Leadership through crisis

How to Lead Your Fitness Business Through Change

As a business owner, you’re the captain of your own ship, manning the helm whether the skies are clear – or the storms are raging.


Being a good leader may look easy from the outside, but once you’re in that position you realise that it’s a complex interplay of yourself, others, and the wider business. Add the turbulence of a change process and the challenge of good leadership goes up a notch.

Here are some fundamental traits that characterise good leadership – leading the self; leading others; and leading the business – in that order.


Before you can even think about setting the direction for your team and your business, you need to start by leading yourself. This means understanding the psychological journey you go through when change happens; taking care of yourself as these phases unfold; and creating a foundation of resilience that you can use as a platform for leading others and the business.

Here are some key steps to leading the self:


Real leadership of the self starts with understanding. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? How you react to certain situations? What are your engrained thought patterns and behavioural habits, and how might they serve or hinder you in different contexts? Having this basis of self-perception is vital if you want to be a solid leader. Without this bit, you’re in danger of becoming a big ego – with a big hole in the middle of it.

“Practice what you preach.”


Any change process will be traumatic to some degree. This is because change causes us to challenge the things we think we know about ourselves, our coping mechanisms, and our habits. It’s only when we confront these that we can open up the potential for developing them.

The important bit here is that we need to acknowledge how difficult this can feel, and then give ourselves the necessary time and support required to make the change – in a way that serves our objectives, and sticks in the long term. It’s the same principle as our clients coming to the gym to lose weight, or gain muscle, or get fitter; in order for these things to happen, they need to change their routines, their habits, and sometimes their self-image. Taking a punitive approach to these changes isn’t helpful. Instead, we support the client to take small steps through the change process, consolidating each one before moving on to the next.


Leading the self requires you to have a sharp focus on where you’re going. If you’re facing change, maintaining the status quo isn’t enough. New situations require new skills, new capabilities, and new knowledge. What’s the destination for yourself here? Where do you need to get to in order to facilitate the overall vision?

Let’s take the Coronavirus pandemic as an example. This may have required you to pivot and take your offering online. So what qualities are needed?

You may need to develop your ability to be calm in the face of uncertainty and high stress. Do you need to take more quiet time to contain these difficult feelings – to meditate, go for a walk, or spend time alone exercising or thinking? You may also need to develop technical skills around programming for at-home workouts, or the technological demands of delivering a workout online. An awareness of these is essential if you want your objectives for the business to succeed.


With your own headspace and development under control, you can consider leading others. This could be your team; your family; your clients; or your community – the principles are still the same.


One of the key foundations of solid leadership is the ability to communicate clearly. This means you need to have your plan and approach clear on your own head first – and then be able to translate this with clarity and focus.

Role Modelling

When it comes to leading others, you need to practice what you preach. If you’re encouraging your clients and your staff to eat well, exercise regularly, and look after their mental health (for example), do the same yourself. Leaders are in the spotlight, and any discrepancy between the way you act and what you say will be picked up pretty quickly – and undermine your integrity.


Through any change process, people will always be the most important part of the picture. In the fitness industry, your people ARE your business – and this goes for both staff and clients.

Whatever plans you make, whatever paths you tread, make sure that you look after the individuals who stand by your side. Think proper communications to get staff onboard with new plans; think staff development and compensation; think client processes that really resonate with what they’ve expressed that they want and need.

At every stage, think through what you need to do to put both your staff and your clients in the middle of your decision-making process. Without them, the business is nothing.


The art of reciprocity or ‘give-and-take’ underpins any relationship, including the one between you and your staff (and you and your clients). When change puts stress on these relationships, maintaining this balance is vital.

In practice this means both giving and expecting respect and commitment. Don’t settle for anything but the best from your team, and be 110% committed yourself. For clients, go the extra mile to give them a truly personalised and outstanding experience – and don’t be afraid of being transparent about how important they are, and how the relationship is mutually beneficial.

“Change will become the new normal – leaders need to be strong and adaptable to succeed.”



Leading others without vision is the blind leading the blind. And any leadership situation is ramped up if it’s occurring at a time of transition or change. In turbulent periods, having clear vision is more important than ever.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to have a long-term plan. The current Coronavirus situation, for example, has cast the future into doubt. When there’s major uncertainty ahead, concentrate on the timescale that you CAN rely on first, and sketch out the broad strokes of what comes after.

For example, uou may know that for the next month your business will be operating predominantly online: so you can have a clear vision of what that looks like. The future beyond that may be unsure, so you can do your research and establish the principles of how you’ll handle it. For example, you may not know when gyms will be allowed to reopen after the Coronavirus pandemic, but you can have a vision for an online offering that supports your business now – and that has the potential to add value to your client base once face-to-face contact can resume.


Being a business owner can feel like a lonely road. But the most successful people make a virtue of surrounding themselves with people who can support them – and get support from them – on the journey. Find a group (like our IFBA Leadership Group) who understand your challenges and are treading similar paths to you.

A thriving business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Having a lively group of contemporaries (and competitors!) to bounce ideas off and challenge what you think you know is a great way to keep your eyes on the horizon – and to keep moving forward.


If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s proven that everything can change in a matter of days, and that in order to survive, the fundamental processes and relationships that underpin the business must be both flexible and excellent.

In the months that come, the fitness industry is likely to keep evolving quickly. Change will become the new normal. The only way to emerge from each of these disruptions stronger than before is to be agile – to react decisively to new situations and continue to develop core principles, people, and processes that the business both strong and adaptable.

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