You're due to make an airplane flight in one hour. The airport is still 20 minutes away, and you're stuck on a major highway in a very slow-moving boondoggle of cars and trucks going nowhere.

What do you do? How do you react? How do you feel?

Many of you might change lanes as soon as possible. Some may try to find an alternate route by squeezing over to the next lane so you could get off at the next exit. Others might simply sit there, stew, honk the horn in frustration, give up and get ready to blame someone.

I call the above “traffic jam management.” Here's the funny thing: you can't manage the jam, but you can manage yourself. As I think about it, many club operators manage their facilities as though they're in traffic jams every day, meaning that they react rather than act. They wait for the event to happen before they then recklessly decide what to do. They don't take responsibility for who they are in the midst of circumstances.

What about pre-planning? Did it occur to them to call ahead to find out what traffic was like on the way? Did they map out alternate routes “just in case?” What about GPS or turning on the local traffic station prior to entering a possibly congested area? Or how about any of a half-dozen other innovative solutions including the possibility of calling the airline and telling them what's happening and asking for a rapid check-in once they arrive?

Maybe one in 10 people will do one of the above. Most will go straight to “reactive management.” That's what I accuse 90 percent of health club operators of doing these days — reacting rather than acting.

But, you say, it happens. Circumstances arise. You really can't do anything about it. You're a victim of an unmanageable situation. It's not your fault. Oh yeah?

Many business managers routinely practice traffic jam management. Here are some of the tell-tale signs that you are reacting:

  • You look for reasons why it happened

    That's helpful only in retrospect to try to learn something for the future that maybe won't even be repeated. Not very useful, though, because most of us look for why as a way to blame someone or something else.

  • You carry it with you the rest of the day

    “If that hadn't happened, this wouldn't have happened…and then this wouldn't have taken place. My whole day, which started off great, got ruined.” Here's the problem with this one: you not only carry it with you the rest of the day, so does everyone else who comes in contact with you.

  • You get angry and then try to control your anger

    After all, you're the boss. You have to be in control. You have to set a good example. The obvious problem with this reaction is that your focus is on anger — even resolving anger is about anger — and not about how you can respond to the situation and solve it.

  • You take it personally

    This retort is often accompanied by “Why do these things always happen to me?” or “Just my luck!” Your challenge is to make even the worst of circumstances work for you.

  • You make somebody wrong

    This comeback is the prize of prizes. It assumes two things: 1) that you are intellectually superior to everyone else on the planet and that if they would just come up to speed, then the world would work perfectly all the time; and 2) that there actually is someone to blame for everything that happens — and it's seldom, if ever, you.

We're not very adept in modern society at applying common-sense principles to everyday happenings. We tend to look for the deeper meaning. We forget to address the current situation and move on from there. In other words, most managers are either mired in the past or stuck in anticipation of the future. It might be useful to attempt to deal with now rationally, maturely and effectively. We might see a lot better results in health clubs — for managers, employees and customers — if we just practiced some elementary sanity.

Did it ever occur to you to allow an additional half-hour to get to the airport? To expect the worst and act as though the best is going to happen anyway? Try it. It might just work.

Or maybe you like traffic jams.

(Author's Note: A personal thank you to all of this column's readers who sent condolences to Phyllis and me following the death of our daughter, Susan. Your thoughts were much appreciated.)


Michael Scott Scudder is a 30-year veteran of the fitness industry. He is a personal business trainer operating Fitness Focus, a consulting company that offers private workshops on pertinent fitness business matters. Questions and comments are welcomed by Michael at 505-690-5974 or mss@michaelscottscudder.com.