How to Be a Visionary Leader in the Fitness Industry

Commercial Fitness

How to Be a Visionary Leader in the Fitness Industry

A visionary leader is passionate about their organization, is creative and forward thinking, has the strength and discipline to set and achieve long-term goals, and is able to inspire their team to reach those goals.

In this IHRSA session summary, leaders from the fitness industry share how health club operators can become visionaries in their own right.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speakers

Scott Goudeseune is the President and CEO of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and has 30 years of experience in operations, sales and marketing. As CEO, he is responsible for driving culture within ACE and protecting the organizational values.

Mark Miller is the Vice President of Merritt Athletic Clubs. He is also a recognized speaker and member of IHRSA.

Luke Carlson is the Founder and CEO of Discover Strength, a training studio that offers one-on one and small group training. He is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist and an ACSM Cancer Exercise Trainer.

Rasmus Ingerslev is the Founder and CEO of World of Exercise (Wexer). He serves as the Vice Chairman of IHRSA and the Executive Vice Chairman at Wexer Virtual. He is also a recognized writer and speaker, and the co-founder of the Danish Fitness and Health Organization (DFHO).

Visionary Leadership

What Does It Mean to Be a Visionary Leader?

Throughout history, visionary leaders have emerged. In politics, Mahatma Gandhi became known as a visionary political leader; Alexander the Great was a visionary in terms of the art of war; Einstein was a visionary in thought and science; and, in modern times, Steve Jobs emerged as a visionary leader in the field of technology and software.

The most successful people are often the ones who demonstrate a passion in their work. If you don’t love what you do, you’re probably going to fail, or not be as successful as possible. To run a successful business as a visionary leader, you should first create a team of outstanding people. Be a great talent scout and make your business a place where people want to work.

Define Core Values and Steps to Create Your Culture

Core values are the guidelines which support every decision you make and drive your business in a positive direction. Benchmark your core values against your purpose. Clarity is extremely important when expressing your business core values. Everyone on your team should understand what your core values are and what they look like in practice. Your core values cannot be maintained if your staff is unaware of them and their practical application.

Creating Core Values

Your business’ core values are essentially a set of enduring and guiding principles. They are specific to your business as no two companies are the same. Formulate a series of committable core values, that is, values that are the basis for attracting and hiring quality staff and reviewing processes. Core values should come from the founder but include input from the entire team.

Spend time deliberating your values. Define your values specifically for your business, and communicate them clearly to your staff. Articulate and define each value and use them in everything you do including performance reviews, your hiring process and in all daily executions. Judge your behaviors based on your stated core values.

Execution: How Core Values Relate to Your Business

Everyone within your business should be moving in a defined direction toward a specific goal that stems from your core values. A shared vision should include the entire organization. Each staff member should understand your values and work toward them.

Building Culture: Institutionalize Core Values

It is an accepted truth that culture plays a significant and central role in driving results and accountability within a business.

During the hiring process deliver your core value speech. This will help attract the right employee. Conduct periodic reviews based on your core values. Schedule a yearly state of the company meeting to provide recognition to those who embody the core values of the business.

Identify and implement the organization’s core purpose and strategic niche. This will support your long-term goals and support the need to modify and shape your core values to meet your vision.

Consider the events that must occur for your vision to be fully realized. Align your products, services, and programs with your vision.

Your niche is your particular segment of the market, It represents who you are and what you do. Align your staff in their actions with your values and clearly articulated vision.

Your core purpose defines the reason you exist as an organization. It is compelling. Your values guide your daily actions and strategies as they align with your purpose.

System for Long-Term, Short-Term, and Mid-Range Goals

Successful people and organizations set and achieve goals. Long-term goals, including a plan that articulates your core competencies, will be a component of your success. An alignment with your stated goals should exist within the organization. Your relevant market position is important in conjunction with problems facing the industry, such as retention and hyper-competition.

To reach your long-term goals, select a deadline with a compliance date. Long-term goals are large goals that provide direction for your whole organization for an extended period of time. Break down your long-term goals into workable smaller objectives. A long-term goal of ten years can be broken down into a three-year plan and then a one-year plan. State a precise date for goal attainment, expected profit margins, and other practical measurable factors.

Evaluate Employees and Make Good People Decisions

Hiring process goals should define your staff needs for the specific position. Put potential employees into real world situations to gauge their skills. Understanding what the position is and align that understanding with what you want the position and the staff member to become. This conduct is important when evaluating prospective employees. This approach will enhance your ability to articulate and understand precisely the qualities required for a long-term successful employee.

Develop the hiring process with a team and have a final review. Evaluation should not be only once a year for a performance review. Reviews become skewed if they occur with that infrequency. The process should be ongoing and take place every day. Performance management should be implemented daily and aligned with the purpose and values of the organization. Feedback is an element often lacking in businesses, develop a feedback system drive innovation and reach long-term goals.

Bringing the Vision to the Ground: How to Take Tangible Steps

Tools and Mechanisms:

1. Rocks: Rocks are the 25 most important things that you must accomplish to put you on track for your one-year goal. Check in every week to provide updates and gauge where the team is. Each member in each department should develop 25 rocks each quarter. If 90 percent of the rocks are achieved, the one-year goal will be easily fulfilled as well.

2. Accountability: Every person should have clearly defined key roles. They should understand their responsibilities and that they are accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Regular meetings are very important in this regard.

3. Quality Staff: Work to hire the right players and grow them. Start them off with the right integration. Coach, train, develop, and repeat. Provide a solid career and development path for staff, and continue to develop yourself.

The Need for Expertise

Receiving fitness services from trainers who are competent and skilled is fundamental to a client’s needs. Provide something that members need but cannot easily obtain elsewhere.

Programming is crucial. A good program model – one that is innovative, engaging, fun, science based, lifestyle focused and progressive – will attract members and enhance retention. Variety in programming which includes fun activities which are engaging and draw the client in is important. Offer unique programming that meet the unmet needs of your target audience.

Retention Models

Target potential members and clients who will be your best customers. Map out a specific audience for your program. This will drive targeted lead generation and enhance your marketing efforts. Retention strategies should be built into your enrollment and onboarding processes.

A detailed and thorough sales process works to put every effort into helping members find their way and answer questions. Members are more likely to stay with your club if they feel comfortable and cared for. Have an at-risk intervention in place for members struggling to adhere to their fitness plans. Make your efforts high-touch and high tech with regular follow up. Member failure and dropout rates are high but can be effectively managed with programs in place to help members during struggling periods of failure.

Communication and Marketing Strategy

Good marketing requires department collaboration. Your teams should not be functioning as independent business units but as one coherent organization to improve the member experience and provide retention solutions by addressing member needs.

Create a culture and community within your facility. Provide clients with education and awareness enabling them to take charge of their health and use your resources as reliable and up-to-date. Direct community outreach markets your facility. Grass roots marketing is a successful strategy. Become involved in the community events and charitable work.

Forward Thinking

As you take these suggestions into consideration and continue to develop your own leadership skills, remember to think outside the box. Compare where the industry is now with where it is going. What can you offer that bridges the gap? Be cognizant of the threat of substitution and think in a different way to create unique products and services that will lead you to success.