How to be a Leader in Your Own Organisation

Personal Training

How to be a Leader in Your Own Organisation

By Carla B. Sottovia, PhD, Precor Master Coach and Director of Education at the Cooper Fitness Centre

Career-track fitness professionals are often provided opportunities to take on leadership positions as managers, directors, or even business owners. If you are faced with a new role and responsibilities, you may be asking: do I have what it takes to be a great leader among my peers and organisation? What do great leaders have in common?

Most experts would agree that it takes both talent and hard work to develop leadership skills. Although one’s natural ability to lead may be an asset, it takes dedication, passion and caring to become a true leader. Some common traits of great leaders include:

  • Visionaries: A great example of an industry visionary is Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of Cooper Aerobics 46 years ago. He started his legacy as a pioneer in preventive medicine. His mission has been to enhance the quality and quantity of life of all through a healthy lifestyle. Through decades of research and data collection, he has proven that exercise is the key to longevity and an enhanced quality of life. His work has impacted millions of lives worldwide. He is mostly known as the “father of Aerobics” and firmly believes that exercise is medicine.
  • Versatile and adaptable to change: Versatility and adaptability are keys to longevity and success in one’s career. Professional trainers must regularly take the time to learn new skills to enhance their knowledge and stay up-to-date on changing trends. New skills might be earning a new training or wellness coach certification, studying a new technique like Pilates, or becoming a mentor.  
  • Good listeners: Behavioural scientists agree that good listeners are attentive to what others say, show empathy, and do not judge.  
  • Great communicators: Along with being good listeners, great communicators exhibit confidence, enthusiasm and expertise. You can likely recall a presentation or workshop that you attended that had a captivating speaker. The same applies to your presence when you interact with others, whether that is in a larger workshop or a one-on-one meeting. Make sure you are always prepared, ready to listen, and ready to show passion.
  • Great role models: As the saying goes, “Walk the talk.” Whether you are a trainer, instructor, manager or director, be the example of what you want your clients, peers and co-workers to be and do. For example, it’s hard for a client to accept feedback from a personal trainer who tells her to increase her nightly sleep by one hour if the trainer herself only gets five hours of sleep.

As a 35+ year veteran in the fitness industry and a professional in the same organisation for 30 years, I have seen many rise to stardom. One such example is the journey of Brad Wilkins, the VP of Operations for Cooper Aerobics Enterprises (CAE). Brad started out as an intern in our fitness department freshly out of college. At the end of his internship he was hired as a Professional Fitness Trainer. Brad was a very focused young professional and quickly developed a large clientele. Although Brad enjoyed training, his passion had always been in the business side of things. He realised that if he wanted to move up to management he needed to get more experience and training. While still working as a trainer, Brad started his MBA programme. Little by little he applied his new skills and knowledge back to our fitness department (such as tracking our equipment maintenance, purchasing of new equipment, etc.). He was later promoted to Assistant Fitness Director and eventually, after graduation, to Fitness Director. Under his guidance our PT annual revenue jumped threefold, from one million to three million dollars. The rest is history as Brad was then promoted to Assistant General Manager, General Manager, and eventually Senior VP of Operations for Cooper Aerobic Enterprises.

If you’d like to transition into a greater leadership role, take a moment to reflect on where you are, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there. For example, if your goal is to transition from being a personal trainer to a Fitness Director, reflect on, or write down, your current strengths and weaknesses. Then consider what skills would be required to be successful in your future position. Recognising your weaknesses in particular will help guide you on areas for professional development so you can be successful in a new role:

For example let’s assume that your list looks something like this:


  • Technical coaching skills                       
  • Highly educated                     
  • Great role model                         


  • Planning a budget
  • Enforcing the rules
  • Communication

As you continue to thrive on your strengths, take the steps to work on your development areas. In the above scenario, you might look for opportunities to assist your current supervisor with the budget process, lead a staff meeting, or assist with new staff orientation. As you develop new skills, remember to always ask for feedback!

On a final note, if you are already in a leadership role, take the time to observe, acknowledge, and groom potential leaders in your organisation or department. Pay close attention to those who:

  • Show interest in creating or assisting the launch of new programmes
  • Seek outside training and education to better their skills
  • Bring forth new ideas that may benefit the department
  • Go the extra mile for the good of the department

Remember, it is easier and more cost-effective to invest in your current assets than to find new ones!


As a future leader, focus on the following:

  • Map out your vision for your growth within your department/organisation
    • Where are you today?
    • Where do you want to be?
    • How will you get there?
  • Expand your technical skills: be versatile!
  • Map out a plan to improve your development areas.
  • Lead by example among your peers, co-workers and clients.

Author Information

Carla Sottovia
Carla Sottovia's picture

Carla is an international veteran leader in the fitness industry with more than 30 years dedicated to helping individuals achieve their path to personal wellness, fitness, and overall quality of life. She is currently the Director of Fitness & Personal Training Education for the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas, Texas, as well as the founder & president for Mwove Education. Carla was the IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year in 2005 and the Program Director of the Year in 2014.

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