If you are like a lot of program directors, you manage people you rarely see—or who rarely see you. This makes you a “ghost manager.” The biggest challenge in being a ghost manager lies in connecting with and motivating your staff. Ghost managers can be responsible for 30 or more instructors who work about 1–3 hours per week, and for 50-plus time slots on the schedule. Most instructors teach part-time or for fun, so other priorities often take precedence. Instructors teach their classes and leave, so it becomes difficult to connect with staff on a regular basis.

How can you better manage and communicate with staff? One not-so-new solution: e-mail! This form of communication enables you to reach people faster, hear back more quickly and avoid lengthy phone conversations. However, many people don’t read or reply to e-mails. Let’s explore the easiest, fastest, most common and most effective ways to communicate with instructors via e-mail and learn how to make sure the messages will be read.

Setting an Example

First things first: you won’t be able to get instructors to answer your e-mails if you ignore theirs. All instructors—from veterans to newbies—deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Communicating in a positive manner and responding to all issues, no matter how insignificant they might be to you, is essential in managing a successful group exercise staff. Reply to every e-mail you receive. Prioritize and respond to the most important ones first, but always address even the smallest issues in a reasonable time frame (within 24 hours if possible). Pay attention to detail, treat instructors with respect and help them find subs in true emergencies. This will make your staff want to go the extra mile for you, which may very well include opening an e-mail with an important message or call to action.

Writing Effective E-Mails

To compose effective e-mails, start with the basics. Of course, use proper grammar, punctuation and so on when writing your message. Remember the following ABCs:

  • Always include a subject.
  • Bullet the information.
  • Choose concise language.

Always Include a Subject. Listing a subject tells people what an e-mail is about. This can be an art. Sometimes you have to think strategically. For instance, instructors might skip a message titled “Sub needed” because they assume there could be a scheduling conflict. However, if you say “Need your help” in the subject line, they will be more likely to open the e-mail and read it.

Bullet the Information. Bullets help make e-mails look cleaner, more readable and more organized. Bullets are also a good way to emphasize important points. The traditional round symbols (instead of cutesy symbols or emoticons) are the most professional way to draw attention to your information.

Choose Concise Language. Remove superfluous descriptions and details. This will make your messages more readable. Long-winded e-mails turn people away. Who has time to read a novel when the in-box is full? If you make a habit of writing concise e-mails, your staff will look forward to reading them.

Here is a sample e-mail using the ABCs:

Subject: Need Your Help
Hi Everyone!
I hope you are all having a great week. We have lots of ill instructors this week. Please let me know if you can sub any of the following classes:
  • Tuesday: 4:30 PM, Yoga
  • Wednesday: 9:00 AM, Cycle
  • Thursday: 8:00 AM, Pilates
Thanks for your dedication and hard work!
Best Regards,
Amanda Wright
Group Exercise Manager
(Contact signature here)

In addition to remembering the ABCs, keep e-mails positive and informative. Re-read messages prior to sending them or have someone else review them, no matter how long or short they are. You may also want to save e-mails in your drafts folder, so you can return later and re-read them. You may decide to change the wording or add additional information.

Avoid the following:

  • ALL CAPS (which is virtual YELLING)
  • acronyms that might not be understood by all and could seem unprofessional (e.g., LOL = laugh out loud)
  • too many exclamation points, which can be construed as overzealousness

Always keep the tone of your messages positive. Resist sending nasty e-mails or using negative language. When you review your e-mails, replace negative words with positive ones. For example:

Negative Positive
Don’t leave the stereo unlocked. Please lock the stereo after class.
Avoid being late. Arrive early to class.
Never leave the room messy. Be sure to clean up the room.
Don’t end your class late. Please end your class a few minutes early.
Never mishandle the microphone. Please be careful with the microphone.

Building Cohesiveness

Another way to be an effective ghost manager is to set up a group e-mail list. Then you can regularly update people as you add new staff members or need subs. Do not send group e-mails too often. Receiving them daily is tiring, and instructors will not read them. Instead, keep a running list of important issues, and send out all the information on your list in no more than one group e-mail per week (on Mondays, for example). Use the following format: subject line, greeting, short introduction, club updates, reminders, class opportunities, super sub of the week (or month), instructor announcements/birthdays/special achievements and closing (see sidebar “Group E-Mail Sample,” below, for an example).

Addressing Problems

A successful ghost manager addresses problems or reprimands in person or over the phone, not via e-mail. This way, instructors actually see or hear you, and you avoid animosity and misunderstandings. However, if face-to-face meetings or teleconferences are not feasible and you choose to approach complications via e-mail, be extremely professional in your approach. Always include a greeting, say something positive about the instructor, and then address the concern in a constructive manner. Remember, ghost managers are out of sight and also out of mind. Being firm is all right, but do not use language that could be interpreted as rage. Use proper humor, whenever appropriate, to show your personality and to make a better connection. Be a good listener, allow your staff member to respond, stay open to suggestions and be sensitive to the instructor’s concerns. Here is how an e-mailed reprimand might look:

[Subject: Fantastic Rapport!]

Hi Mary,

I wanted to check in with you. . . . It’s been so long since we’ve spoken! I hear such positive feedback from members about your classes. It’s truly impressive to have such great rapport with the students. It says a lot about your passion for our club and for teaching!

Please be sure to end your class a few minutes early so the next class can set up. I’m working with the entire staff to keep the classes starting and ending on time. So even if the class before yours ends a little late, please be sure to end yours on time. Please let me know if the class prior to yours regularly ends late so I can address the problem.

Thanks again for your commitment and great classes!

Best Regards,
Amanda Wright
Group Exercise Manager
(Contact signature)

Other Ghost Managing Tips

Being a ghost manager doesn’t have to mean you are always a disconnected entity. Whenever possible, connect with staff individually, not just via group e-mails. Surprise your instructors with individual e-mails once in a while to praise the great job they are doing. Additionally, give instructors a call now and then, and leave an upbeat message. Personal conversations from time to time are key to staying connected. Consider organizing a get-together or club meeting every so often to enable instructors to meet one another in person. And try to attend as many instructors’ classes as possible, showing your support and visibility. This also helps you ensure instructors are providing members with the best, most positive experiences.

Here is a sample message you might leave on a staff member’s voice message:

“Hi Mary, it’s Amanda from the club. Just wanted to say hi and hope things are going well. Thanks for doing such a great job. Members are always telling me how much they love your classes! Keep in touch, and let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”

School of Success

Mastering successful ghost managing takes time and attention. Always look to further your knowledge and experience by asking others what they do to improve their management skills. Attend workshops and lectures at fitness conventions. Be open-minded and proactive about trying new ideas. Keep notes in a journal or computer file to remind yourself of methods that have worked for you in the past. In addition, keep notes on what has not worked, to avoid making those mistakes again in the future. Regularly review your notes to refresh your memory.

As group exercise managers, we are driven to lead, educate and inspire instructors. We strive to build programs that are cutting-edge, solid and pleasing to our number-one priority—members! Use e-mail to manage instructors more effectively while increasing staff cohesiveness and productivity. Be creative and adopt realistic new approaches to help manage your team from a distance.

SIDEBAR: Group E-Mail Sample

From: Amanda Wright

Subject: Instructor Update, 10-1-07

Date: October 1, 2007 11:24:21 AM PDT

To: GX Staff

Hello Everyone,
Happy Monday! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Club Updates

It is with great pleasure that I introduce and welcome our new club manager, Christa Thatcher.
Christa has been a sales counselor with the company for 5 years. Her hard work and dedication to members and staff have earned her this promotion. Congratulations, Christa!


  • Please sign in prior to your class, and sign out after your class ends.
  • Place your name on the instructor name board.
  • If you have the last class of the day, please lock all equipment even if your class did not use it.

Class Opportunities

  • Monday: 5:30 PM, Pilates
  • Tuesday: 8:00 AM, Cycle
  • Thursday: 10:00 AM, Step

Please notify me immediately if you are interested in picking up these classes!

Super Sub of the Week

Congratulations to Rachel Peterson! Rachel went above and beyond this week by subbing six classes.
Thanks for your incredible help this week, Rachel. Prize: a free CD!

Instructor Announcements/Birthdays/Special Achievements

  • Kim Smith got engaged to be married this past weekend. Her boyfriend of 4 years proposed to her at a family party. Kim said yes! They plan to get married in 2008. Congratulations, Kim!
  • Carrie Henderson gave birth to a baby girl named Katie last Tuesday. Both mom and baby are doing well. Congratulations, Carrie!
  • Joe Horvath passed his instructor certification exam. Congratulations, Joe!
  • Please e-mail with any announcement you are willing to share to help us keep in touch with each other. Thanks for your great classes and dedication to our club! Please contact me anytime if you have questions or concerns or just want to say, “Hi!”

Best Regards,
Amanda Wright
Group Exercise Manager, [facility/location, if it applies]
[phone and e-mail address here]

SIDEBAR: Spooky Deadlines

One hot-button issue that ghost managers deal with is deadlines. These include deadlines for workshops, certification renewals and inner-office administrative issues. Having to track down part-time instructors when your back is against the wall can be very frustrating. It is best to notify staff of all deadlines well in advance, and that requires organization on your part. Plan your deadlines for the quarter or even for the entire year when possible. Regularly remind staff of upcoming deadlines in your weekly or monthly group e-mail updates. Send individual e-mails once in a while to those who meet all deadlines, and thank them for doing a great job. Of course, also send frequent reminders to those who sometimes miss deadlines.

Amy Nestor has more than 15 years’ experience as an instructor, a personal fitness trainer and a manager. She leads training workshops, presents for various organizations in the fitness industry and is a master instructor for 24 Hour Fitness.