True Leaders Step Up During Adversity

She really didn't have to call me back. But I get the impression that's not the kind of person that Patricia Laus is. The owner of The Atlantic Club in Manasquan, NJ, had just gone through a rough week. She had spent much of it in meetings — and seemingly the rest of it dealing with a potentially embarrassing situation at her Manasquan club.

A personal trainer who was employed by the club at the time allegedly placed a camera phone in one of the restrooms at the facility where it was discovered by another employee. The end result was that the police were called, the personal trainer was fired and arrested, and Laus was faced with what could have been a publicity nightmare as local news crews camped out in front of her club and reports of the incident were broadcast on the local news.

Still, Laus didn't shy away from my request for an interview, which initially went out to Kevin McHugh, COO. McHugh was on vacation, but he still responded to my e-mail within an hour of receiving it. And soon, I was in contact with Laus, who did not avoid my questions about the situation.

She also faced the crisis head on. She immediately fired the trainer in question and removed his bio and picture from the club walls and the website. She met with police to get details about the situation. She sent e-mails to members (and hard copies to those whose e-mail addresses she did not have) explaining what took place at the facility and how long the camera was possibly in place, detailing the steps the company took to rectify the situation and apologizing that the situation occurred.

When the police and media misreported that the incident occurred at the company's Milagro Spa, she sent additional communication to spa clients correcting this. She also sent letters to all staff with details and a request not to speculate about the situation with members.

Still, Laus had time to express not just shock and dismay about the situation her members and the club faced, but she also expressed dismay about the situation into which this personal trainer allegedly put himself. The trainer, Brian T. Shaw, is just 24 years old and was scheduled to be married just two weeks after the incident occurred, Laus said. (The Atlantic Club does a criminal check on all employees, although nothing showed up on Shaw's report.) Laus added that it was difficult to see someone allegedly do something so destructive at such a young age.

It's no wonder Laus' staff seems so loyal. She faced this situation head on, with concern for her members and staff, and with concern for the man involved. And it's no wonder her members have responded so appreciatively. Laus shared with me just a few of the hundreds of letters and e-mails that members have sent thanking her for the way the company handled the situation.

As we see more cases of invasion of privacy in our industry, I urge you to take precautions, such as posting signs prohibiting cameras in locker rooms and restrooms, training staff about how to spot unusual items or activities in locker rooms, and having a plan in place for how to respond should these precautions fail.

The world is a different place today. Technology has changed so rapidly that it sometimes is difficult to know how to handle a situation until it has already occurred. However, as Laus and her staff have demonstrated, facing every situation head on with strength and concern is the best option.

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