By Sonia Ricotti
May 10, 2006

Sonia Ricotti has more than a decade of management experience in the fitness and insurance industries, winning many leadership awards throughout the years. She presents on topics such as leadership, employee retention, sales, personal development and making a difference. She is the the president of Club Training Forum, a consulting, training and development company in the health club industry. She also founded Lead Out Loud, a motivational leadership company that delivers keynote speeches, seminars, workshops and training programs for organizations, conferences and special events. Ricotti can be reached via e-mail at sonia@leadoutloud.ca or by phone at 416-804-1974.

If your employees were interviewed and asked to describe their “ideal” boss, would they describe you?

A key stumbling block to the development of great teams today is often weak leadership skills in the leaders themselves. If you are experiencing high staff turnover, low employee morale and your team’s performance is not where it should be, then it may be time to re-evaluate the situation.

“Staff leave managers not organizations and often would rather work for good managers in poor organizations rather than poor managers in good organizations,” says Sue Browell, author of Staff Retention In a Week.

The good news is that leadership skills can be learned and the old notion that leaders are born not made is outdated. As our population awakens to the notion that there is more to life than work, it is imperative to bring inspiration, purpose and creative freedom to the workplace. As a leader in your health club, it is your privilege to make a difference in the lives and hearts of the people you lead.

The following 11 principles are key to becoming a great leader and to awakening the human spirit in your team at your fitness facility:

1. Take the time to show you care. Cherish your staff. There are many ways of letting them know how much you care. Leave a kind voicemail message to let them know what a great person they are and what a great asset they are to the team. Even a simple card thanking them for all their hard work and caring spirit goes a long way. Also consider taking the time to just say hello and ask them about their families, their hobbies, etc. Also allow them to balance their work, family and overall personal lives. Don’t force them to choose between one or the other. Give them perks such as personal days off and allow them to leave early once in a while.

2. Create a vision. Encourage your employees to become visionaries by getting them involved in your club’s vision and connecting this vision with a sense of purpose. Include their thoughts, ideas and dreams and make it a unified vision.

3. Make room for mavericks. Employees constantly question the rules, procedures, and policies or who always vocalize a better way of doing things are usually seen as “problem” employees or “mavericks.” Many clubs discount and/or ignore what these mavericks say, usually de-motivating them right out the proverbial front door.

The truth is mavericks are the future of your company. They are the visionaries, unafraid to speak their mind and think outside the box. They are the ones who may actually have the answers to a bigger and better profitable future for your clubs.

4. Keep them in the loop. Keep staff informed and be open and honest. Let them know what is going on in the company – the good, the bad and the ugly. Keeping information from them only alienates them, while informing them allows them to feel like an important part of the company.

5. Listen, listen, listen. Stop and listen. Listen to what your employees say. This builds respect and increases morale. Employees who are listened to are more satisfied and loyal to their employers.

6. Respect them. Employees do not tolerate being disrespected for long. Treat them with dignity and respect and value each employee as a person.

7. Empower. Allow them to create, make decisions, take risks and listen to what they have to contribute. They will feel respected, important and their job satisfaction will increase.

8. Keep their jobs interesting. Employees get bored doing the same jobs day in and day out. Include some new tasks or get them to volunteer to get involved in different projects, which will enrich their jobs and their lives.

9. Become a mentor. You should not only be a leader but also a mentor to your employees. Allow them to stretch, grow and learn from you. Help them to achieve their highest potential through regular meetings, training, encouragement, feedback and support.

10. Praise, praise and then praise again. Sincere praise makes an employee feel appreciated and special. Constantly look for ways to praise all employees. Ensure that your praise is sincere, specific, done in front of other colleagues and immediate.

11. Make your club a fun place to work. Create a social committee and to organize fabulous events. Encourage fun, support it and even reward it. When a team plays together, they stay together.

As a leader, you have the honor and privilege to elevate lives, touch hearts and inspire your employees to achieve their ultimate potential. Focus on awakening the human spirit. The transformation you'll see in the productivity, effectiveness and morale of your employees and your fitness facility as a whole will astound you.