“As a young and newly appointed general manager of an exclusive multisport health club, I felt inexperienced, chronically behind in my tasks and alone. I needed to find someone outside the walls of my club and the world of fitness in whom I could confide—someone I could talk to about the formalities of my job, which I was now obligated to keep from the employees who were once my trusted peers. The ‘promotion’ I had worked so hard to obtain had quickly become a personal obsession through which I found it difficult to navigate.
“I found a mentor—a woman I respected a great deal for her accomplishments in business. She was an executive for CBS when women were typically not offered leadership positions. She had a keen sense of business, an understanding of organizational structure and firsthand knowledge in navigating corporate politics as a woman.
“Together, we discussed my leadership tactics and evaluated the systems that had been implemented; she listened to my stories of employee and member challenges to help me become a better communicator and decision maker. It was very satisfying to gain insight into situations that were new territory to me but familiar roads to her. Through her guidance, I became more effective at operating the
facility and my team of managers. I grew a great deal as a person, as a leader and in my role as general manager, as a result of selecting a mentor who could steer me through the business and the corporate politics. This management mentor relationship inspired me to seek broader roles in management and advise others as a fitness director. Using a mentor was a pivotal point in my career, and I hope to be that beacon for others who may feel stuck. I am passionate about teaching, guiding and sharing my knowledge with fitness managers to improve our industry and develop individual leadership skills.”
This tale of being overwhelmed and in need of assistance was my own experience as a young manager—but it is a tale familiar to many new (and some not so new) managers in the fitness industry. On a day-to-day basis, they face challenges from four primary sources: consumers, employees, peers and senior management/owners. The constant need to please and appease opposing factions can be draining. Instead of managing the processes and procedures of daily operations, new managers often become sidetracked managing people. As a result, no progress is made.
What’s more, health clubs traditionally tend to promote their most successful personnel from frontline positions, thrusting them into management roles with minimal or no business training. In our industry, these employees generally have exceptional interpersonal skills but little business experience, especially outside fitness.
Finding a management mentor may be just the ticket if you are a new fitness manager struggling to stay afloat in a sea of personnel and personal challenges. It can help you step outside the realm of daily club activities and benefit from lessons learned by others who have successfully navigated the world of management before you.
A management mentor can help you not only to learn the business of fitness but also to think in broader and more global terms. He or she can share skills from the businesses of finance, operations and organizational strategy and can help you learn from his or her past experiences in the areas of leadership, development and communication.
Consulting a management mentor can bring a fresh perspective to common practices within any fitness facility. As the saying goes, it can sometimes be difficult to see the sun through the clouds. An outside opinion can offer a new perspective and shed a beam of light when your own vision is unclear. A mentor can also honestly assess the state of your business without emotional or personal attachment to your organization. This critique will be invaluable when you are laying out plans for future business improvement and also when it comes to your own ability to assess yourself.
A skilled and honest mentor will provide alternative solutions to common practices. Any organization can get stagnant in its systems, procedures and approaches to everyday challenges. Your management mentor can recommend new strategies and ideas, which will likely result in new or improved outcomes.
Carefully selecting your management mentor is the most important step, as you want to create a relationship of trust and mutual respect. First, choose someone whose level of achievement shows excellence in his or her particular field of expertise. (It is not necessary for that field to be related in any way to fitness. In fact, many would say it is best to seek advice outside the fitness industry to get a new perspective. See more below.)
Next, look for a person who is or has been in a position of leadership and has successfully managed others. Then, select someone whom you highly respect, both personally and professionally. Finally, make sure that the individual truly respects you as a person, a leader and a friend and is committed to your future success as a manager.
A mentor who is part of the fitness industry will prove valuable in bringing a level of understanding about traditional practices and organizational structure. You won’t need to waste time explaining current fitness industry challenges and roles. On the other hand, a mentor who comes from outside the fitness industry will bring vast knowledge and experience of other tried-and-true business formulas, solutions, systems, procedures and approaches to your challenges. Both types of mentor will offer guidance, support and insight; you will need to select the person who can offer you the most professional growth.
Your growth and professional development can be greatly enhanced by a management mentor relationship. A mentor can inspire, challenge and direct both new and experienced managers. A skilled mentor can ask provocative questions, inspire thought, stimulate reflection, tap discovery and generate new intelligence to direct your actions and accelerate your success as a fitness manager.
There are really no boundaries to the discussions you should have with a skilled management mentor. Of course, you will need to establish a level of confidence with your mentor prior to discussing any sensitive issues or making any career-altering decisions. But once that trust is established, a mentor can lend valuable advice on many business and personal topics.
To get the most from the mentorship, address specific projects, challenges, conflicts, projections and opportunities that you are dealing with in your role as manager. Describe in detail any solutions or action plans you are considering for the projects or challenges at hand. Then brainstorm with your mentor and visualize each solution or plan through to its logical conclusion to predict the likely results.
Prepare what you will discuss with your mentor before you meet so that you don’t waste anyone’s time. To get the best results from each session, follow these simple steps:
1. Articulate and write down your specific and measurable goals.
2. Role-play with the mentor to visualize scenarios to their intended outcomes.
3. Create task lists of steps needed to accomplish projects.
4. Conduct regular meetings with the mentor to review progress and to build commitment to the relationship.
5. Celebrate victories and reevaluate failures together.
Douglas, C.A. 1997. Formal Mentoring Programs in Organizations: An Annotated Bibliography. Center for Creative Leadership.
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