Lessons From the Trenches, Part One: The Leader Within
Do a little soul-searching before you accept a leadership position.
Many fitness professionals aspire to take their careers to the next level. Whether the goal is to become a better personal trainer or coach or to become the chief operating officer of a large fitness chain, great leadership is the underlying theme. While leaders come in many forms and with varying degrees of skill and ambition, they have these traits in common: Great leaders are inspiring, they communicate well and engage others, and they motivate individuals or teams toward a shared goal.
On paper, being a leader looks simple. It’s likely that many fitness professionals possess the characteristics named above, especially since we work in an industry that thrives on motivation and leadership. However, being a leader is actually quite challenging, for many reasons. Here are just a few:
- People can be difficult to lead, because personalities are so diverse.
- Day-to-day problems arise that you can’t always plan for.
- Leaders often have the unsavory task of delivering unwelcome news from upper management.
As demanding as it is to be a leader, there are also many rewards, including a strong sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. Barbara Crompton, founder and past CEO of the Fitness Group in Vancouver, British Columbia, defines leadership as a blend of “a unique and startling vision to inspire the masses, never-ending fortitude to withstand doubt, and “resilience to bounce back.” Our three-part series takes a look at how to be a successful manager in a dynamic industry. This first part explores how to get in touch with the leader within you.
Know Who You Are
Before you accept a leadership role, ask yourself this question: “Am I management material?” Just because you’re a busy trainer or a popular instructor, you aren’t necessarily a good manager. Before you pursue any new challenge, take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Grab a pen and paper, and jot down the areas where you excel and those where you have deficits. If you’re not sure, ask a close colleague.
Next, compare your skills to the leadership role. Do they align? If a leadership role requires strong organizational skills, for example, and you rarely send invoices on time or you scramble to find missing paperwork, organization may not be a strong point for you. If the position requires sales experience, but the thought of cold-calling makes you feel nauseated, this is another red flag. If starting a business is a goal, but you recognize that you have absolutely no accounting skills, it would be important to consult with or hire someone who does. Weaknesses can generally be overcome (if you want to), and they are excellent opportunities for growth.
The key lesson: Identify the good, the bad and the ugly. Strong leaders are not afraid to disclose their flaws. They use this self-knowledge as a chance to build a diverse team with many skill sets. However, for this approach to work, you must acknowledge and accept your shortcomings and be willing to change.
The Roman philosopher Seneca is credited with saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” This statement is very applicable in the fitness industry. Whether you’re just starting your career or you’re on a path to change, you can’t sit back and assume that things will just happen. Great leaders undoubtedly have stories about what they did to get where they are today. Certainly, a little luck sometimes comes into play—most likely in the form of good timing—but the journey also includes a great deal of sweat equity.
When opportunities arise that align with your goals, say yes enthusiastically and jump on board. If you’re asked to write a fitness article for a local newsletter, try it. If you’re asked to do a radio interview, say yes. If the local school wants you to lead a pep rally for a fundraiser, go for it. Even though these requests require preparation and are most often done pro bono, the networking and marketing rewards may be well worth it. If you find yourself in a tight race for the perfect job, those contributions may be what sets you apart. The difference between who you are and who you want to be comes down to what you do. Great leaders make things happen.
Stick to Your Value System
Many businesses, small and large, have a mission statement and a vision plan. It doesn’t matter if you’re an independent personal trainer or a program director who oversees a fitness studio; great leaders need to establish clear direction. Value systems are just as relevant as mission and vision statements. Effective leadership includes how you live your life—and how you lead other people in a manner that’s congruent with your value system. Values are ethical measurement sticks that become the foundation from which you make decisions. Motivational guru Tony Robbins likens values to a life compass.
As a planning exercise, think about what you value most in your life. Make a list from most important to least important: family, money, career, independence, health, love, honesty, education, and so forth. Making decisions becomes easier when you understand your values and how they rank. For example, if an exciting career opportunity arises but it requires extra work hours and weekend travel, turning the job down may make more sense if family is listed higher than career on your value scale.
Great leaders also need to know what they value most in their business and/or their employees. For example, if the newest and greatest fitness gadget—which claims prodigious results in little time—comes with some associated unhealthy side effects, would using it align with your value system? If you value honesty, how would you deal with an employee who (although the top earner in the organization) is continually caught lying? If integrity and honesty rank higher on your value gauge than financial gain does, you’ll likely terminate employment. If you choose to keep this person, the decision won’t be in alignment with your value system, and there may be fallout.
For some people, leadership comes naturally. For others, it requires a bit of work. As you head down the leadership path, first find the leader within you. Delve into what makes you tick. What are you good at and great at? What areas need some work? Who do you need nearby to help you on your journey? Decide what you want, and make it happen as you stick to your value system. If you wander, you’ll be lost. Some leaders are born and others are made, but all leaders commit to the path of lifelong learning.
In the next installment, we will look at how a leader handles challenging situations.