivity, performance and passion slip.

2. Relationship. It’s crucial to develop rapport and trust with each of your trainers, just as you would with your own personal training clients. New-trainer Ryan has never developed a working relationship with his manager. All he receives are business e-mails, voice mail messages and text messages. None of these can replace physical presence coupled with full engagement. The lack of true communication prevents Ryan from openly discussing program ideas, sticky situations with clients, concerns within the club or department, or feelings about his job.

3. Advancement. Head trainer Adam wants to continue to learn and grow in order to perfect his craft and stay on the cutting edge of an ever-evolving industry. An invisible manager misses chances to keep Adam motivated and save him from burnout. Being visible means more than just building up Adam’s clientele—it means being the type of manager who finds and provides opportunities for Adam to become more educated, obtain new tools for his toolbox and carve out career development steps within the company.

Here are some ways to become more visible with your staff:

  • Schedule work hours that overlap with trainers’ busy times.
  • Shadow one session by each trainer every quarter.
  • Schedule 15-minute weekly meetings with each staff member.
  • Take one of the busiest hours in the club to observe trainers, engage clients and interact on the floor.
  • “Unplug” from the computer, and walk around the facility every 90-120 minutes.
  • Use a laptop to make the manager’s workspace mobile. Work in different parts of the club.
  • On entering the facility, greet every trainer and client. Do the same when you leave for the day.
  • Send out e-mails about upcoming conferences or workshops.

Invisible to Clients

Your facility serves a wide variety of clients, and your principal goal as a manager is to foster a working environment that helps staff excel. The goal is to improve team performance by building client relationships and addressing problems quickly and effectively. Let’s look at three common types of clients and their needs, and the impact an invisible manager has on them.

1. Challenged. One of your trainer’s clients is not happy with his experience. If you are “invisible,” the client doesn’t feel comfortable speaking about it. Rather than seeking a solution, she quits. By being visible—not only to trainers, but also to their clients—you provide a “safe haven” where clients can go with their challenges. When manager visibility increases, so does client retention.

2. Abandoned. A personal training client just lost his trainer to relocation or job change. The client feels traumatized, as the pair had built a strong relationship. Being proactive is essential in order to support the client in continuing with a new trainer. If the prior trainer didn’t take steps to keep the client going, he may quit training completely. The invisible manager doesn’t recognize clients, won’t be aware when they are abandoned and therefore won’t be able to assist when it happens.

3. Questioning. Trainers don’t have all the answers for their clients, especially when it comes to session pricing, promotions, billing, equipment maintenance and club operations. As the personal training director, it’s critical for you to be visible and accessible to clients in order to answer their questions, provide feedback and field general inquiries. Being present and engaged shows great customer service. You’re in a prime place to build rapport, trust and connection with clients—characteristics that will ensure a long-term training relationship. As a manager, you can work as part of a team with clients and staff.

Are you an invisible manager? Here are ways you can become more visible with clients and members (see the sidebar “Self-Assessment: Are You an Invisible Manager?” for more ideas):

  • Introduce yourself to three training clients each day.
  • Introduce yourself to three nontraining clients each day.
  • Change your outfit once per week (dress up or wear a training uniform) to gain attention.
  • Step out, greet and thank training clients as they meet their trainers on the hour at the training desk/station.
  • Pass your card to three training clients and three nontraining clients.
  • Send a “thank-you” e-mail to all members/training clients with a picture of you and a personal invitation to approach you.
  • Hold a client appreciation event.
  • Conduct a member meet-and-greet with the training staff to answer questions.

Finely Tuned Balance

As a “visible” manager, you create a continuous positive and energetic presence for training teams and clientele. Some aspects of being “invisible”—such as dealing with operations behind closed doors and having solitude to finalize paperwork—are important. The challenge comes in fine-tuning the balance to optimize performance.

Self-Assessment: Are You an Invisible Manager?

Reflect on the following questions to assess your level of engagement with staff and members. What can you do to become more visible?

  1. How many new members do you meet each day?
  2. How many times do you step on the fitness floor to talk to someone, clean up and exercise?
  3. Can you name the goals of any of your trainers’ clients?
  4. How many times per day do you introduce one training client to another?
  5. Do you rack weights on the fitness floor when you are not working out?
  6. Do your trainers know your general schedule—which hours you are at the club each day?
  7. Do you meet with staff more than once per month?

Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Lance Breger, MS

Lance Breger, MS, is a personal trainer, speaker and writer who focuses on fitness, lifestyle and wellness. He co-founded the Infinity Wellness Foundation and trains hundreds of students in the Washington, DC, public school system. Breger is the head private trainer at MINT Fitness and presents at professional and educational events.  

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