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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Gladstone

Can Gym Etiquette Teach Us About Good Leadership?

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

It’s that time of the year. Gyms are crowded with those who once again are starting on their healthy lifestyle resolution. Whether it’s newbies or regulars who have decided to kick it up a notch, there are new faces and a lot of poor gym etiquette. I started using free weights many years ago. It was a time when no one wore ear buds, people talked and helped each other, and paid attention to what was going on around them. Over the years I’ve noticed that etiquette has gone by the wayside in most gyms. Today, when someone stood directly between the mirror and me for the umpteenth time I realized that there are analogies between gym behavior and leadership.

You don't need to be an ardent gym goer for some of these tips to resonate.

The oblivious member. Most all of my friends tell me they can’t workout without music. If you look around your gym, I would say that is like 90% of everyone there. Unfortunately it has the consequence of lack of awareness about your surroundings. Whether walking in front of people, walking across their mat and equipment, or not realizing those kettle bells you just grabbed off the floor are being used by another member who ran to the water fountain, people don't pay attention to their environment. Do you know what is happening on your team and with your team members? Do you have regular check-ins? Even your superstars need your attention.

The Leadership Fix

  • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with all team members. Have a set agenda so you both know what will be covered.

  • Periodically take individuals to lunch or coffee for a chance to talk outside of the office.

  • For remote team members use Zoom, WebEx or some other app that allows you to see each other. It builds a better sense of connection and people are more open.

The equipment monopoly. I was taught in the weight room that you graciously let people work in while you rest between sets. There are many times I can’t even get someone’s attention to ask if I can work in because they are busy on their phone watching the video that was just sent to them. As a leader, do you monopolize meetings or does everyone have a chance to talk? You might be dominating the conversation without even realizing it, just like the person sits on the gym equipment for 20 minutes (yes I've timed people before).

The Leadership Fix

After opening a discussion item in a meeting:

  • Allow others to share their ideas first.

  • Ask questions to build a deeper understanding.

  • If some people are being quiet, go around the room and ask everyone for input.

  • Summarize ideas from others.

  • Be the last person to share your idea. Studies show that in many environments when the leader is the first to speak, everyone else agrees with them and good ideas don’t always get aired.

The mirror take-over. I took a lot of ballet growing up so my natural tendency is to watch myself in the mirror to make sure my form is correct. I do this whether I’m in the weight room or taking a class. The mirror provides me data and information. Do you provide your team all of the data, tools and information they need to be successful? It’s easy to assume that because someone has been working for you or the organization for a long time, they have everything they need for a new assignment but it’s not always the case. Especially if they are doing something new.

The Leadership Fix

When assigning a project or task, ask questions such as:

  • What questions do you have about this?

  • What do you need from me to get started?

  • Who else do you think you might need to talk with?

  • Is there other information you think you need to complete the project?

The equipment dropper. If you’ve ever watched competitive weightlifting, maybe during the Olympics, you’ll see the athlete drop the barbell when they are done. After all they are lifting many times their body weight. My gym put in shock mats a few years ago so now people who aren’t even lifting heavy weights like to drop them to the mat making a sound that reverberates across the room. This reminds me of leaders who just "drop feedback," seemingly out of nowhere, and sometimes at inappropriate times.

The Leadership Fix

  • Plan your feedback, know what you want to say.

  • If feasible, schedule a meeting instead of having an ad hoc conversation.

  • Use a feedback model to ensure you are providing feedback on the behavior and not the individual. One of my favorite feedback models is SBI: Situation – Behavior – Impact, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Situation – When did you observe the behavior?

Behavior – What did the individual do/not do; say/not say?

Impact – What was the impact of this behavior or action?

These are just a few of my gym observations that relate to leadership. If you want to talk more about this, please reach out!

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