What is leading from the front?
Leading from the front is when you do what you say instead of just telling others to do what you say.
In 2016, I accepted my first role as a fitness manager. A fitness manager is the head of the personal training department. The fitness manager teaches personal trainers how to build and manage their businesses. These duties range from teaching trainers how to conduct sessions, sell packages, retain clients, and conduct themselves with fitness professionals' integrity.
As a leader, I cannot tell my trainers to do something that I haven't done myself. I cannot require them to reach levels that I haven't reached before.
When you lead from the front, you encounter all obstacles first, and you learn how to navigate them, over them, or through them. This process contains methods that will lead your team more efficiently and see more success in any realm that you are a leader in. These methods have worked for me as a leader, and they have led me to success in my job, sports, and family life.
Method #1: Strengthen your shield.
Build your skillset to protect your team.
As a leader, your shield is your word. Your shield is your authority. In the workplace, your shield is the manager title that allows you to take ownership of the good and bad things that happen on your team.
In sports, your shield is the captain's title that makes you the fall guy for the team's failure and the #1 cheerleader when the team is successful. The leader of the group is assumed to be the most skilled person on the team.
In battle, the warrior leading the charge is the strongest and the most skilled. Imagine that as the leader of your team, you have to be the strongest, and on top of being the strongest, you have to have the strongest shield to protect your army from the incoming arrows of the enemy.
A strong shield is usually the heaviest. It is made of reinforced armor. It is battle-tested to withstand pressure, and it takes the strongest warrior in the army to hold it. For example, when you are the team manager, you may have a boss who tells you to do something that may not be in your team's best interest. As the leader, your job is to shield your team from the negativity coming from your boss to keep them performing at a high level. As a fitness manager, my job was to ensure my team was growing their active clients and their sessions serviced.
These actions meant my trainers would be able to make money living their dreams as fitness professionals. Throughout my time as a fitness leader, I have been pressured by managers to focus on generating revenue instead of delivering life-changing personal training sessions. I knew this pressure would impact my teams’ work quality, and it would make my trainers miserable because they would become salesmen instead of life changers.
My shield was strong. I always stood up for my team, and I would take whatever consequence that came due to my team not adhering to specific rules. These actions led me to become promoted twice because my team excelled under these conditions. There was no pressure on them to do something that would make them uncomfortable, which allowed them to focus on being productive. In this case, I'm talking about trying to trick a little old lady on a fixed income to buy thousands of dollars in personal training for the sake of revenue instead of just showing her how to use the correct machines to allow her to prolong her health. My team would deliver results that rose them to being recognized regionally as a top fitness team in the company. They trained with integrity, and their success led to revenue.
As the leader, I had to absorb all the arrows of criticism, corrective actions, and negative coaching’s against my job to shield my team from these arrows coming their way. As a strong leader, my shield was able to withstand these arrows. It led me to a successful career as a
fitness manager, with multiple trainers becoming master trainers under my leadership.
Take all the negativity in life and keep it away from everyone behind you.
Absorbing arrows is hard, which is why it's so important to have a strong shield. To absorb arrows, you must see them coming. Be aware of everything that can go wrong and address those issues first.
Mentally go over the consequences of all actions before leading your team down a path. Take ownership of any failure before you allow your team to take the blame.
It's never on them; it's on you. By absorbing these arrows, you will find the soldiers in your army who are willing to help you remove the arrows from your shield. You will also find the soldiers who will lay down their weapons and watch as you take barrage after barrage of arrows until your shield finally breaks.
In both cases, you will be in a great spot as a leader because now you identified your army's real strength. I learned this the hard way. I trusted in multiple trainers to stick up for me as I did them, and as a result, I needed to answer for mistakes that weren’t mine. I saved jobs that didn’t deserve to be protected and put mine at risk to keep some people employed. I also learned that I had leaders stronger than me working for me, and these trainers were able to not only uplift me when I was down, but they would shoulder the load for me when I felt that I couldn’t withstand the pressure.
These trainers gave me the energy to continue to absorb arrows, and my finest moment as a fitness manager was watching these trainers go on to run their own teams and businesses.
Absorbing arrows will show you the real strength of your army. Once you have identified this strength, you can now develop them.
Train people under you to be as strong as you, or better.
When your army is strong, they will want to be like you. (Hopefully, not exactly like you. You wouldn’t want to come to work with your whole staff dressed like you.
That would be creepy.) Since your soldier will want to mimic your actions, develop your soldiers to take over your spot once you are gone.
Remember, you cannot withstand arrows forever.
Eventually, your shield will break, and you will fail. Absorbing arrows of negativity will shine a light on your top soldiers. Train them to strengthen their shields and show them how to absorb arrows. Once they are ready, bring them to the front lines to absorb the arrows with you. Now you have extra levels of defense to protect your team. Now you can focus on developing more soldiers.
An example of this is how I developed one of my trainers at the first gym I managed. I spent months showing him the techniques that made me successful. He always applied these techniques and excelled as my top trainer. He became so good at his job. I would give him the task of training my underperforming trainers on how to prepare their clients better.
He would go over new fitness training techniques with the trainers and show them how to organize their schedules better to be more productive. These actions took the pressure off of me by giving me more time to fix other issues with the business, which kept my team out of the negative spotlight, and as a result, allowed them to perform at a higher level. None of this could have been done without assistance from one of my top soldiers.
The process of developing your army will lead straight into method #4.
As a leader, you are only as great as your successor; if you have trained someone to be just like you and succeed, you have successfully led from the front. The analogy of a soldier leading from the front into battle is the start of the journey.
Remember, before the battle, you strengthen your shield to absorb the arrows of the enemy. As you are successfully absorbing arrows, you will see who is strong enough to be developed under you. Next, you pick that person as your successor. Your successor is the soldier who has been developed to be just as strong as you or stronger. Their shield is strong, and they can absorb the arrows of negativity for the team. They are so strong they can stand in front of you while you continue to develop the rest of your army. Eventually, you are watching your successor lead, and now your job is done.
An example of this is when I was promoted out of my small gym into the district's second-biggest gym. My successor had been pretty much running the team for months. I had become more of a cheerleader for my team instead of the leader. My job started to become me giving out high fives and congratulating trainers for their hard work rather than giving direction or advice because they were already receiving this information. My successor was the one running the show.
Eventually, my company saw this and saw fit to give me a $22,000 raise to do the same process with a bigger team. Once I was on a bigger team, I was able to look back at my old gym and watch them succeed from afar.
The problem with leading from the front is that you can get comfortable, and comfort can lead to being too relaxed, which leads to mistakes. When the first four methods are executed correctly, you will find leadership easy, and as a result, you may fall back and start leading from behind.
Why is this bad?
When you lead from behind, you cannot see the enemy. You cannot see what dangers need to be navigated around or through for your team to succeed.
What happens if your successor's shield becomes weak? What happens when they cannot absorb arrows? What happens if there is no one to develop the soldiers behind them?
Leading from behind is what leads an army to fails. One break in the chain and your entire team has been defeated.
Leading from the back is challenging because you must put your shield down to see your team in front of you. Since you are behind them, they must turn to hear your orders, which distracts them from the fight in front of them. Also, the soldiers that are too far in the front may not hear you,
and when they cannot hear you, they press on when they shouldn't be, leaving your army divided
An example of this was when I worked at a small boxing studio. The owner took pride in leading from the back. He would send the other employees and me out to market the gym and teach classes for the members. He wouldn't take our advice on how to help the business run better. This led to a big disconnect between the members and the owner.
The members would come to us with problems. We would voice them to the owner, and he would ignore them. His negligence eventually led to the downfall of the business. The owner was too far back to see the issues coming, so he wasn't ready when the issues showed up at his doorstep. These issues overcame him, and the gym ended up shutting down. I used this experience as a lesson when I became the manager at my next gym. I would never send my trainers out on tasks that I wasn't willing to do myself.
I would never ignore an issue brought to me by my trainers. I would hear it out and find a way to get ahead of it before becoming a bigger problem. I had been a part of a team where the leader was too far back to help us win, and that taught me to always lead from the front.
In methods 2-4, I speak about building people up to take over for you, but that doesn't mean fall back. It means to watch your army succeed. Fortify your shield. Make it bigger and stronger. Then when it’s time for a new battle, jump out in front and lead your army to victory.
The final example I have of this is my last fitness team. I had the honor to lead. By the end of my first year there, I had so many strong soldiers there, I could have taken a month off, and the gym would have run with no problem. I always took pride in leading from the front, and so did they. I would laugh when my supervisors would ask my team questions because their responses were still the same as mine. We fortified ourselves and protected each other from any and everyone. As I departed from the team to take on another leadership role, I knew they would be successful many years after being gone.