Many people would call the companies on the Top 100 Clubs list leaders in the fitness industry. In many respects, they are. They have generated the most revenue (at least of the companies that chose to submit). But is revenue the best sign of leadership? You can argue so, but I think a better judge of leadership is innovation. Leaders are those who are in the forefront, bringing new ideas, products, programming, businesses and people to this market. They are companies that you want your company to emulate­ not by imitating their innovative ideas (that would make you a follower) but by emulating their ability to create ideas and then put them into action.

“Companies” are not actually innovators. The innovators are the people within the company, in particular the leader who is responsible for ensuring a culture of innovation. The best leaders not only gather innovators, but create innovators from non-innovators by offering the freedom and the permission to experiment, learn and create.

So what traits do leaders and staff of innovative companies share?

Innovators are good listeners and avid knowledge seekers. They listen to their customers and their staff. They learn about their market, their product, their industry and other industries. By doing so, they are able to spot trends and create opportunities for their company based on those trends before others do.

Innovators are creative, and encourage and nurture creativity in their team. They give their team the tools and support to turn their ideas into reality.

Innovators are open to change and actually seek change, never falling under the misperception that making it to the top leaves no room to improve.

Innovators take risks, knowing they may fail on occasion but also knowing the reward for success is worth it.

Innovators have integrity, so they can operate openly. Leaders at innovative companies ensure that those who work with them also have integrity and share the same values. Those values are stated clearly to employees and customers.

Innovators put their customers first. They never do anything that will harm their customers or betray their trust.

Most importantly, innovators have a goal and a plan. You cannot know where to seek innovations if you do not know where you are going. That does not mean that the goal and the plan cannot change. After all, innovators also are adaptable.

You may look at this list of innovator traits and think that you are not an innovator but a researcher and planner who takes things slowly and follows the trends that others have begun to follow. I challenge you to challenge yourself a bit. Planning and research are good. No one says an innovator should not research and plan. But step outside your typical mode of operation. Find staff members who are innovators. Bring them into monthly brainstorming sessions. Listen to them. Encourage them to think of new ideas. Keep your mind open to those ideas and try some out. Offer your staff rewards for good ideas that translate to great business, and they will reward you with even more creativity and innovation.

And the more creative and innovative individuals you surround yourself with, the more your mind will expand to see things differently, too.