Leadership is something I genuinely love reading up on. I find the continual pursuit of improving this skill to be the key reason I am effective as a Coach in the health and fitness space. I also believe it has allowed me to mentor to a higher quality than I would have typically, which, of course, generates more production for all involved.
My dive into leadership began in 2005 when a man I looked up to for a long time gave me a book called “Developing The Leader Within You” by John Maxwell. For the first time in my professional journey, something resonated with me. The best part of all for me is it came in the form of a book. Why was I excited to find a book? Because I’m a nerd at heart. I truly love reading and just find to get a direct view or opinion to be a great resource. I am going to refer to John Maxwell as just John going forward. Every book of his has impacted my leadership in ways I cannot correctly convey through only one article because he has been my mentor for 12 years now and never known it. I decided that as I began framing this out, I wanted to take an overview of my leadership journey. I am going to be beyond candid about my valleys and my peaks. About the self-destructive traits and behaviors along with lessons learned with the wholesome moments that genuinely touched my heart sprinkled on top of this incredible journey, I am on.
For over 15 years, I have been very fortunate to coach people from all walks of life who just want better fitness, to feel better, be healthier, but most of all, want to support and understanding. The role of a trainer is easy, while the role of a coach is demanding. This is why I believe there is a difference between the two. The difference lies solely in how you lead. Do you lead from a position or from permission? Position to permission leadership is the real difference-maker. In my opinion, it is what separates a trainer from a coach in development and results with clients. In “Developing The Leader Within You,” John discusses the 5 levels of leadership. When I read his 5 levels, I immediately had an aim for where I was going to go as a leader and the path I needed to walk. Best of all, the road made complete sense. John’s 5 levels are the following:
Level 1: Position – People follow you because they have to.
Level 2: Permission – People follow you because you have earned it.
Level 3: Production – People follow you because you produce.
Level 4: People Development – People follow you because of what you have done for them. Think of this as having a steady flow of replacement coaches who can do just as good as a job as you do, if not better.
Level 5: Personhood – People follow you based on the person you are.
Based on where you are in your career is some insight into the level of influence you have. As John also states, “leadership is influence.” In the most simple terms, that is true. You have to step back and ask yourself exactly who do you influence, how do you influence, and what is the net effect of your influence? Are you someone who inspires others to follow, or are you someone who makes people run for the hills? That, to me, is the difference between level 1 leadership and level 2 leadership, as John describes.
Now I want to give an example of positional leadership in the fitness industry and permission-based leadership in the fitness industry. When I think of a position based trainer, I think of class instructors, the trainer who carries a clipboard and just counts reps, and those really annoying multi-level marketing “trainers.” Now, most people you ask randomly in the street would describe one of the 3, usually when describing a trainer. You might get an answer similar to movies they might have seen, or they might have had an experience with a trainer, but for the most part, people look at trainers as just someone who shows them what to do. They never use the word “teach,” which, to me, is telling.
We have now defined level 1 leadership in the fitness space. It is time for me to move onto level 2 leadership as a see it in the health and fitness industry, a coach.
If you were to close your eyes upon hearing the word “coach” you might conjure mental images of a coach you loved if you played sports, or some iconic coach like my boy, Nick Saban. Let me pause there for a moment because it is imperative you the reader know I am a diehard University of Tennessee fan. A straight Vol for life kinda guy, but I cannot help to take pause and admire what Saban has managed to build at Alabama. He has an entire team that believes in his process to acquire a championship. His staff turns over often, players come and go at consistent rates, the standards rise year after year, to name a few things, but the Saban just delivers. Why does Saban deliver? I wondered for a while, then it clicked for me. Saban delivers because he serves others to deliver. The stone face, the most Stoic man in college sports, spends a lot of time serving others. I have read some good items on Nick, and he is well-loved by players, his community, and his family. Love goes beyond the respect of position. Love is permission-based, and so is serving others maximally. I say this because I think Nick gets seen as a demanding asshole, but there is a difference between demanding excellence than serving with excellence. I think we often get those two confused. I know I have clients who feel I am demanding of them when in fact, I am serving them with excellence because, as a coach, I know they can do better than they are doing because above all else, I believe in them.
As my own leadership grew, I realized that I loved serving my clients, but that service was often misconstrued as demanding. I wanted results for them because I have a will to win for myself and all I do. I am a relentless heart that just loves to create whatever I set my mind to. I expected my clients to have that same fire, but to my astonishment, that was not the case with 80% of my clients. I was perplexed until I learned about the “Pareto Principle” in Developing The Leader Within You by my boy John. In earnest summary of the Pareto principle plugged into the fitness space, it states that the top 20% of clients will produce 80% of your referrals. It also holds true for results too. You have 20% of your clients that just shatter your expectations and deliver amazing results. Armed with-in the trenches lessons, lots of failures, tons of leather-bound books consumed, and more failures, I began to really understand just how to be a coach and what that might look like.
Sometime in my coaching career, I was looked at as a leader. More than anything, I believe it was because I am naturally stoic, and I always try to stay consistently educated in terms of my craft. I caught on early that most in this industry are ruled by emotions not rooted in service like a coach is, but also not many take continuing education seriously. Most trainers who wash out, wash out because they did not devote much to their continued education. Think Karen, who sells you a 24 Day Challenge or some wrap that will make you skinny by just wearing it. They only know that one thing, and that’s it. But hey they know 5 friends who will follow them and pay them to do it, so perhaps they aren’t that dumb after all?
So now, here I am, swimming through this industry on my own trying to make heads or tails of what exactly I need to do to get better and shatter the glass ceiling above me. That’s when I had this “A-HA” moment. I remember it clear as day. I was taking a poop, reading the 360 Degree Leader by John, and somewhere during my reading and straining, a visual appeared. The visual was simple, it was a circle. That was my mirage of sexiness and greatness the universe was giving me, a fucking circle. Well, what that circle did for me was let me understand that I would be leading clients from all different perspectives. I would be driving the tempo of the gym floor if I was on it with members and other trainers. Quite only the circle vision during my deuce was the arrival that I needed to close my circle.
See, before seeing the circle, I was a bunch of swirly lines all over a piece of paper. I was a decent trainer, but in all other aspects of my life, I was lost. I made terrible personal decisions often and, for the most part, check out of being a decent human being other than training people. I knew people followed me because of the body I built, because that is like the best advertising ever that you understand what you are doing, but also conquering a brittle bone disease doesn’t hurt either. Some people I gave hope to because they knew if I could do it and not quit, so could they perhaps too. Ultimately, the overall reason I was not being followed as a coach, which is where my heart has always lied, was simply because I needed to gain permission, and nobody was going to follow someone like me in the aspects required to unless I was doing that for myself. So I changed and began practicing what I preached with committing to excellence. You have to remember people follow you when they believe in you and believe you. Those two have to happen together for you to make it to level 2 in terms of leadership.
Over the first couple of years training people, I pruned my approach to serving others, with what that might really look like, along with continuing education. I made those 2 things cornerstones. I figured if I could get people to follow me because they wanted to along with more knowledge than your average trainer, I could create more value, deliver better results, and above all else – a better level of service to them. This would be where the change of the trainer I was to the coach I wanted to become began to happen. Once the readings, the studying, the conversations, and wisdom gleaned from others started seeping into my head on a permanent level, I could feel momentum coming to me, and that is more powerful than motivation any day of the week.
In part 2, I am going to discuss the journey from level 2 to level 3 which was painfully long, full of missteps, and lots of failures. In simple terms, it was the best education I received.
About Jeff Black
Jeff is a nationally recognized health and fitness coach, public speaker, podcast host for The Excellence Cartel, owner of Iron House Strength & Conditioning, bodybuilder, and Osteogenesis Imperfecta Advocate. He is also a roundtable expert on IntenseMuscle.com.
Today, Jeff works collectively with some of the top coaches in the health and fitness space presenting to other coaches and individuals on health and fitness. He has a passion for leadership and serving others to help them be their own hero. He is recognized for his results, but above all else, the passion he has for the coach’s heart he holds dear.