Saying goodbye to Gold’s: Lessons from managing in the fitness industry

Today is my final day working with the amazing team at Gold's Gym here in the Syracuse area; while we are two clubs, most of my time has been at the Dewitt location, where I joined as a member in 2005, before I went to work there in September of 2010.

I've worked with some weirdos in my time, but never a collection of eclectic, hard-working, smart people who are really good at their jobs like the folks who have been there for all (or, in some cases, most) of my tenure there.

I learned some valuable lessons there. Here are some that I think would be valuable for you, too.

Separate the personal from the professional. I've worked with some people who, shall we say, are not oh so operationally sound. As operations manager, you can see how that would create more work for me, and really, who has time for more work? But I can still really enjoy them as people. That's new to me.

Describe the why. If you show people why an objective is where it is, or show them why a process is designed for a particular workflow, it's amazing how quickly they'll catch on. Simply describing the what and the how allows too much room for error, and people will keep making the mistakes. Once you describe the why, people tend to get it, and, by targeting the why, they can offer alternative solutions that will be a better fit for your processes than they otherwise would be.

Maintain boundaries. So. Difficult. I was promoted to a management position during my tenure, which means that I went from working with a bunch of people to managing them. Yes, I was still working with them, but you have to draw new lines around friendships and be able to wield some authority or nothing gets done. Bonus points if you can do it without making people think you're a jackass.

Other boundaries you need to draw include when you're actually working. It's so easy to plop down in front of a computer and check your email, and the next thing you know you've spent three hours of your personal time at work, without being in the office. Want to burn out? It's an easy way.

To work with people, spend time listening and observing. I've worked with a wide variety of people who have a wide variety of things going on. With their brains (from body image to severe diagnoses of some mental illnesses), with their bodies (thyroid issues, knee issues, shoulder issues), with their families (kids in the hospital, severely overweight spouses who won't come to the gym even to walk, cousins who won't talk to the family); the list goes on. We don't always get to choose who our coworkers and customers are, but if you listen to them, you'll appreciate them for all that they are. And they'll appreciate you, too.

Most of the decisions you make are, in fact, yours. You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that people have all manner of excuses for not coming to the gym, or for not eating right, and then having the gall to complain about the consequences. I'm not saying all the decisions they make are easy, and some of the peripheral consequences of some decisions are uncomfortable, but there's science at play in a lot of what we want. We know how to get there. You have to make the decision, and then you have to commit.

Learn. When I went to Gold's in September of 2010, I expected it would be a short-term position to get me through a short rough patch. I didn't want to short-change the company that had taken me on, of course, so I learned a lot about fitness and nutrition, followed trends, checked out niches, and self-experimented with various diets, supplements and exercise routines. It's been invaluable personally, and I think the gym benefited, as well.

Enjoy what you enjoy. The worst thing I heard in the fitness industry over the course of my tenure at Gold's came from a 40-ish year old bodybuilder. I saw him eating a giant vat of cold oatmeal. I told him where the microwave was, and he told me, "I don't eat for taste anymore." OK, I understand the occasional snack just to fill you up, but I can't imagine what it's like to not enjoy your food. I get that ultimately, food is fuel, but I can't imagine discarding the sensual aspect of eating.

Leave things better than you found them. I didn't hit every objective put forth for me. Not even close. But I think I helped get the club a little closer to where it wants to be from a business perspective.

As I head back into the news industry, I'll be returning to use the club as a member. I can't wait to see where it goes from here!

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