The Power of Boutiques – The Value of Iconic Leadership

Published: May 18, 2016

The Power of Boutiques – The Value of Iconic Leadership

In a presentation we recently gave at the 2016 IHRSA International Convention entitled, “The Power of Boutiques: Leveraging the Power in a Traditional Club Setting”, one of the powers we highlighted was iconic leadership.

John Quincy Adams said of leadership, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you’re a leader.” His perspective holds as true today in the fitness industry as it did nearly 200 years ago when this statement was first made. According to Webster’s Dictionary, iconic references being widely recognized and well established for distinctive excellence. Consequently, an iconic leader is someone well-recognized for their excellence, someone who through their actions provides the vision and inspiration to engage the passions of their followers, and by doing so they are able to connect with their followers, and more importantly, help their followers connect with each other.  Seth Godin may have described the influence of an iconic leader in the following quote, “Leaders lead when they take positions, when they connect with their tribe, and when they help the tribe connect to itself.”

In our experience, not all boutiques have iconic leaders or founders, but those that do are able to thrive in the midst of marketplace turmoil. Examples of iconic leaders in the fitness industry (boutiques and traditional clubs), individuals who through the sheer force of their aura and actions have enabled a passionate tribe include luminaries such as Red Lerille of Red’s in Lafayette, Louisiana; Joe Cirulli of Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers, Gainesville, Florida; David Patchell Evans, Goodlife Fitness, Canada; Greg Glassman, Crossfit; Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice of Soul Cycle, and Todd Durkin of Fit Quest 10 in San Diego. While each of these leaders is different in both style and substance, what they have accomplished speaks to the attributes of an iconic leader, three of which are:

  • They believe strongly in something. In the case of the aforementioned leaders, they believe strongly in the brand of fitness they espouse, whether it’s lifting weights, functional training or group cycling.
  • They practice what they believe. They don’t just preach their ideology; they are out there every day acting passionately on their belief.
  • They connect the members of their tribe with each other. They do this by embodying the ideology and providing a platform that allows members of the tribe to connect with each other. This might involve being seen in their facilities working with staff and clients, writing a blog that is distributed to their followers, or regularly posting on social media (for example Todd Durkin has over 22,000 followers on Twitter).
  • They construct rituals and traditions that help the tribe celebrate who they are and cement the culture of the brand (e.g., Crossfit Games).

A great boutique fitness studio or any great brand needs to have an iconic leader. Sometimes that leader can be more than one individual, as reflected in this anonymous quote, “When people really participate, the trigger is not the cause, but a micro-community – the group of people they already care about.”

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