Big Shoes to Fill

When asked about his management staff, Mike Alpert, the CEO of The Claremont Club, immediately remarked that they were the best 13 managers in the industry. He explained, “They are incredible human beings. They understand the word ‘service’ and they are total team players. They want to make the communities we live in better places to live and work. There is not a selfish bone in their bodies.”

As a club owner or operator, it is probably your mission to rave about your leadership team in a similar manner, if you can’t already. But developing a strong management team comes with its challenges. When hiring, it can be difficult to determine who possesses necessary leadership abilities.

For Shawn Stewart, the COO of O2 Fitness, his most important hiring rule is to look to his current employees. “The first and best way to hire for a leadership or management position is to promote from within,” said Stewart. “We work to create a culture of growing and developing our future leaders, so that we can promote from within.”

However, Stewart explained, depending on the size of your company, this is not always a possibility. When hiring externally, the first step is establishing a strong pool of candidates.

Jennifer Yiangou, the vice president of operations at Anytime Fitness, explained her team collects a minimum of 10 candidates to make sure they have a wide variety. “Someone on the executive team will spearhead the initial interviews and narrow the prospects down to the final three,” said Yiangou. “From there, a team of executives will interview the candidates separately and will later reconvene behind the scenes to exchange feedback. Then department teams will interview the final candidates to ensure buy-in.”

It is essential to take your time when it comes to hiring for leadership positions. Conducting several interviews helps to ensure the candidate is a good cultural fit for the company and that they truly possess the skills they claim to have on their resume. Yiangou added it is not uncommon for a candidate to step foot in their offices three to five times prior to receiving an offer letter.

According to Stewart, a proper interview should be more than just questions and answers. He believes in putting candidates through a series of tests. “One of the things I like to do is an off-site interview,” he added. “I may do a group interview where I take people through a workout. I may set up a small group training class and while they are training, I set up a series of business scenarios and I put people through different situations to see how fast they act on their feet and how they interact with each other.”

While it may be easy to get carried away interrogating the candidate, Alpert suggested giving them plenty of time to ask their own questions. “I am really interested in the questions they ask me, so I can get a sense if this is just another job that they want, or if this is something they are really passionate about,” explained Alpert. “Did they do their homework and go to our website? Did they learn about some of the programs we are doing? Were they attracted to the club because of our community outreach programs and because of the company culture, or did they just come in because they saw an ad and needed a job?”

Stewart explained there are a few key qualities to keep an eye out for during the interview process that will help determine if the candidate has leadership potential. Firstly, they must be selfless and have a strong desire to help others reach their full potential.

“You have to be responsible for making others successful,” added Stewart. “When you work on the front line staff, everything is about how you become the best that you can be, and then when you get promoted to a leadership position, it is not about just you, it is about how you can make others better.”

Besides elevating others, strong candidates should have the willingness to learn and grow. “I am looking for self-development,” explained Stewart. “Do they have the discipline to learn and grow on their own? I am a big believer in reading and educating yourself. One of the things I am always looking for is what kind of things they do to improve themselves on a regular basis.”

Finally, when hiring for leadership positions, never skip the reference calls. While they might take time, they can provide a little extra insight to help with the hiring decision. “Take the time to speak with the individuals the candidate provides,” said Yiangou. “Ask them the tough questions and ask for specifics. You’ll know pretty quickly how well the references know the candidate when you ask for specific instances.”


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