6 Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned

Going from just the two of us (cue Will Smith) in a single boathouse to a team of sixteen and three gyms over the last seven years has provided me a crash course in leadership. Along the way, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons.

Here’s a short list of six that stand out to me.

Micro Management is Not the Enemy

It’s smothering people in the pursuit of it.

Somewhere along the way the beautiful thing called process and procedure became caricature-ized and then obscured by the likes of Bill Lumberg manifestations around the world. Most people are so terrified to be labeled as micro-managers that they overdose autonomy in hopes of not being annoying to their team.

That’s a gigantic mistake.

Governing the process and ensuring consistency is paramount to success. Checklists, procedural cues, and accountability need to start at the top and work their way across the ranks. For example, we have a closing checklist and a checklist for how to welcome new trials. They both work, so we’re not interested in either being strayed from. We want consistent adherence and we communicate exactly that. Our team kills this so very rarely do we need to huddle up about it, but if it strays then we will observe and correct.

By definition, that is micro management, but from where I sit, it’s effective leadership. Not every part of every job has to be roses and rainbows. We all have mundane aspects of our work. That’s allowed.

You never want to be constantly looming over people’s shoulders and telling them how to do their job, but you must ensure consistency of procedure.

Without it, you have no consistency of experience.

Fight for Individualism

Having procedures in place and allowing individualism are not mutually exclusive. The two don’t have to conflict with one another. If you’re doing it right they should exist in perfect harmony.

For example, in our Level 1 Coach’s Manual we lay the groundwork for behaviors and coaching principles. There’s a formula here that’s been carefully refined over the years, and we expect it to be followed. However, not everyone executes it in the same delivery and style. In fact, it’s critical to our success that we don’t.

The ability for our coaches to relay different communication styles, cues, and varying sets of eyeballs is an insurance policy against our own stagnation. If I went to the class run by four different coaches (and I do) and received the exact same script from all four I’d consider it a failure.

Predictability is boring and incredibly effective, but I don’t want every single step of service here to be robotic. I like a little chaos and variability. No thank you to the Truman Show. I want people to express themselves, to be themselves, and to wear their personality on their sleeve. We don’t have a dress code (tried it, hated it), we don’t govern music (for now) so if my boy Coach Kyle wants to play Dave Matthews during the warm-up, the decision for that to be changed will come from his classmates, not from me. I prefer an environment where feedback is not exclusively top down, but multi-directional.

The strong qualities some love in a coach might be the same qualities that repel others. I have no interest in diluting that. After all, I fall into that category myself but I have always been a believer that authenticity ultimately wins out.

When I get a disgruntled email from a member regarding a coach, I always stick up for them in the name of, “We’re all different here” (assuming of course, there wasn’t a major issue). Any blow back I might receive from members for that is far outweighed by the team satisfaction in being individuals, the resulting confidence that comes from that expression, and the experiential variety the vast majority of members prefer.

If people want collared shirts and a censored experience, they wont’ find it here.

Render Your Daily Presence Obsolete

I can vividly remember the decision to reduce myself from the coaching schedule five years ago. Most of you reading this likely have no idea that I’ve coached over 3,000 classes here and once upon a time pretty much coached everything. When the time came for me to begin stepping away, I wanted to vanish from the day to day scene as fast as was realistic without that process becoming detrimental.

It had nothing to do with not wanting to be here in the flesh. I still work ninety hour weeks and think about the gym and how to improve it every waking second. It was based on the fact that if I lingered, my presence would overshadow everyone else’s, and I would be setting up every coach up to fail  that came after me.

If I lingered, the gym would have continued to be “Dave and Pritz” and not “Performance360”. For years, that’s what it was. It was him and I. However, that is not a long-term model for success. There’s a laundry list of places that fail the minute the owner operator isn’t at the wheel for everything.

We decided to turn ourselves from humans into a process and trusted it to yield outstanding people who would carry the torch and project the values we envisioned for the gym.

Now, most members have no idea who I am when I walk into the room. I am no longer micro manager of the parts, but macro manager of the whole and it’s allowed both pieces to thrive more than ever.

Our people are now the stars of the daily show, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Be a Curator, Not a Dictator

The first five years we opened I dominated the room when it came to staff meetings. In the beginning, that was necessary as we were still finding our footing and how I wanted things to be run in our culture. However, I hung onto that a year or two too long and begin to create stagnation.

At this point, I don’t care to try and dole out fitness education. I have a wonderful Head Coach for that. My aim is to coach and lead the staff from a philosophical level and behavioral approach.

These days, my goal in meetings is to set the tone, get out of the way, and then come back and curate all of the thoughts into takeaways we can collectively incorporate. I don’t wish to dictate any longer. I strive for collaboration and the end product has been much, much better. There is greater ownership of tasks, more interest in growth, and a far better team culture than we’ve ever had.

The variable most directly involved in that shift is the reduction of my voice.

Encourage Provide Growth

I got tired of looking for avenues to encourage staff growth, so we created an internal system complete with different coaching levels. When coaches hit certain benchmarks for classes coached and years on the floor (assuming their performance reviews score high enough), they are eligible for an increased level (and increased compensation). To achieve it, it’s a project that takes anywhere from a few weeks (Level 2) to a few months (Level 3).

The purpose of this is two part. First, to ensure that our coaches all continue to have the principles that we want reinforced impressed upon them. Second, to give coaches opportunity to grow, enhance expertise, and then re-purpose it to making us better. Meaning, I have found that as coaches climb the ladder their knowledge and confidence grow, and they begin speaking up and sharing observations that lead to real improvement. If there is no tangibility to growth, there is no sense of accomplishment that leads to this important staff confidence.

Combined with a mandatory stipend each coach gets for outside education, we’ve yielded an environment and culture where the status quo is only acceptable for so long.

If our people aren’t equipped with the knowledge and skill set to challenge how we do things, then the system is broken.

Pair the Objective with the Subjective

We’ve had a member quit the gym because t-shirts were too expensive. Another quit because she had to share a barbell. Another yet because she didn’t like that we started a Coaches Academy. People have requested everything from class times to a complete re-pave of our the parking lot.

Everyone has their individual preferences. Class times, coaching styles, music, equipment, soap, placement of chalk, you name it. This feedback is of value, but is based on subjective opinion.

Then, there are facts and data. Attendance metrics, programming results, conversion percentage, cancellations, times of day most people are likely to join the gym, etc. These are objective facts.

They exist in an art versus science dichotomy, but don’t have to be adversaries of one another. Both are very important in maintaining a collaborative environment, but objectivity should drive the vast majority of updates.

The more folks you have, the more suggestions, criticism, “great ideas”, and subjective feedback will be thrown your way. It’s all fair game, and once you open up the door that you’re a collaborative environment, the only way to make that work long term is to filter subjective opinions with objective facts.

Saying yes to one’s person idea likely means that another person gets pissed off when you implement it. What works for some won’t work for others, so you have to be very, very careful on implementations based on subjective feedback. Very few subjective suggestions are a net environmental win because of one one indisputable fact: personal requests are born from personal desire, thus are inherently selfish. The subjective can turn into objective with enough voices, which is why you always want to keep ears open, but you can’t knee jerk to singularity.

You are the one with access to the entire picture and the aggregate of both the subjective and objective. Use sound reasoning, not fearful submission.

Subjective feedback should be heard and filed, while objective feedback leads the way.

I hope that you enjoyed this list. More to come soon.

-Dave

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