By Michael Gunther

Imagine this… It’s 5:45 AM. Loud club music is blaring in the room. And 24 people are pedaling as fast as they can on stationary cycles going up and down imaginary mountains and valleys.

The lead cyclist tells you to pick up the pace, tighten the road, stand up—encouraging you to go faster and harder. Fans are spinning, trying to keep you cool as sweat accumulates all over your body. Just when you think you can’t go any farther he yells, “15 more seconds, you can do it!” You push harder and harder. “Five more seconds!” he exclaims. You made it up the first hill of the day and only have 30 more minutes to go…

Welcome to my morning—three days a week. I must admit, I have angst about attending the class when my alarm goes off at 4:45 AM, but I feel totally energized by 6:30 AM when I arrive back at home with my mind clear to start the day and my body raring to go. It has been interesting to observe the different styles of the instructors (the lead cyclists). Some are truly amazing at challenging and encouraging the students, while others just seem to go through the motions. It made me think about how these attitudes are often replicated in leaders or managers in businesses. Some are great at building up their teams, while others are just doing their jobs and getting through the day.

When contemplating this further, I realized that one instructor, Jeff, is far and away my favorite. In fact, I got the inspiration for this article while talking with one of my fellow cyclists before Jeff’s class last week. We both noticed the different styles of leadership (my words) exhibited by the instructors. We realized we both valued the unique energy Jeff brings to the class—he wants to be there and he truly supports you in achieving your goals. He goes above and beyond, even timing his music to the moments of the highs and lows of each exercise. He is always checking in with the class, making sure everyone is doing okay while encouraging us to challenge ourselves. Lastly, he provides ongoing measurements on where we are against our goals. If we’re cycling up a hill, he keeps us posted on how much farther we have to go. He lets us know what’s coming up next as well as what’s left for the rest of the class.

Think of some of the best leaders or managers you know. Do they create a motivating environment—even when the projects and issues are challenging or stressful? Do they check in with you just enough to see how you’re doing, asking if you need assistance or help to achieve your goals? When the challenge pushes you to achieve a new level of performance, don’t they encourage you to continue on? Do they provide check points as to where you are with both your short term and long term goals? At the end of the day, when you’ve reached a new level of skill or performance, look back and consider if your leader helped make it achievable and more fulfilling.

Unfortunately, not everyone has experienced a leader like the one I described. Often, the leaders may be more focused on their own needs than the needs of the team members. They may create an environment of mediocrity, instead of one that allows you to further your development and growth. They may also just be going through the motions and not providing any guidance or direction. They perform their role, but are not truly leading.

Bottom Line

Be a Jeff. Create a motivating environment for your team. Challenge them to push harder and get better at what they do. If you sense any stress or frustration, support them and keep them posted on where they are in their process of achieving their goals—provide ongoing check points.

On a side note: A little rocking out to Pandora’s Pop & Hip Hop Power Workout station also helps.

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. 

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