Posted July 28, 2016

Not Everyone Needs to Lead

One thing I’ve noticed a lot in the fitness industry, and in fact through a lot of business discussions from different industries, it the proliferation of resources to teach people how to be leaders. Much of the discussion seems to be on how in order to be successful, you have to be a leader in some respect or another. Become the manager, own the team, make the decisions, and be the one to change the game. Essentially, you could probably throw in any combination of euphemisms, action-oriented terms, and synergy/power/enthusiasm you want to create a meme that describes your desire to be a leader if you wanted and it could wind up being a best seller.


The benefits of being a leader are well known: you get all the glory, all the responsibility, some of the extra pay, the occasional movie made in your honour, all of that. You also get all of the heat when things go wrong. Ever notice how they always interview the quarterback of the losing team but never the nose tackle who blew coverage and lead to 6 sacks and 7 hurries that caused the loss? Yep, the QB is the leader, so he gets his face plastered all over Sports Center talking about how they have to execute better.

Now one thing to consider about leaders is there are some very distinct types of leaders. One type asks people to get behind them and follow their lead. These are typically managers, politicians, generals, and other people who are given a certain amount of power from some body. This type of leader tends to create a push style of motivation and leadership, getting people to do things they wouldn’t normally want to do or achieve, simply due to their standing and the requirements of their followers to engage in activities as dictated by the leader. If your sergeant says you’re going to go over that hill and shoot someone, you’re going to go over that hill whether you want to or not.

A second type of leader is someone who leads by example and has others fall into step behind them in order to achieve some of the benefits for themselves, what ever those may be. A great example of this was from Forrest Gump, where he goes out for his long run and along the way winds up having a cult following of runners trailing behind him.

These leaders provide more of a pull type motivation or leadership, which gets people to follow them due to more of an intrinsic desire to achieve something within themselves versus orders to do something (extrinsic factors). In many instances, the vast majority of leadership concepts that you could find in the casual bookstores around the world focus on developing concepts of the first type of leader, while trying to instill the aspects of the second type of leader.

This tends to produce an odd event, whereby someone tries to lead by example, while also trying to involve managerial motivational elements, the combination of which tends to confuse the viewer more than anything else. You find this all over social media in a combination of motivational quotes over photos of the individual pensively staring off into the distance at something off camera.

199cc4c20e45e10f5c8ada2fee996b4b An unfortunate side effect of this confusion is a somewhat watered-down view of authenticity in the eyes of the viewer. Because there’s so many of these concepts around the internet, it’s hard to find the motivational slogans, well, motivational. They tend to come across as more staged than authentic, which is the main criteria for the pull type of leader to have any effect at all.


There’ nothing wrong with trying to inspire someone, even if the act of producing that inspiration is somewhat inauthentic, but in most cases it’s desired effect will be pretty minimal. People tend to not raise themselves up in response to a meme. They tend to take action when they see others taking action, as in the Forrest Gump example above.

The pull type of leader has to do things. They have to have accomplishments, show success, and be the inspiration that makes people want to follow their lead. This is very difficult for a lot of people to do, as success takes a lot of effort but also you’re held to the standard of your results. If you want to show someone how to lose weight, there’s an element of social proof required. Have you had success with this or helped others see success with it? That makes people pay attention.

Take what you do for work as an example. If you have a boss or work for a company, you probably have a leader that you follow as a requirement of your job. If you’re the boss or owner of the company, you likely have employees who follow your lead and do what you ask. If you’re a good boss, the employees follow because they believe in your vision, and you lead with an example of what they would need to do in their job to keep up. If you’re an employee, hopefully your job is inspiring enough to make you want to work hard to improve every element of what you do.

I work as a trainer in a commercial facility, meaning I have about 6 bosses ranging from the club fitness manager to the club general manager, to levels of senior management. I get a lot of autonomy to do what i want, but still have to answer to others. This is a good situation for me because I have zero interest in managing others or in running a facility. I have a lot of friends who run their own facilities, and while they love what they do, it’s not something that interests me.

Because of this, if I were to take the leadership role and try to open my own facility, I would likely not have as much fun as I have now, even if that means I would gain some level of prestige or income that I currently don’t have access to. Not everyone is meant to be a leader, and I’m okay with that. I choose to do my own thing at work with managers and bosses, and then have my creative outlet through this here blog, other writing, products, etc. which allows me to satisfy that leadership element without taking on employees or any of the responsibilities of a push leader.

If you’ve ever tried to dance with someone, you know one of you has to lead and the other has to follow. If you’re a trainer you have to direct the session, and if you’re a client you have to follow directions. If you’re in a relationship with a significant other, you’ll alternate who takes the lead depending on the situation and the desired outcomes.

If you want to be a leader, you have to understand which type of leader you’re going to be, authoritarian or lead by example. The authoritarian can get a lot accomplished by using motivational elements to get people to fall in line behind them. The example leader likely won’t have success with that route, but will have a much greater effect by doing things they want others to do, showing how to do them, and providing the tools to do them.

So let’s say you own a facility, manage a team, have proven success, and want to put out content on how others can do this and achieve success. You manage a coaching program to help others up their game and achieve some of the success you’ve managed, and work with them to get into the successful mindset to achieve their goals. This is the push leadership style. If you put up pics or videos of you doing awesome things and showing your own success, plus how others can achieve this if they so desire, that’s a pull type leadership. You’ll have more success through continuing to do what you do well and showing the success of your efforts versus inspirational memes or staged photo shoots.

Understanding your strengths, who you are, and what kind of leader you want to be can help take you a long way towards the success you’re looking for. Not all leaders need to have people to report directly to them, but not all leaders need to deliver inspiration in a blunt or direct manner. Find what works best for you and your situation, and also figure out what those who follow you are looking up to you for in terms of your leadership and give them that. Even if you’re not overtly leading others, you still have people who look up to you and follow your lead.

Essentially, just do you.