Leadership Muscles: Essential Skills for Fitness Business Owners

by | Jul 11, 2023 | Fitness Business Owner, Leadership | 1 comment

(Last Updated On: July 26, 2023)

 

Uncertainty. And lots of it.  

As a fitness business owner, you’re constantly having to make decisions, many of them being high stakes, and nearly always with a limited amount of information. 

It’s not for the faint of heart.   

Your role as the leader of your business will continually require the mental agility to handle uncertainty and a constantly changing landscape.

Your leadership is important because there are a lot of people invested in you and your decisions. Probably more than you realize.  Many more.  

That’s a big deal, because every day, with everything you do, you are either gaining or losing buy-in from them.

That’s the job. 

To handle it well, a leader must hone their mindset, beliefs, and how you see yourself as a leader. 

At Fitness Revolution, we help gym owners learn to do just that by strengthening what we call our six ‘Leadership Muscles’. 

The knowledge behind the Leadership Muscles comes from a combination of knowledge passed along by mentors, the investments we’ve made in our own professional development (>$500k), and almost 20 years of working with thousands of gym owners.   

By sharing more about these six Leadership Muscles I hope to help you gain some clarity about what goes into your role as a leader, so you can be intentional about your own growth and actions.  

 

Understanding the Leadership ‘Muscles’ as a Fitness Entrepreneur

Think of leadership muscles as the qualities and skills that give a leader the strength and flexibility to effectively guide their fitness business, themselves and others. 

The six Leadership Muscles are: stakeholder awareness, critical thinking, communication, adaptability, a growth mindset, and high agency.  

The 6 leadership muscles are what enable you to navigate the complexities of running your fitness business.

They are what enable you to navigate the complexities of running your fitness business.

When healthy and strong, it might not always be obvious which of the muscles are at work, but they are working nonetheless.  

When the magnitude of a situation is higher, you can typically see what’s happening more clearly. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was an enormous test of these muscles; in many cases it was very obvious which fitness business leaders were equipped to handle the pressure and which weren’t. 

Strengthening these six leadership muscles is an ongoing process, and they are just as essential to building a lasting gym business as cash is. 

 

Stakeholder Awareness: A Strong Foundation

Stakeholder awareness is knowing who has an interest in general or in a particular situation, and what their perspective is. Stakeholders are most likely employees, clients, suppliers, or the local community. But they can also be family members, competitors, other businesses that you have relationships with, etc.  

You then use these perspectives to put together a comprehensive view of the landscape. In doing that, you go from looking through your own singular lens at a situation to seeing it from closer to a 360 degree viewpoint.  You’re now able to make more informed decisions and take stakeholders’ perspectives into account. 

Deep Diving into Stakeholder Perspectives

Every stakeholder comes with their unique set of interests, goals, and concerns. Being able to put yourself in their shoes helps to anticipate their responses and, ideally, in aligning their objectives with your business goals.

Importance of Stakeholder Awareness in Leadership: For leaders, stakeholder awareness is like a radar that helps in navigating through complex terrains.

It can provide invaluable insight when assessing the potential risk and reward of a decision to be made.  You can then create strategies that cater to the diverse needs and interests of different stakeholders.  

Key Questions for Understanding Stakeholders:
Who are my stakeholders?
What is their perspective on the situation?
What are their concerns and motivations?
What do I need to achieve with them?
How do I want them to perceive me?
How do I want them to feel after interacting with me?
What message and behavior will create the desired perception and feeling?
How can I prepare for engagement with stakeholders?


Example of Stakeholder Awareness in Action:
A common example of a lack of stakeholder awareness has to do with raising prices in your gym.  A leader with a lack of stakeholder awareness might assume that everyone will be upset and they will lose gym members when in reality most of their clients would understand the change. A leader with deeper stakeholder awareness might go beyond that and find that some are even willing to pay more for enhanced services or better equipment.

Another Example: How about when multiple stakeholders have conflicting wants or needs?  Let’s say you’re planning to add some new equipment to your gym and you’ve got clients lobbying for their wish list, but your staff is all in favor or something completely different. The leader has to determine what is best for the business, which includes both of these groups of stakeholders.  Should they please their gym staff and explain to the clients why this was the best decision to make? Or, is the best decision the one favored by the clients, which may warrant leading the team in an exercise as to why this was the decision?  

For our purposes in the article, which choice is made is irrelevant. The purpose is to consider how the level of awareness of stakeholders perspectives can be taken into consideration.

Tips for Strengthening Stakeholder Awareness: 

  • Regularly engage in conversations with all stakeholders, and practice active listening. Understand what matters to them, and be empathetic in your approach.

Critical Thinking: The Navigator’s Tool

Handling the speed, complexity, and ambiguity of situations, while balancing the long term and the short term.  You don’t have all of the information you’d like to have, and you sure can’t tell the future, but you’ve got to solve problems and make decisions.

Handling Complexity and Ambiguity

Leaders constantly face situations that are complex and uncertain. Critical thinking enables them to dissect these situations, ask relevant questions, and weigh the pros and cons of different courses of action.

Importance of Critical Thinking in Leadership: Having critical thinking skills allows leaders to be both proactive and responsive. It helps in constructing a mental roadmap to anticipate what lies ahead and develop contingency plans. This foresightedness enables a leader to respond effectively to unforeseen challenges.

Key Questions for Critical Thinking:
What is the underlying issue or challenge?
What information do I have, and what information do I need to get?
What are the potential implications of different decisions?
Are there any underlying assumptions or biases affecting my judgment?
How can I validate the information or assumptions?
What am I not thinking of?


Example of Critical Thinking in Action:
Imagine your gym memberships are dwindling. Instead of quickly attributing it to pricing and dropping rates in a panic or cutting costs, take a step back. Analyze market trends, gather customer feedback, and study competitors. And try to remove emotion and be an objective decision maker. This enables you to make data-driven decisions, perhaps by offering new classes or implementing a referral program.

Tips for Strengthening Critical Thinking Skills: 

  • Regularly challenge your assumptions and encourage your team to do the same.
  • Foster an environment where diverse opinions and curiosity are valued. Encourage yourself and your team to ask questions.  

Communication: The Lighthouse

Communication in leadership goes beyond simply transmitting information; it’s about clarity, direction, and creating a sense of unity for your stakeholders.

Being a Source of Clarity and Direction

Communication in leadership is like a lighthouse guiding ships through fog. It’s essential to communicate not only what is happening but also why it’s happening and what needs to be done. You’re constantly clarifying, re-centering, and reminding. 

Importance of Communication in Leadership: Effective communication builds trust and ensures everyone is aligned with the goals and vision of the business. You are the beacon, guiding your stakeholders through uncertainty.

Key Aspects of Effective Leadership Communication:

  • Gathering Information: Staying informed about all aspects of your business and industry, or a specific situation.
  • Sharing Information: Regularly updating stakeholders with pertinent information.
  • Presence and Behavior: Being accessible, attentive, and behaving in a manner consistent with the values of the organization.

Example of Effective Leadership Communication in Action: Anytime a well-liked staff member in your fitness business leaves, it requires effective leadership communication. Leadership should first openly share the news with empathy, acknowledging the staff member’s contributions. The leader then provides context without oversharing, such as mentioning the staff member is pursuing new opportunities. Finally, it’s important to reassure both staff and clients by outlining the plan for a smooth transition. Transparent and compassionate communication can turn anxiety into appreciation and continued trust, despite the change. 

Tips for Strengthening Leadership Communication Skills: 

  • Develop active listening skills.
  • Practice transparency and openness in communication.
  • Adapt your communication style to suit different audiences.

Adaptability: The Agility Muscle

Adaptability involves the capacity to change to fit altered circumstances. In the rapidly evolving world of business, adaptability is an essential muscle for leaders.

The Agility Muscle in Leadership

Being adaptable means having the flexibility to respond to changes without being rigid or resistant. It entails recognizing when old methods aren’t yielding the desired results and having the courage to break the inertia and explore new approaches.

Importance of Adaptability in Leadership: Adaptability allows you to adjust your strategies in response to changes. It is about being open to change, learning from experiences, and improvising as situations demand.

Key Aspects of Adaptability:

  • Staying attuned to the evolving environment and being willing to modify goals as needed.
  • Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and being open to experimentation.
  • Treating each step as a learning opportunity.
  • Valuing progress over perfection.

Example of Adaptability in Action: When the pandemic hit, businesses that were adaptable fared much better than those who weren’t. They quickly transitioned to remote working, adopted digital technologies, and modified their services to cater to the new needs of the customers. 

Tips for Strengthening Adaptability: 

  • Encourage a culture of innovation and experimentation.
  • Regularly reassess goals and strategies.
  • Develop resilience and be open to learning from both successes and failures.

Growth Mindset: Fuel for Improvement


A growth mindset is the belief that you can develop your abilities and intelligence. It’s the driving force that propels you and your team toward realizing your full potential.

Fostering Continuous Improvement

Having a growth mindset as a leader means seeing challenges as opportunities for growth. It is about pushing the boundaries of what is possible and constantly striving for improvement. It involves encouraging the development of others and recognizing their potential.

Importance of Growth Mindset in Leadership: A growth mindset transforms challenges into opportunities and mistakes into learning experiences.  A growth mindset encourages continuous learning and improvement. It fosters a culture where feedback is valued, and failure is seen not as a dead-end but as a learning opportunity.

Key Aspects of a Growth Mindset

  • Commitment to learning and development.
  • Openness to feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Willingness to take on challenges and learn from failures.

Example of a Growth Mindset in Action: When reading this article, are you looking for ways you can grow as a leader? Or do you believe you’re either born a leader or you’re not?

A growth mindset for fitness business owners transforms challenges into opportunities and mistakes into learning experiences.

Another example: A leader with a growth mindset will see a decline in sales not as a failure but as an opportunity to learn. They will delve into client feedback, reassess their gym’s marketing plan, re-focus on sales training, and experiment with new strategies to drive improvement.

Tips for Fostering a Growth Mindset: 

  • Set learning objectives for yourself and your team.
  • Foster an environment where feedback and experimentation are encouraged.
  • Celebrate not just the successes, but also the learning that comes from failures.

High Agency: Taking the Reins


High Agency is the belief in your ability to shape outcomes through actions, even in adversity. It’s the engine that drives you to forge ahead despite obstacles. It’s having an internal locus of control and taking proactive steps to bring about the desired results.

Being the Architect of Your Own Destiny

Leaders with high agency don’t wait for favorable conditions; they create them. They possess a sense of determination and ownership over their actions and outcomes. Having a high agency means not blaming external factors for failures but taking responsibility and believing in your ability to effect change.

Importance of High Agency in Leadership: High agency is vital for leaders as it instills a relentless drive to find solutions and forge ahead, even when faced with adversity. It’s also about resilience – the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and keep pushing forward.

And as you’ll see below, we consider having High Agency to be of the highest importance.

Key Aspects of High Agency

  • Relentlessness: Persistence in overcoming obstacles.
  • Resourcefulness: Effectively utilizing available resources to create opportunities.
  • Resilience: The ability to withstand and recover from setbacks.

Example of High Agency in Leadership: Think about a gym already facing strong competition, and then yet another competitor enters the market, or one of their existing competitors steps their game up another notch. A leader with high agency doesn’t get disheartened; instead, they focus on finding more opportunities. They might proactively form partnerships, tap into niche markets, or rebrand to distinguish themselves from the competition. They don’t retreat, and they don’t stay status quo. They take a strategic approach and find a way to stay competitive. 

Tips for Developing High Agency: 

  • Cultivate a sense of ownership and responsibility for your actions.
  • Foster a problem-solving attitude.
  • Build resilience by maintaining a positive outlook and learning from experiences.

The Leadership Muscle You Can’t Succeed Without


Just like the rest of the muscles in our bodies, all of the leadership muscles are important and serve a purpose. Just like with our bodies, they all need to be worked and challenged to strengthen and grow.  And just like our bodies, it would be challenging, but I think probably doable, if one of them were either missing or just incredibly weak.  

However there is one leadership muscle that I just don’t think a person can successfully grow a business without. I’ve never seen it happen, and I can’t imagine a scenario where it could happen.  And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking to other people about this.  

I’m not a psychology expert.  I’m speaking from the experience I’ve gained over working with thousands of fitness business owners.  

Here’s my take:

I don’t think you can make it with a low sense of agency.  

I hate saying ‘never’ about anything, so I’d really like to say there’s at least probably some kind of way…but…I just don’t see it.  

Here’s why:

The uncertainty in business is constant, and there’s one obstacle after another.  If a person doesn’t have high enough agency to take responsibility for turning the obstacles into opportunities, and the grit to weather the obstacles when they just keep coming – I don’t see how they can be successful.  

I simply don’t see any path of business ownership that doesn’t require that. 

As I’ve said though – every one of these muscles can be developed.  It can take some work, and getting some help and support makes it easier and faster.  But that’s ok, because you’re not afraid of hard work, and you probably understand how valuable investments in yourself can be.       

 

Bringing It All Together


Let me say this: if you have any type of vision or ambitions for yourself and your business, you will not reach them without working on your leadership.

Strengthening these six Leadership Muscles is an ongoing process, but the rewards are absolutely immense. 

And remember, as a leader, your growth is instrumental in guiding your business and all those who rely on your decisions. It’s the foundation of The Core Four

When you start being intentional about strengthening your stakeholder awareness, critical thinking, communication, adaptability, a growth mindset, and high agency, you’re leveling up your ability to handle the uncertainty and complexities of running your fitness business.

What’s unique about our coaching program at Fitness Revolution, is that we work to develop BOTH the business owner and the fitness business. If you’d like to learn more about how we do that, schedule a call.

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Author: Nick Berry

Nick Berry is an accomplished entrepreneur, CEO, mentor, and author, with a track record which includes founding and leading numerous companies to success since his first venture in 2002. Nick Berry is the Founder and CEO of Fitness Revolution.

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