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Being in a supervisory role in any field can prove to have its challenges and rewards. Within the fitness and strength industry specifically, being a woman in a supervisory role within a male dominated field proves to have its own unique challenges. I oversee a predominantly male staff (83 percent male to be exact), and being a leader within this dynamic has definitely taught me a thing or two about how to be an effective leader and gain respect. In this article, I'll discuss four strategies that have personally helped me as a female leader in the fitness industry.

Start with Why

Simon Sinek is an author best known for his concept of the “golden circle” and “start with why.” His Tedx Talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” is one of the top three Ted Talk videos viewed overall. I was introduced to Sinek’s work by my current supervisor, and these concepts have transcended into my leadership style with my staff in a very positive way. I encourage those in leadership positions to watch his Tedx Talk, but in the meantime, I'll summarize the key points for you.

When you look at strong businesses or programs and how they operate, you'll notice key differences between the front runners and their competitors. Sinek uses Apple as a front runner to drive his point home, but we can relate that comparison to our own businesses or programs. The most successful leaders within these front running businesses don't lead with what they can offer or what they make or how they do what they do. They lead with why they do it. As Sinek points out, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

This is a very important concept that I relay to my staff on a regular basis. Why should my staff show up to work every day? Why should they work for me? Explaining your why as an organization to your staff will help your business or program grow leaps and bounds. For example, I oversee student personal trainers at a Big 10 university. Clearly, within the personal training program, we sell personal training packages and sessions. We do that by offering certified personal trainers on staff to assist clients with their goals. All that is well and good, but those two pieces of information tell nothing of our story or the passion behind the program. We offer this service so that we can provide our students with an extraordinary experience that allows them to live a life of balance, physical activity and well-being. We want the students at our university to not only strive for academic potential but build confidence in their physical capabilities. That is our why.

WATCH: Passion Trumps Everything

Passion is the number one expectation that I have of my trainers. Not skill, not persona, not salesmanship. Passion. Like Date Tate preaches, passion trumps everything. I can teach my staff skills and I can teach my staff salesmanship, but I can't teach them how to be passionate. Continuing to express the important of why we do what we do to my staff has allowed everything they do to be viewed as purposeful and important. Therefore, room is created for passion to exist. Without a why, a business or program is passionless.

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Educate, Don’t Dictate

I believe that this strategy is very important, especially for female supervisors, because I've been at fault of this myself in the past. As women in a position of authority, it's very easy for us to go overboard with our tone and attitude in an attempt to be authoritative. Don’t lie—you know it’s true! This obviously doesn't apply to all women, but I'm using myself as an example.

When I first entered a leadership position in college, my understanding of being a good supervisor was that I needed to be tough, not take crap from anyone and tell them who was boss. Maybe this was due to lack of confidence or intimidation of the role itself. Like I said, it's easy to go overboard, but what I've learned over the last few years (granted, I'm young and will continue to learn as time goes on) is that you shouldn’t have to tell your staff who is boss. You should show them.

I strongly believe that if you want your staff to respect you, you need to do two things:

  • Educate them.
  • Lead by example.

These two points are both educational in nature and your staff will appreciate it. Your staff will respect you if they feel that they can and will continually learn from you as a professional and expert in the field. So teach them, invest in them and their future and show them that you're willing to do the hard work alongside them.

Like I said before, my staff is 83 percent male, so when entering this role, I knew I had to go about my leadership in a different way than I have in the past. I knew that if I wanted them to respect me, not only would I need to walk the walk, but I had to teach them how to walk their walk too. My job was to make them the best trainers that they could be and give them the tools to graduate and confidently enter a career they love. I wouldn't be successful if I just sat in my office all day barking orders. My staff would slowly feel unmotivated to do a good job and completely uninspired.

Along those same lines, I think it's wise to make decisions with your staff, not for your staff. The more I include my staff in decisions or changes to the program, the more they feel part of a team and that their input is valuable. My staff knows that at the end of the day, the decision is up to me, but they also know that their voices will be heard on the matter and taken into account.

Turn Discipline Into Development

Personally, I'm a very passionate person, and my emotions can get the best of me sometimes, especially if I'm let down or disappointed. I definitely have to reel it back in when my staff breaks a policy or else my initial reaction would be to fire people left and right. I've found that the best way for my staff to grow from a disciplinary standpoint is for me to turn it into a developmental experience.


If it's brought to my attention that a policy was broken by someone from my staff, the first thing I do is simply have a conversation with that person. I could send him an angry email or threaten to write him up immediately, but that typically isn't the case. Because I meet with and talk to my trainers frequently, they don't view our one-on-one meetings as threatening necessarily, which I think is a good thing. I also don't base our initial conversation off any assumptions. I simply state the facts and allow the trainer to tell his side of the story. Then from there, I form a conclusion of the incident.

From that point, I discuss the following, assuming that a policy was, in fact, broken:

  1. Restate the infraction.
  2. Explain why we have that policy in place.
  3. Explain how that infraction affects the rest of the staff as a whole.
  4. Explain what we can both do moving forward to prevent it from happening again.

This allows the trainer to reflect on the situation altogether rather than look at it as, “I did something wrong and was written up.” Instead, it turns into, “I did something wrong. I know why that policy exists and how important it is, and I now know what to do so that it doesn’t happen again.”

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That's a completely different outlook of the situation, and the experience will help the trainer move forward within his current job and his next one. Unfortunately, not everyone responds to constructive criticism well no matter how you lay it down. Those employees are the type who typically weed themselves out over time. As much as I would love for all my staff to buy into our why, being a strong(her) boss will inevitably entail letting employees go who aren’t on board.

Be Consistent

This is the final point and wraps everything up together quite nicely. All the strategies stated above are great, but they have much less value if you aren't consistent with all of them. Nothing is more frustrating for an employee than when his supervisor says one thing yet does another. That inconsistency is unprofessional and, quite frankly, annoying.

If you're naturally tough and to the point, you need to be that way to everyone every day. If you pride yourself on your open door policy, your door had better stay open. I think you get the point. Being consistent shows your staff that you're confident in yourself and how your business operates. I also believe that within a workplace environment, it's wise to treat your employees fairly, not necessarily equally. I want my trainers who go above and beyond to be rewarded appropriately, and those who don't meet expectations are aware of the discrepancy. If everyone on your staff is created equal regardless of work quality, your staff will have no reason to exceed the minimum requirements. I believe in giving credit where credit is due and it has to be earned. If you're consistent with that practice, your staff will follow suit.

Overall, I've found that by putting more emphasis on these four points, I've created much more buy-in from my staff over time. I don’t want my staff to come to work every day to go through the motions just to get a paycheck. I want them to gain a learning experience. The more my staff understands why they come to work every day, the more they'll appreciate the learning experience that it provides, which, in turn, allows them to develop as professionals. If you go about leadership correctly, your staff won’t have preconceived views due to you being male or female. They will respect you nonetheless.

I hope that these four points provided insight and practicality to all those who wish to become a strong(her) or strong(er) boss.

Photos courtesy of The Ohio State University