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5 Keys To Move From Managing To Leading

By: Paul Schaller

Well, it’s already the end of January and our health club and gym customers are busy serving their members, operating, and managing their businesses during this very busy time of year. Meanwhile, Bill Davis, myself, and our team of leaders are doing all they can to support our customers while we continue to work on new projects and tools to make an even bigger difference in this industry we all love.

There are so many things for companies to consider when thinking about how to manage their fitness businesses. One key thing I have observed in my decades of working with health club and gym owners and operators is the magical change that happens when the most successful ones shift their focus from being a manager to being a leader. I have personally watched some wonderful colleagues and customers navigate this shift of thinking and their fitness business benefited from it greatly.

Making the shift from a manager to a leader is a big change in approach and often times is the difference between great success and mediocrity or failure. In any owner’s or operator’s career, the transition to being a leader can be tricky. How can you separate yourself from the operational issues to the strategic? What are the secrets to delivering great leadership? How can you inspire change in your organization? It’s hard to do but I’ll share some lessons I’ve learned from others if you are trying to make the shift.

Leadership vs. Management

Managers across all levels of organizations are now being expected to step up to be leaders in a variety of situations. It’s not something expected of just CEOs or most senior managers anymore. Great organizations seek leadership from everyone.

There are a host of definitions of management and leadership. The ancient Greek word for leadership means path maker. Similarly, the ancient Greek word for management means path follower. In my experience, the best leaders in our industry challenge, enable, model, inspire and encourage. They do this by committing themselves to certain behaviors, beliefs, and values.

The Five Lessons For Leadership

When making the shift from manager to leader, these are the five practices to keep in mind:

1. Challenge the Status Quo

Leaders thrive on and learn from adversity and difficult situations. They take risks and regard failure as a chance to learn and change. They tend to be early adopters. They look for things that work and then improve on them. Business, as usual, is unacceptable to leaders. They are always trying to unseat the status quo.

2. Create a Shared Vision

People are motivated most by ideas that capture their imagination and hearts. It is not just about having a vision, but how the vision is communicated effectively so others believe in and support it. Great leaders are orientated towards the future and seek to energize others by enthusiasm and emotion. They want to bring people on board with this sense of shared purpose.

3. Empower Others

Leaders don’t want to achieve goals on their own, they achieve results through others. However, great leaders do not do this by encouragement alone. People must feel able to act on the vision and be supported to put their ideas into action. Collaboration and work based on meaningful relationships are central to success. You simply have to develop, teach, and rely on others to become a great leader.

4. Be Who You Say You Are

Leaders live the behaviors they want others to adopt before asking them to adopt them. People will believe not what they hear leaders say, but what they see their leaders consistently do. Great leaders should demonstrate the desired approach. They must be consistent in how they behave and have that behavior match their rhetoric.

5. Encourage People’s Hearts

People become their best when they care about and are passionate about what they’re doing. Great leaders help to unleash the enthusiasm of their followers with emotional and relatable stories of their own. They enjoy celebrating successes; even small ones. They tackle difficult projects recognizing others’ contributions. They seek out and recognize individual and team contributions around the success of every project.

By identifying your strengths and weaknesses across these five keys to leadership, you can identify the areas you need to work on to make the shift from manager to leader. By being aware of these dynamics you can make the transition from effective manager to outstanding leader.

Hopefully, this post is useful when considering leadership for your business and career. If I can be of help on your journey to becoming a great leader, please let me know.


Paul Schaller is Vice Chairman of  ABC Financial Services, a premier provider of technology and related financial services for the health and fitness industry, renowned for exceptional client service for clubs and their members. Its market-leading billing and collections solutions automate the revenue cycle that enables owners and operators to achieve better financial performance, all in a Software-as-a-Service and cloud-based platform. ABC’s comprehensive technology solutions include DataTrak advanced health club management and MYiCLUBonline extensible member engagement platforms that allow owners and operators to efficiently manage employees, members, resources, sales and drive improved member engagement. Founded in 1981, ABC helps more than 7,000 health clubs across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico perform better and more profitably. ABC Financial is a Thoma Bravo portfolio company, a private equity firm based in San Francisco and Chicago ( You can learn more by following Paul on Linkedin and Facebook.