The development of leaders is serious business around Gainesville Health and Fitness (GHF), according to owner and CEO Joe Cirulli. “Without leaders you don’t have a company,” he said. “Leadership development has been a critical factor of our company since day one.”
Cirulli said he knew in order for him to navigate throughout his company the way a CEO needs to, he had to develop leaders underneath him to take on some of the day-to-day responsibilities he couldn’t. With a total staff of 500, GHF now has 22 people in different leadership roles throughout the company, and he tries his best to work closely with them.
“I meet with my leadership team every single Monday morning for at least two hours,” Cirulli explained. “We go through different elements of leadership. And I don’t mean we just sit around talking about leadership — but one of the things I’ve been very, very big on is education and letting people see leaders in action so that once we actually see it, then we can talk about it.”
Cirulli said he and his team often watch a television series surrounding the topic of leadership together. The History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America” profiles the lives of early visionaries like Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford, and includes perspective from modern business icons. It is one of the company’s go-to shows.
“The goal is learning everything about them and how they were able to accomplish what they accomplished,” said Cirulli. “We also watched the entire history of the civil war, so they can once again see how the leaders came up with strategies, what failed and what worked.”
Cirulli emphasized the importance of his participation alongside his staff. He said rather than simply making the suggestion, he watches and reads any material he recommends for the team. As an example, he said if there’s an article he wants his team to read, they do so during one of their weekly meetings, rather than on their own time.
“I’m going to make sure we’re all literally on the same page when we’re going through it, so we can discuss it and not try to recollect,” he said. “Just today we started going through, as a group, John Maxwell’s ‘21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.’ As soon as we finish one, we talk about how it applies to us and our organization.”
Cirulli said keeping the lines of communication open between every member of his team is one of his core values as well. One of his other weekly rituals involves taking four or five employees out for lunch, where he takes the opportunity to get to know them, as well as making himself available to answer any questions they may have about him personally or GHF.
Cirulli added that GHF doesn’t like to hire from the outside, making it that much more important to provide adequate leadership training internally. “You have to have the right leaders in every part of the organization, and the leaders need to get together on a regular basis and make sure the lines of communication are open totally,” he said. “Because without all the leaders knowing the direction the company is going in, you can have some real problems.”
According to Cirulli, he learned that lesson first hand when he failed to stay close with one of his employees in the past. “I never met with him that much because he was so good at what he did,” he recalled. “But I started noticing some strange things going on within the company. And when I got with him and we started talking, what I realized was that because I hadn’t communicated enough with him the direction of the company, he started assuming his own direction and because he was a leader, people were following him in that direction.”
The individual left the company because of the differences, and even though he is back now, several years later, the lesson Cirulli learned from the scenario resonates. “Once he came back I said, ‘never again,’ and so we are going to meet every single week so we don’t ever get off track,” he said.