Everyone will respond in their own way to crisis. Change is not easy for most people and having no certainty or control over key aspects of your life is certainly challenging for all of us.

In a time of extreme crisis in the health and fitness industry, how do we lead well? The lack of ability to physically touch people or even be in the same physical space as them, makes it hard to support our teams in the usual way. Most of us crave physical contact right now, we want to hug lots of people as hard as we can. In the fitness industry we are also talking about a group of people who are extroverts. We are not comfy in isolation at all.

First and foremost establish the range of need within your team and then respond to those needs in a variety of ways, depending on the need. This will not be a one size fits all solution but the good news is that there is lots that we can do.

Connection is key to leading well through a time of crisis and that is going to work on a number of levels. Keeping your team connected with you as their leader will be one of the most important factors, from which other things can flow. Give them pertinent positive information from the wider company perspective also, so that they remain connected on a broader level. It is also important to connect them to one another.

Prioritise your people. Work out how to authentically connect with your team as a whole and individually. Connection needs to be meaningful and honest. During the COVID-19 crisis I have chosen to focus on personal one on one phone calls with my team members, above other less personal forms of team communication. I have certainly addressed my team as a whole using a range of forms of communication and I have also clustered people together but an individual and regular touch base has been my primary focus and my most effective tool.

Give permission for people to feel however they are feeling in response to this unprecedented global crisis. Allowing people to feel how they feel, and acknowledging that, is important. You can follow up with support on ways to shift how they are feeling, suggestions on how to view the crisis differently, tools on how to adapt to it, proactive things for them to do to move through it and ways for them to focus on what happens after it.

A time of crisis does foster creativity and encourage people to find more inventive solutions to their current challenges. We can experience enormous personal growth as we navigate our way through a crisis, learning to overcome new obstacles, thinking differently, adapting, working and living differently, exploring different mindsets, staying agile. Be an influencer within your team.

 Be vulnerable and open as a leader and be human. Honesty and sharing how you are feeling will help further develop trust between you and your team. Ask your team what they need, what you can do better. Ask for their ideas and suggestions and empower them to put those ideas into action. Question yourself on how you can serve your team better in this time of crisis.

Invest your time in your people. Be available. Take the time to listen, without judgement. Offer compassion, support and understanding. You cannot undervalue the gift of giving someone your time. You don’t have to have the solution, just listen.

Stay in regular contact, keep close to your team and be aware of a range of feelings and reactions as the situation changes and continues. Take note of any different behaviours or anyone who is unusually quiet and reach out to them.

Educate yourself on leading well through a time of crisis. Listen to the experts, read relevant materials, learn, grow, stay open, share ideas with peers and colleagues. Think laterally and be creative. No-one has done this before, so share ideas, exchange information, think on your feet. Together we are stronger. We can learn from each other.

I have chosen to get to know my team better during this time, as we all have nothing but time right now. I have also chosen to help them get to know one another better. Each day I profile a different GEX Coach in our private Facebook group. I have encouraged specific coaches to offer staff classes to help them grow their skillset, to allow staff to get to know them and their teaching style better and so that everyone keeps fit and keeps working on their skillset.

Motivational and inspirational posts can be good, particularly funny ones. Humour and laughter is so important in times of great challenge. Nothing helps more than a really good laugh. Try to set up or provide opportunities for the team to have fun together and have a laugh. This will relax people immediately and take their mind of the crisis, at least for a while, and it will help them connect to one another.

Encourage new learnings and offer suggestions, provide links and free resources and provide mental health support. Ask your team to think of skills they have that can help others or maybe it’s a skill they can teach others at this time. It is also a great time to create some mentoring opportunities for your team. Respect that some people just need space to rebuild, recover, regroup and reinvent. Gratitude is also a really helpful mindset to develop at this time also. There are some good resources out there to share with your teams. Focusing on mindfulness and learning to live in the moment and be present as some valuable skills you can teach your team and use yourself.

At the end of the day, we are in this together and we will come out of this together. We do tribal really well in the fitness industry and there is no occasion which calls for it more than now.


Leisl Klaebe is the Group Exercise Manager of 3 newly established Virgin Active clubs in the Sydney CBD.  She manages a timetable of over 400 classes a week and a team of over 70 GEX coaches. With close to 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry. Leisl is a well respected motivational leader and a former recipient of the prestigious Virgin Star Award. She has recently been appointed Global Ambassador for The Women in Fitness Association. Contact her at [email protected]

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