How to be a leader?

Question mark intended. Honestly, I really don’t know…at least I didn’t.

This is something that many Pilates studio owners may question in themselves, especially as new labor laws now require studios to move to an employment model from independent contractors.

Until last year, studio owners primarily staffed their businesses with independent contractors that had complete freedom to come and go as they please based on client scheduling. The business operations were never a concern of the contractor, and the owner never had to think about how to motivate and inspire their staff to develop themselves within a company structure that maintains and hopefully grows the bottom line.

I am no different. I had ample business experience and a bustling client roster when I opened my studio five years ago, but I had never employed people nor had to nurture their development alongside growing the business. While I was most concerned with making sure all my staff would always be paid, I assumed that if I offered a nice place to work, that would be enough.

Flash forward, and business is better than ever and thankfully I still have the same staff! I now have the time to calm the hustle and really look at what my team needs, what inspires them, and what will keep them motivated to excel in their valuable role within the studio.

Last week as I pondered where to start with being an inspirational leader, I realized that I really have no idea. In my previous work experience in Advertising/Marketing, I had a wide variety of leaders that used many different strategies to influence. In most cases, the modus operandi was to lead by intimidation. If this is all I know, is this what I have learned? If so, then I must do better.

While I am not about to pretend to be the authority on how to be an effective leader, what I have learned so far in this endeavor is this…

1) Listen more and talk less.

I have never been accused of being at a loss for words EVER. However in all that talking, I have missed the opportunity to learn what my staff truly needs and to really get to know them. I always thought no one was telling me anything, but really I just wasn’t listening. I have recently learned (like last week) that if I just sit back and listen, my staff will share and share and share, and I will have all the answers I need.

2) Keep the lines of communication wide open.

The truth is that people won’t come to you if they don’t feel that they will be heard, acknowledged or considered. Regular communication is important. Stopping mid-task to have a conversation is valuable time to engage with staff. Planning consistent and regular opportunities for the team to get together is not an inconvenience for staff, as I previously thought, rather it is actually a great chance to empower the team and get them on board.

3) Give your staff the tools to be successful…not just the stuff but also the important information.

Information is key. The more they know, the better they will be at communicating those things to clients. As a business owner, I can say that I always believed that my job is to make all the tough decisions related to the business and to just get my staff to follow the procedures. You know when your Mom would say “Cuz I said so”? Well, I can tell you that doesn’t work in business, at least not for long. If the team understands the why, they are able to support the decisions made for the business, and to carry them forward to effective implementation.

4) Give respect if you want respect.

As they say, treat others as you wish to be treated. It really is that easy, at least in theory, but sometimes harder in practice for a business owner. I can’t say how to do this better for yourself other than just to keep this in mind, just as I also need to do in every communication with my staff. Before sending an email, read and reword to soften the language so it is not bossy but informative. Be less of a dictator and more of a collaborator.

This has been quite the learning experience so far, and I am eternally grateful for a loyal, extremely talented and patient group of people who are willing to stick with me as I learn, even when I am not perfect.

It’s amazing what happens when you take a moment to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Written by
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, NCPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

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