Follow the Leader
Learn more about six women making a positive impact on the fitness industry:
Chief Strategy Officer
What do you love most about your current role? I love the variety of departments, people and projects I am currently involved in across the business. As the chief strategy officer I am overseeing programming, including Group X, personal training, team training and corporate wellness; how programming is supported across marketing and our overall brand strategy; and how all of this threads through the people and culture development across our organization. There are a lot of moving pieces, but that is what keeps it really interesting and fun.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it? Lots of change in a short period of time is very challenging at times, but one of the important attributes of a great leader is agility. Change will always be coming fast and furious, so it’s important to continually develop the skill set to be able to adapt to change quickly.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? Authenticity. I feel it’s so important to be able to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk,” as this builds credibility. Team members want to follow and be inspired by others who have been in their shoes one way or another. Authenticity is not only important from an experience standpoint, but also from how you care for those you are leading. When you authentically care about seeing others be successful through your words and actions, it will come back to you tenfold.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? The world — specifically technology — is changing so quickly that keeping pace and relevance is the biggest challenge. As fitness industry leaders we need to continually look forward and identify ways to future-proof our businesses as much as possible.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Take the time to talk to the people or team you are leading. Find out what is working and not working for them before you arrive with an agenda of how you are going to change things. As the saying goes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Vice President of Franchise Development
What do you love most about your current role? There are so many great things about working for a fast-growing fitness concept in a franchise development role. One of the best aspects is having the opportunity to work and interact with so many amazing people from all walks of life, both at our corporate support center and as I network to meet potential investors. Franchise development is a very nuanced and complex function. It requires knowledge of every aspect of the business in order to effectively speak with potential investors about the brand. I work collaboratively with every department within the organization, and in doing so, I am able to share and learn so many ideas and perspectives. Every single day in my role is completely different.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? Great leaders need to be decisive. I believe the ability to make quick and sound decisions sets good leaders apart from great leaders. Timing plays a huge role in the successes and failures of companies. When certain decisions take too long, competitors can gain an advantage and opportunities can be lost. Decisive leaders understand this and have the ability to think quickly and make good decisions.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? In the age of technology, I believe the biggest challenge leaders face is determining how to keep their brands relevant. Innovation is paramount both in practice and in timing. More and more it is becoming necessary not only to anticipate the needs and trends of consumers, but to also create needs and trends. Several businesses no longer exist because they weren’t able to grow and innovate fast enough. Knowing when and how to implement significant change is always the challenge.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
- Don’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you. Respect the expertise of others, listen and learn from them.
- Make sure you are passionate about the function you are leading.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Create a culture of candor.
- Focus on solutions instead of problems.
- Customize your leadership style for each member of your team.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it? In my early 20s I decided to create and open a restaurant concept. I did my homework and learned I could qualify for a SBA loan if I had strong credit, some collateral, a 20 percent equity injection and an operations partner with experience. I made sure I had all of these elements in place and received assistance from the local small business development center with creating my business plan. I was confident I would get the necessary funding I needed.
To my surprise, after six long in-person meetings with different banks, I was denied funding even though I qualified. I ultimately learned the real issue was my age. Loan officers couldn’t say this officially, but they felt a start-up restaurant was just too big of a risk for someone in their early 20s. This caused a huge issue for me because I postponed completion of my MBA and spent months planning this restaurant. I thought long and hard about next steps. In the next few days I decided I would handle all bank negotiations over the phone. Once I had my commitment letter I went into the bank for the first time and ultimately closed the loan.
I experience obstacles in varying degrees on a regular basis. I have found it’s necessary to look at obstacles as challenges that require solutions. You have to think quickly, be creative and remain steadfast in whatever you are trying to accomplish. This learning has been particularly useful in my career and day-to-day work at Blink Fitness. Most obstacles can be overcome with a little ingenuity and persistence, and franchising presents a number of business challenges I’m able to navigate as a result of this mindset. I’m proud of my ability to bring impactful solutions that translate into significant contributions to Blink’s franchise growth.
What do you love most about your current role? I love that I get to work with a variety of so many different people everyday and that I am able to help people. It has always been important to me that I do good work that supports both individual growth and organizational change. I am beyond blessed that in my advising work with companies and working with the Women in Fitness Association (WIFA) community, I get to help others do their best each day.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it? To date, the largest challenge I’ve experienced is this last year acclimating to being a mother. My son is so amazing, smart, beautiful and being his mom is the best. Learning how to be a great mother while also working my business and delivering value to WIFA is very challenging and cannot be done alone. I have learned to ask for help, admit I don’t have all the answers and also do my best to take on what I can handle instead of saying yes to everything. It has been the most humbling life experience to date.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? Self awareness and knowing oneself. Being a leader is really about helping those in your life succeed. And in order to do that, in my opinion, you need to have yourself figured out and fulfilled so you don’t have to rely on other people to make you feel good.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? Because I feel self-awareness is the most important leadership skill, it also speaks to how our opinions of ourselves get rattled because of how we see ourselves or compare ourselves to others. Because we live in an information overload world, it gets really easy to pay more attention to what other people are doing instead of focusing on yourself. That can be dangerous comparing and questioning your decisions. It’s hard. Leaders have to learn to tune out some of the noise to get their mind quiet enough to get back to what they are trying to do and focus.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Find a mentor, and create accountability and discipline for yourself every day. It is so easy to take on too much, say yes and live for what other people want of you. Instead, decide how your days are going to be, give back to yourself and invest in your development so you have something to give to others. You will run out of steam if you don’t create a pace you can keep up for years to come.
Mary S. Frank
Sales and Marketing Manager, Senior Manager
What do you love most about your current role? I love developing the individual strengths of the sales team and bringing them together to learn from one another. Our team is incentivized on team goals. We work to build a team that is based on honesty, ethicacy and integrity.
I also enjoy communicating the messages of the club to our various audiences. The club does an amazing job of constantly improving and reinvesting to adapt to the changing needs of our members. I take great pride in spreading the word of how the changes we make positively impact the lives of our members and the community. This is accomplished by blending old-fashioned marketing tools such as direct mail, hand-written notes and personal voice contact with time-saving technology platforms when appropriate.
I am highly motivated by goals and enjoy project execution and implementation that follow suit with our mission at the club. As a senior manager, it is very rewarding to contribute to an organization by providing solutions that allow our customer service professionals and various profit centers to enhance the member experience at the club.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it? There are a lot of distractors in the club industry, especially in the marketing and sales field. We are bombarded with information that is thought to solve our problems but can’t be measured for success. To break through the noise and clutter, we partnered with a number of professionals who are consultants for me and inform me of what I need to know and act on. They direct me where I should go next and help focus my attention on the key points. Additionally, I have the fortunate opportunity to attend IHRSA on a regular basis and sit on the Faust Roundtable for the CMOs of top clubs in the country. This group meets annually and shares successes, failures and insight on club marketing trends.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? Wanting those around them to succeed.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? Hiring — in particular, finding good people who are willing to be in a culture of constant improvement. Once you have hired the right team, it is important to develop systems that allow them to be successful and allow their individual styles to come through.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Be self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.
Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations
What do you love most about your current role? I love that I get to work with such a talented team. Many of us at Active have worked together for many years, and I’m often reminded of their sheer talent. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to work with such awesome individuals who are also simply great people.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it? Finding balance is something I think most are challenged by. Life can be pretty chaotic, and in our business and the pace we’re running at, there is rarely downtime unless we make time for it. Unfortunately, life smacked me in the face, and I had no choice but to make time for self-care. Now, I realize it is essential. It is what fuels productivity, creativity and happiness. Practicing mindfulness, setting boundaries, prioritizing my time to workout, saying no and unplugging from devices has helped me tremendously. I love seeing these work-life balance practices inherent in more and more corporate cultures.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? We do a lot of talking, but I believe every leader should listen. When you listen, you learn, and good leaders should never stop learning. I think the best leaders hire the best employees, so why not take time to listen to their ideas, thoughts and feelings?
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? Focus. There’s so much noise, so many moving parts; things are always changing and new. But what’s important to drive business forward? Stay disciplined so you can create space to achieve what’s needed. Then schedule blocks in your day or week that are dedicated time and space for creative thinking and learning.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Show compassion for both your team and yourself. Build genuine relationships with your employees by asking them how they’re doing, offering help, empowering and giving them freedom to succeed, and investing in and caring for them as people. Also, it’s important to have some compassion for yourself. You’re not always going to be right, not everyone is going to be happy, and there’s never enough time. However, if you strive to always do the right thing in taking good care of your people, then the business results will follow.
Karen M. Raisch-Siegel
What do you love most about your current role? What I love most about my current role is I have the opportunity to create something new. I am a programmer by nature and thrive on making things happen. So as the executive director, whether it’s a new opportunity for a staff member, a new program or offering, this role gives me the chance to make it happen.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it? My biggest challenge was when I was interim executive director. It was not a healthy time among the employees. There were those who just would not be happy with anyone in the position and those who thought they should be in it. Rumors and gossip were flying all over. I was actually shocked. I had no idea how bad it really was.
So needless to say, I spent my weekends going home and breaking down. And then I became pregnant and was turning 40. The only way I made it through that time was focusing on the better employees I knew. I had to constantly remind myself to do what is right. Thank goodness I am a Group X instructor, because teaching classes kept the members and why we do what we do right in front of me.
It was extremely trying and difficult. To visualize what we were going through, imagine I was on a ship that was capsizing. We had to slowly turn upright and make it back up to the surface. We had to start all over. I learned a lot during that time and am happy to report I am blessed with the best staff we have ever had.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? For me a leader must possess quite a few characteristics, but if I had to pick just one, I would pick honesty. We have to be honest — with ourselves and those who follow us. I think without honesty we couldn’t build a great team and without the team, how would we be successful?
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? We are getting a lot of pressure from many directions and it makes it challenging to lead a successful business. We have it from our members. They are exposed to so much more on what’s new, new types of classes, new equipment. Then they want to know why we don’t have this or why we can’t offer that. We have it from our employees. The workforce needs more attention. There are a lot more opportunities for folks and if we want to keep the best, we need to be able to inspire, motivate and retain them. The final pressure comes from our competitive landscape. As our industry changes we have to have the skills to navigate our businesses through it.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time? I would tell them this is a “servant” position. You need to be ready to serve your business, your members and your teams. I would let them know at times it’s not easy, but it’s certainly worth it. Enjoy the ride.