How to Become an Effective Leader in the Fitness Industry: Q&A with Bill McBride

(Photo courtesy Bill McBride.) Bill McBride is president and CEO of BMC3 and will chair the Leadership track at the 2017 Club Industry Show Oct. 4-6 at the Hilton Chicago.

In today’s ever-evolving fitness industry, few topics are broader and more nuanced than leadership. Newly emerging technologies and business models present facility owners and senior staff with myriad challenges—not all of which can be met with the same umbrella approach.

To further explore leadership strategies and insights, Club Industry spoke with Bill McBride, president and CEO of BMC3. McBride is chairing the Leadership track at the 2017 Club Industry Show Oct. 4-6 at the Hilton Chicago.

Q: What is true and effective leadership, and how has this concept changed in the health club world in just the last year or so?

A: Leadership is truly a buzz word these days. Many people think they are leaders, but leadership is situational and based on the needs at hand. I’m a leader in many instances and a follower in many instances—it depends on the circumstance and if I have the expertise to lead, or if I should contribute by following. True leadership is personal, not positional. “Servant” leadership is the key. How can I serve for the desired outcome? In a crisis, “command and control” leadership is often needed—with input. In times of non-crisis, collaborative leadership is what is called for. I have never reached the best decision in a silo. It has always come from collaboration and involvement with all stake holders.  

Q: That being said, is there a certain mindset you had in assembling the Leadership track for this year’s show?

A: The leadership principles in this year’s track are not different than previous years, as I believe the principles of servant leadership are somewhat timeless. With that said, the content on how to lead at the highest level is enhanced in this year’s track. We are using co-presenters and will have three on the final session during the track. This will be an amazing best-practice program with tangible takeaways for those attending. Brent Darden and Allison Flatley are two of the best in the business with regard to leading teams, developing future leaders and delivering results based on culture. I, too, am committed to this approach of servant leadership and team development. I’m excited about the program we have created and the deliverables that our attendees will receive. This program is unlike years past, as we have taken it to a much higher level.  

Q: What remains one of the most common leadership-related missteps from a club operator standpoint?

A: The biggest misstep for most of us is assuming position means leadership. This is human nature and all too common. Even owners sometimes believe that autocratic leadership is the way to go. A lack of involvement equals a lack of commitment. True leadership is having people wanting to follow based on the passion, vision and cause. That requires personal leadership, not positional leadership. Someone in a leadership position with “servant leadership authenticity” is a very powerful leader. 

Q: When people think “leadership,” they often think of macro-level or big-picture operations. But what about the micro level? How essential is it that managers are locked into all facets of a business or project?

A: Different leadership roles have different circumstances. All leaders of an enterprise need to understand the macro and micro implications of decisions and direction. You can’t be truly responsible for something unless you have some degree of authority. This is often a misstep in ownership or senior leadership. They want to assign responsibility without giving authority. If you want me to be responsible for something, you need to give me some level of authority over what I am responsible for.  

Q: With rapidly developing technology, competition and client expectations, how must industry leaders continue to adapt to meet these demands?

A: Everyone in business today, regardless of industry, needs to be a constant learner of new business practices and technologies. Technology is changing daily—facial recognition, non-device-dependent biometrics, robotics, virtual solutions, data mining, consumer analytics, etc. It is imperative for all to be adapting, evolving and growing to new ways to solve old problems. I am a firm believer that technology, with human interaction, will enhance our industry. Technology alone won’t solve behavior changes. Human interaction isn’t as scalable without some technological support. We have to adapt to prevent obsolesce in many ways. Being a constant learner who’s willing to adapt is critical in today’s leadership environment. 

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