Culture Starts at the Top

A lone figure stands atop a great snowy mountain against a bright blue sky with a sunburst and a few white clouds.

The two words that define leadership are “follow me.”
You will gain the attention of many people in your career. But you will keep the attention of people who want to be like you.
John Maxwell calls this “the aspirational leader.” But I first learned it from Maya Angelou, in person, from a stage in Chicago:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I first wrote “Cowboys vs. Shepherds” to describe different styles of leadership I saw in the fitness industry back in 2010. Since then, many other leaders have shared different strategies that really stuck with me. Servant leadership was one of those. But the overarching lesson is this:
Your “corporate culture,” your “brand,” your “community”—it all starts from the top down. People will do what you do. They will behave the way you behave. They will respond the way you do.
People will not quit your gym if your bathroom is dirty. They’ll quit your gym if you don’t care enough to clean it up.
Linda Kaplan Thaler will be one of our speakers in the Tinker group this year. Her book “The Power of Nice” was formative to me as a young leader. Not everyone will be attracted to “the nice guy.” But the nice people will be. And those are the people I want to serve.

Authenticity, Culture and Leadership


“Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” —Einstein

Being a genius made Einstein good at his job. But being relatable made him popular.
Authenticity, in business, means that you have skin in the game. It means that you identify with your audience because you are them.
You know all about their accounting problems because you have trouble balancing your own books.
You know all about their weight-loss problems because, after working a 14-hour day at the gym, the last thing you want to do is cook dinner. So, doughnuts.
You know all about their bad hair days because you have them, too.
Sharing these stories with your clients and staff tells them, “We’re the same.” It says, “You can believe me when I tell you that you need new tires on your truck because I had the same experience.”
The reason my first book is still popular is because I share the bad stories as well as the good. I don’t give advice without the hard lessons that led me to a positive outcome. In the fitness industry, where everyone knows everything, there are many consultants who have never made a mistake in their lives. They’re better at CrossFit than I am, their hair is “on point,” and they get 50 new gym members every single day. Every day. Believe it, bro.
The reason most entrepreneurs in the Two-Brain Family stay in our Facebook group but quit all the others is because of the tone. Anyone in the Facebook group will tell you it’s the best Facebook group on the planet. We achieve it by setting the tone with our messaging, by sharing freely (materials, plus wins and losses), and by providing a safe place for confiding fears. Is it easy to always be positive and supportive? No way. But it’s the work that actually matters. Not the emails you automate but the example you set.
On the CrossFit podcast, Sevan Matossian asked me, “How important is authenticity in our business?” and I gave the example of an overweight trainer who exercises hard. If the trainer has lost 100 lb., he can help another client lose weight better than I can—even if the trainer is still slightly overweight. He doesn’t have to be the best exerciser in the gym. He doesn’t need the best abs. He just needs to be authentic.
No one can hide his or her true self for long. Your authentic self will eventually be uncovered by our audience. If your authentic self is someone your audience likes, you will have good “culture.” “Culture” means duplicating your example over and over and over. Culture, as I wrote in the previous article in this series, is the sum of your 1:1 relationships.
If, on the other hand, your authentic self is an asshole, make your money quick and get the hell out. Because people are going to figure it out.
You and I, we’re in the relationship business.  They know when you’re faking it, and they know when you’re not. People are smart.

Culture Follows the Leader

Mimicry is part of human nature. Tony Robbins teaches it as part of his courses. Seth Godin’s phrase “people like us do things like this” isn’t just a descriptive way to teach marketing: It’s a directive. It’s a call to action. If you want your “culture” to be friendly and positive, be friendly and positive. People will copy you.
You teach them how to treat you. Be the person you want them to be.

Other Articles in This Series

How to Measure (and Improve) Your Culture
Culture by Design
Staff Culture and “Who Luck”
What’s More Important Than Culture?


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.