Becoming a Leader in your Fitness Facility

Kevin Mullins | 25 Sep 2020

Contrary to every motivational speech you would find in popular media, leadership is not necessarily loud.  We have all seen an athlete deliver a passionate pre-game speech or marveled at an actor’s monologue in an award-winning film. They are accelerated, in-your-face, and deeply emotional. Powerful analogies captivate, physical emotes convey intensity, and a clear call-to-action moves you. They are powerful expressions of leadership, but they are not the only way in which a leader can create impact.

Effective leaders might emphasize smaller interactions with greater depth, prefer action to words, and avoid being center stage unless necessary. They might prefer to work in the background instead of the limelight.
Leadership can look like having a recurring calendar appointment with someone you are mentoring, showing up earlier than others during challenging times, and maintaining positivity even when negativity consumes everyone else around you. 

Ultimately, leadership is expressed by the unique individual in unique situations, thus demonstrating that there is no one single trait that defines a leader. Yet, as this article will discuss, there are at least 5 areas of excellence that a leader will develop. 

Leadership in Fitness

The fitness industry naturally attracts alpha personalities. It takes a lot of confidence (or blind arrogance) to believe that you can positively influence another human’s life. It requires high self-efficacy and a commitment to self-growth to rise towards the top of this competitive, and at times, misleading industry. 

Every single person with good intention, refined education and skill, and the ability to communicate effectively can become a leader within their market. All it takes is an authentic desire to put others needs ahead of your own (most of the time). 

Some may assume that to become a leader in the fitness industry, specifically their own facility, it requires the step into formal management. Some leaders become managers, but not all managers are leaders. In fact, depending upon the size of your company, it’s quite possible that a management role is less about leadership and more about simply following someone else’s directives by applying directives and structure to those who follow you. 
Management, unfortunately, is not the easiest pathway to leadership in many companies due to the financial responsibilities that such a position places upon its person. Hitting metrics and avoiding downturns in a business model often takes priority over human development. *

* A quick note: This is not a belittlement of managers. There are outstanding individuals in a variety of positions for a variety of companies that are incredible leaders. They can separate the “business” from the “people” with ease and care more about relationships than bottom-lines. Personally speaking, I am where I am because of a manager’s care and attention to my dreams. 

As always in life, a “title” does not define you. You define yourself in your actions and intentions. 


The 5-Step Guide to Becoming a Leader in your Fitness Facility

If you find the desire within yourself to become the leader within your facility, market, and even the industry, then emphasize mastery at every step along the path. Each step is the foundation for the next one, so emphasize the coaching points in each of the five points until they become second nature. Then and only then, should you move forward in the plan. 

1. Be the Best at the Smallest Things

Arguably the most defining characteristic of a leader is what they do (or do not do) and not what they say. While pop-culture makes every leader out to be the perfect speaker with perfect timing, the fact of the matter is that leaders do not overlook the smallest elements of success.

For example, a leader in the fitness space would never be late to a training session or class. How could you possibly motivate everyone around you to become their best if you can’t even show up on time?
More specifically, a fitness leader is someone who achieves the following:

Shows up on-time every time
In uniform with excellent grooming and hygiene
Over-delivers on communication (answer emails quickly, file time-off early, etc.)
Maintains focus and intent throughout their entire “shift” (session, class, etc.)
Meets all requests of management/corporate within time-limit
Demonstrates excellence through preparation (training programs, class layout, etc.)
Seeks growth and self-betterment practices (CEU’s, Books, Seminars)
Never speaks or hears gossip
Clean your space and treat work like “home” even when you are not paid for it
Learns names and details about those they interact with frequently

2. Never Complain Out Loud

A friend, and client, who served as a Navy Seal for nearly twenty years once shared this thought with me during a session as I had begun my ascension into a position of leadership:

“Never let those who look up to you hear you complain. Never let those who rely on you hear you complain either. If you feel the need to complain, then scream into a pillow when no one is looking because when you are a leader, you must be the beacon of hope.”

Those who depend on our example will follow suit, quickly changing culture for the worse if we are heard complaining. To the contrary, a strong leader who avoids this pitfall can galvanize a team, improve the weakest links, and set the sort of example that can last generations in the right organization. 

Those who rely on us as an extension of their own leadership/management will lose trust in us and grow tired of our presence if our only conversations involve complaints and grief. Instead of meeting your superiors with complaints, meet them with solutions you have devised to problems that the team or business consistently faces. 

In the fitness business, it is as simple as having a positive attitude after team meetings when less-than-favorable news is given by management and corporate leadership. It is as simple as listening to your fellow coach’s issues and offering possible solutions versus joining in on the negativity. 

To be clear, you can feel frustrated or not like something that is happening in your facility. The key for a leader is not show it when “on stage”. 

3. Meet Every Situation with Excitement

This is the first action that anyone in the fitness industry can implement to move closer to becoming a leader and serves as an extension of our last point about complaining.

Put simply, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of interactions that are less than enjoyable each week in a busy fitness facility. The typical employee will allow their current state of emotions, exhaustion, and previous experience with a situation impact how they handle the next one.

A true leader will handle every moment with an eagerness to find resolution. A leader must be excited to solve other’s problems for the betterment of everyone around them. Not every problem will have an easy solution of course, but a leader is committed to finding resolution. 

Understand this: 

You have the right to protect yourself and your energy just as anyone else does. The trick for leaders is to begin every interaction with the pure intent to find positive resolution. Unfortunately, many interactions don’t work that way and you must know when to walk away. 

4. Cultivate and Reveal your Passions

People follow real passion anywhere. When you look at some of those most popular (but not overwhelmingly famous) musicians in the world, they are often followed closely by an adoring group of fans. 

Why?

Because there is such heart and passion in their music that it is translated to the fans show after show. That sort of energy cannot be faked and cannot be substituted.

Most fitness professionals have a passion that lies within the various subgenres of the profession. One trainer may love single leg training, while another loves to coach nutrition and change behavior. These sorts of things define us in an otherwise crowded market and serve as the platform for which others may begin anointing you a leader.

Whatever you are passionate about in health, wellness, fitness, and performance, double down on it. Read more about it, attend seminars, watch videos of other presentations, and begin making it a major part of your training methodology (without moving too far from what is proven by science). 

Once you have become the “local master” of your domain, begin sharing it with peers by teaching an internal workshop on the matter, organizing workouts, or creating a special program for your members.

True leaders do not hide what gets them excited. Show your colors and share them proudly!

5. Coach Them “FOR” Them

One of the last, and arguably the hardest, steps in becoming a leader is recognizing that it is not “your way or the highway”. Often, individuals who have succeeded and earn a position of leadership begin coaching everyone under them to repeat their path. 

The best leaders, especially in the multi-verse world of fitness, understand that you need to accentuate the things that make you special, build an authentic brand, and love your life. The best lead trainers or mentors understand that what made them special might not work for the person that they are coaching (just as we would act with a client). 

If you want to become a better leader, then invest the time to understand your peers that have asked for your mentorship. Understand their personalities and goals, discern their extroversion or introversion, and listen twice as much as you coach. Once you begin coaching multiple trainers/team-members at the same time, you should find that you are rarely repeating the same sentiments because everyone is so radically different. 

Closing

Becoming a leader in your fitness space involves doing your job incredibly well, being committed to the growth of everything and everyone around you and remaining humble regardless of how many accolades you receive. Leadership is an earned responsibility that should never be taken lightly. 

If you want to become a leader, then understand that this journey is not about you, at least not directly. It’s about improving everything around you and being the axel for which everything rotates. Follow this 5-principle guide and prepare for your ascension into the most rewarding position in your career – being a leader.

 

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Kevin Mullins

About the author: Kevin Mullins

Kevin Mullins, CSCS is the Director of Product Development for The St. James in Springfield, VA. The author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success is a former EQUINOX Master Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness coach. He has presented for the NSCA, SCW Mania, and contributes content to PTontheNet, other websites, and his own page: KevinMullinsFitness.com.

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