Challenge Accepted

When it comes to leadership, Molly Kemmer leads by example as the regional director of MediFit Community Services. 

Leadership doesn’t come from a title. Instead, being known as a leader is something earned through hard work, dedication and mutual respect.

A great example of someone who has earned her leadership title is Molly Kemmer, the regional director for MediFit Community Services. Over the years, Kemmer has worked in nearly every position in club management, including as the assistant general manager at Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club and executive director of Lakeshore Athletic Club-Flatiron.

In her current position at MediFit, Kemmer supports onsite teams in roles similar to those she’s previously held. The journey to regional director taught her a few keys to being an effective leader. The first and foremost lesson was the importance of being supportive.

“That’s what I consider my most important goal in my daily work: being a teacher and a coach to our teams in the field and giving them the tools and resources they need to be their best,” said Kemmer.

Bonnie Mattalian, the vice president of MediFit, said that Kemmer’s strength lies in being able to galvanize teams. “She’s a skilled collaborator and facilitator, helping to draw consensus and bring people toward a common goal,” she said.

These skills are essential for any leader, especially one who claims to favor challenging projects. “The thing I love the most is taking on a challenge, taking on a big project,” said Kemmer. “My two specialties that have evolved over the years are startups and turnarounds. I enjoy either setting up a project for success and getting it on its feet, or coming into a project that’s grown stagnant and taking it to the next level.”

One of Kemmer’s most challenging projects involved attempting to revitalize a gym that had lost five general managers in five years. In addition to high employee turnover, the club was experiencing high attrition and low trust among members.

“That was a very tough circumstance and a project that was probably one of the greatest learning experiences of my career,” said Kemmer. “Honestly I think it was because I was willing to take it on, roll up my sleeves, ask the difficult questions and try and get the team re-engaged.”

This process began with emotional interviewing, which involves being frank and asking for candor in responses. Kemmer not only interviewed employees, but spoke with members and residents of the local community, in hopes of figuring out the gym’s main struggles.

It was after interviewing a long-term member that Kemmer got to the crux of the gym’s issue. “At the end of the day, his answer to everything was you need to create an experience like Disney,” she recalled. “You have to make this place magical.”

After a year of hard work, the gym did get closer to creating a much better experience, if not a magical one, for members. At the beginning of the project, the club’s net promoter score was 26, which Kemmer and her team were able to increase to 64 over the next two years. In addition, they increased the number of family memberships and enrollment in youth programs.

“We really made a nice, steady progression in terms of the relationship with the members and their perceived value of the membership,” said Kemmer.

According to Kemmer, the key to overcoming a challenging project is to listen to the main players involved. “There is no greater gift than the voice of your customer, and no greater tool than your desire to listen and to care deeply,” she said. “Any time your members, team members, partners are talking, this is a gift. They are telling you what they really want. If they’re not talking, you may be fostering an environment where they don’t feel heard and cared about, risking apathy and attrition, and ultimately, the relationship.”

Kemmer has taken listening to heart. In part because she herself had to listen to others in order to grow in her career. During many of Kemmer’s career moves, such as her transition from general manager of the fitness center at The University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center to her current role, feedback was essential to helping her manage difficult projects and take on greater leadership roles.

“During this period of major career growth, I learned from great industry leaders through participation in the REX Roundtables,” recalled Kemmer. “The candid feedback, insights and support gained from this type of peer interaction was invaluable.”

It was through her relationship with REX that Kemmer was encouraged to apply for Board of Director services for IHRSA. In 2012 she was elected, and became one of three female leaders out of 15 board members at the time. In 2015, she was elected chairperson of IHRSA, as the third woman in 34 years to serve in the role.

Mark Stevens, the regional director of The Houstonian Club, also serves on the IHRSA Board of Directors. He explained that Kemmer’s positivity is part of what makes her such a great role model in the health and fitness industry. “She is a high-energy leader that genuinely cares about the success of her team, the lives of others that she is serving and wants everyone she encounters to have a positive experience,” he said.

As a leader, Kemmer keeps the following in mind. “Leadership in today’s world means being hyper-aware of consumer trends, while also being true and consistently excellent in your established brand and model, focusing on exceeding expectations,” she said. “Shaping action through engaged communication and high standards is my approach to inspire others.”

Kemmer’s inspiration for her leadership skills came from a variety of sources, including her parents. Her father farmed for more than 25 years, and her mother is an artist and musician. “From an early age, I was encouraged to use my imagination and to see things through a creative lens,” she said.

Through this creative lens, Kemmer strives to move the health and fitness industry forward, something she’s extremely passionate about. She explained the industry’s current challenge is helping the general public find the time in their busy schedules to workout and be healthy. She noted this is something boutique models have accomplished well.

“The boutique models are really growing quickly, and what they’re doing is providing a very highly specialized experience for people that they are willing to pay a higher price point for,” said Kemmer. “And there’s something to be learned there, especially for clubs that have been in operation for quite some time.”

As an executive and mother of two, Kemmer can attest to the struggle for time first hand. “What I’m learning now is to be discerning with my energy, to preserve the highest quality,” she said. “Knowing when it’s best to say ‘yes’ and when to say, ‘no thank you.’”

Kemmer’s final key to leadership involves turning mistakes into life’s greatest teachers. “Look for the lessons and keep going,” she said. “Life is so short, why not go for it? Skinning your knee hurts much less than the regret of not putting on the roller skates and missing the fun.”

Challenge, accepted.

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