Leadership Lessons From My Personal Trainer

Leadership Lessons From My Personal Trainer

Before returning home to the NYC area in mid-August this year, from a 12 month project in Southern California, I worked with a fabulous personal trainer in Carlsbad [Shout out to Denise at FitMonkeys]. To be completely honest, I was not really excited about the training process but I knew that to be the best I could be – and how beneficial it is for mental clarity – I needed to make the financial investment and the time investment and commit to focusing on me three times a week for 55 minutes.

Great leaders are frequently pretty easy to spot. You encounter them in the office, they seem to stand out even in large groups. Sometimes – however – they can pop up in unexpected places. They are people who others want to follow and learn from – especially when it comes to the softer, quieter skills. More than utilizing abstract or pedantic business books or videos, witnessing and learning from real-life experience and interactions – a living and organic leadership lesson is immeasurably more valuable and easier to digest, from my perspective.

After almost every personal training session I could easily – without effort – draw direct correlations of Denise’s behaviors and personality to truly phenomenal leadership qualities – things that I understood and connected with and things that I really admired – some that are even leadership opportunities for me.


IT’S ALL ABOUT INDIVIDUAL CONNECTIONS & KNOWING YOUR PEOPLE: From the moment I arrived in the studio it was all about me. Denise would start the session by asking how I was and what I did since the last session. Each comment and coaching moment was specific to me and my level of efficiency around what we were focusing on that day.

It may be obvious saying that the most effective leaders cultivate personal connections, but it’s easy to lose sight of that as your team grows and your responsibilities and priorities threaten to divert your attention and focus from them. A personal connection in the workplace goes a very long way in today’s atmosphere. During our 55 minute sessions neither of us spent time looking out the window, wasting time. or looking at our phones. We were focused on getting through the program and objectives we’d set for that session. This is extremely relevant to how busy and distracted we are at work. There is always time to focus on the topic and people in front of you and it is empirically important that we are present and involved in the moment – especially when it comes to our people.

INSISTS ON PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY: One of the things that Denise would ask when I arrived for each session is if I did the “homework” assigned to me? Sometimes it would be walking, biking, walking stairs, and/or yoga stretches. If I didn’t do it or only half-heartedly did it…oh boy, would she give me hell [and I totally deserved it].

Great leaders model behaviors that support accomplishment and accuracy in performance. We also need to have that expectation of every single member of our team – to take ownership and primary accountability around their performance and productivity. Though I am now so grateful to be working with a very capable and intelligent group of colleagues, that has not always been the case. There are times when communicating a complicated project to colleagues and team members can take a terrible turn¬† – in that case, when every single person doesn’t execute their portion of the project or objective, or own their results, your team cannot achieve success.

THEY INSPIRE & MOTIVATE, THEY AREN’T BOSSY: Denise was profoundly engaging and interactive and had the prodigious ability to bring context to the moments I pathetically stared at the clock psychically willing it to move faster as I sat on an invisible chair with my back against the wall squeezing a ball between my knees for 45 seconds. She could bring meaning and purpose to these really difficult fitness goals. She could inspire me to hang in there for the next 15 to 60 seconds and why it was so important to work through the challenge.

The best leaders take this same approach. We invite our team members to take on new and challenging projects to achieve the organization’s goal and objectives. We deliver meaning to these projects through open and transparent communication and support. We help them connect the project and it’s results to their overall career goals and path. But much like working out, not every project or accountability is going to be enjoyable or fun, but those assignments that you know can help your team and the individuals grow CAN be fun and deliver a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

THEY ARE PROFOUNDLY PATIENT: If I had $1 for every reminder Denise had to give me to relax my shoulders or place my spine in neutral, I would have covered the cost of personal training and my gym membership two or three times over.

Denise’s patience and ability to consistently – and without frustration – remind me to position my body the right way for the various yoga, Pilates, and weight training was the catalyst for this article. This is an area of business that has ALWAYS been a leadership opportunity for me and one that I really admire in people that possess this really critical soft skill. In a world where people can truly thrive, patience is an invaluable competency to possess. It’s easy to get frustrated or irritated with the world because we often fail to get what we want, when we want it or we believe we are being perfectly clear in our communication but it is confusing and chaotic to some. It’s easy for some of us to become annoyed when someone gives us a quizzical look that we cannot understand because we feel we have explained it multiple times. The lesson of patience was one that I found tremendous value in and it has compelled me to really improve and stretch myself in the last two months. Not everything comes naturally to everyone and we have to be empathetic around our teams competencies and growth opportunities. It is our job to teach and ensure comfort and understanding of all areas of their performance with their career growth and marketability in mind, always.

THEY ARE ADAPTABLE & AGILE: Weekly, Denise and I would review my individual workout plan and tweak or fine-tune it based on my progress so I can work various areas and get the highest impact and results from my week as was possible.

This absolutely applies to leadership and the most effective leaders in the workplace, who insist upon setting cascading and evolving goals and challenges for their team members. These leaders consistently shift and adapt to the changing business needs and priorities. Your team members will absolutely crave robust opportunities to elevate their competencies and increase their visibility and reputation, even if they aren’t terribly vocal about it. The best leaders continuously provide challenge and opportunity for them to learn, grow, and excel.

STAYING POSITIVE: No matter how frequently I whined and complained about my arch-nemesis of workout equipment – the elliptical, Denise would talk me through and encourage me during my ten to 20 minutes of torture so I would feel energized and would know with absolute certainty that despite every burning & trembling muscle in my lower body and my heart feeling like it would burst – I COULD make it to the ten or 20 minute mark and because she believed in me, I believed in myself and above all, didn’t want to disappoint her.

As leaders we make a deliberate effort to express gratitude and encourage our team towards the end goal. My personal trainer really reminded me about the importance of doing so. Work is tough a lot of the time and the best leaders dare to ask more of their team and the individuals on their team than the mediocre or bland “managers” in the workplace. We cannot underestimate the power of simple words, such as: “great job” or “yay, you did it!” as it relates to keeping our teams encouraged and focused on getting to the goal with fabulous results.

THEY TELL YOU WHEN YOU AREN’T DOING SOMETHING CORRECTLY: When it comes to training and exercise one can really get hurt if they are doing things incorrectly. So – referencing my previous example – if Denise had not corrected my shoulder placement or the neutrality of my spine when exercising it could have had uncomfortable consequences. She would let me know – immediately – what I needed to do and why it was important to change position or direction to get the most out of the exercise.

Fortunately, mistakes rarely result in injury in most workplaces, but it is a leader’s responsibility to show and correct performance when it is not aligned with the goals and objectives, especially when a team performs their work collaboratively. We do not do our team members or the organization any favors when we implement hope as our primary strategy that people will figure out their performance errors/mistakes on their own or that their misstep won’t impede the progress or results of the team. We need to speak up every time and show them what right looks like.

THEIR LESSONS ARE LASTING & MEMORABLE: Currently, I workout eight to nine times a week and I am consistently mentally referencing the lessons, reminders, and exercises that Denise taught me.

Great leaders and people who are remarkable at what they do leave a vivid and memorable impression on people they interact with. My personal trainer taught me to find my motivation and my why for showing up for each workout session, she pushed my physical limits, and made sure I knew how to manage my workouts – correctly – on my own. Per her request, I still text Denise when I hit a fitness milestone. As really effective and committed leaders our relationships don’t end simply because we no longer work together. I stay in touch with many of my former colleagues and support them when they encounter challenges or just need someone to listen to them.. Great leaders build lasting and solid relationships based on open communication, respect, and trust.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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