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. You’re figuring things out on your own without training or support from the top. It’s “sink or swim”! How you choose to handle the new responsibilities may make or break your career.

This series explores common managerial types and how they affect you, your staff and your business. You will learn how to make better choices to ensure that you are not that manager! This installment looks at the “micromanager.”

The Micromanager

Many of us, at some point in our careers, report to a micromanager. She is the one who pays very close attention to all the smallest details of your individual sessions. He is the one who breathes down your neck for the minutest element or asks for a status update before the latest report is even on his desk. Everything needs to be checked and rechecked.

As a manager, you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day business of your trainers, clients and membership. But you can take this too far. If you’re overly involved in the tiniest tasks, you put your trainers’ performance, morale and retention in jeopardy. This hinders daily operations as well as long-term departmental goals.

As the director of personal training, you are ultimately responsible for the success and failure of your department. When everything seems to be riding on you, the tendency is to whip out a magnifying glass and home in on every detail. This may be even more the case when your compensation and bonus are based on how others perform. It’s understandable that you want to keep a close watch on anything that can influence your department’s bottom line.

To complicate matters, as a trainer you may have been rewarded for paying attention to the details of movements and muscles, not to mention the details of your clients’ health histories and wellness plans. In your managerial career, however, continuing to focus on details can be problematic. As the department’s “pilot,” you should now be flying the plane at 15,000 feet, with the final destination in your flight plan. When you focus on the details of whatever’s going on at ground level, you can’t see the horizon and you may not be able to fly your department and your personal training “passengers” to the true destination, which is growth and prosperity.

Micromanaging Staff

The micromanager’s style stifles rather than supports. Personal trainers will not flourish in this highly scrutinized work environment. The following three staff scenarios demonstrate why it’s important not to sweat the small stuff.

Set Expectations. The personal training director needs to clearly define expectations for staff. And those expectations must be mutually beneficial. For example, as manager you should not only delineate job responsibilities, but also define your role in helping to meet those responsibilities. This keeps both parties on the same wavelength and can help avoid future conflicts and obstacles.

In new-trainer orientation, new hire Shauna was encouraged to create and implement in-house workshops to build her clientele and contribute to the overall programming. But the manager did not state outright that trainers would be expected to conduct one workshop per quarter, nor did he explain the process for submitting workshop ideas. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Shauna did not take any initiative.

The result: Shauna feels micromanaged by her manager’s probing questions and not-so-gentle e-mail reminders that trainers are “supposed” to be submitting ideas for quarterly workshops and then implementing those workshops. Shauna resents the workshops and the way her manager tries to cajole her into doing what he wants without ever laying out clear, upfront expectations.

Teach Fishing. The proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is a powerful example of effective management. As the manager, your goal is to teach a skill set rather than doing the work yourself. Managers must empower trainers with knowledge, tools and resources for successful task completion and optimal job performance.

Each month, full-time trainer Fred is required to submit two blog posts to the marketing director for the facility’s website. Fred isn’t a great writer, so his manager edits and submits Fred’s blog for him, which can eat up a lot of the manager’s time. Not only that, but Fred’s writing skills do not improve. The better option is for the marketing director to develop a format for Fred to follow, let the manager critique the blog that Fred produces based on that format and then have Fred finish the blog posts himself.

Focus on the Right Details. To stay on top of the managing game, it’s important to distinguish the forest from the trees. Part-time trainer Pat’s manager catches glimpses of him only during the last 10 minutes of his sessions and is constantly nagging him about talking too much on the floor, about not racking his weights and about whether or not his program variables are sound. The manager’s style is to sweat the details, which puts the heat on Pat. This style stymies Pat’s growth as a professional, and as a result, Pat’s job satisfaction and morale shrink.

Bigger Problems

Besides holding the staff hostage by magnifying the details, micromanagers create larger problems for the department and for overall operations through their inability to connect the dots between their actions and the consequences. This leads to the following challenges:

  • Trainers no longer take responsibility or take risks.
  • Productivity is lost as trainers second-guess their decisions.
  • Department tasks don’t get done, and deadlines are missed.
  • Trainers are inadequately prepared for assigned tasks.

The micromanager negatively affects the department’s culture. Trainers lose motivation, won’t take initiative and lack the framework to complete tasks. Below are just a few examples of the costs and the impact that micromanaging has on innovation, productivity, workflow and time management.

  • A trainer is brought in for a brainstorming session on ways he can be integrated into the facility’s current group exercise schedule, but in fact the manager has already predetermined and laid out the plan.
  • A trainer spends hours of her free time on a four-page proposal for starting corporate programs, but the manager completely rewrites the proposal and submits it to the owner.
  • Trainers repeatedly turn in timesheets that are incorrect, but the manager never teaches them the correct procedure.
  • A trainer simply wants to send an e-mail newsletter to a client, but the trainer is required to seek the manager’s permission to do so.

The above scenarios not only disempower trainers but also eat away at the facility’s bottom line as time is lost and focus is taken away from growth and put on the little things.

Macro, Micro or Somewhere in the Middle?

While it’s critically important to overcome micromanaging tendencies, it’s also important to resist the urge to become the opposite: a macromanager. Macromanaging has its downfalls as well, and it can leave staff with a lack of direction. A better solution is to strive for the middle. The best managers are able to secure some details while remaining conscious of the ultimate goal.