Of all the valuable lessons I have learnt over my 7 ½ years owning a gym, I didn’t think that learning to develop an amazing, selfless, grateful, ego-less, inclusive and supportive culture would be the most valuable and rewarding one. 

Don’t get me wrong, having the skill set that allows me to help transform somebody’s life is so very rewarding. I have experienced and had a degree of influence in just about all the stories… incredible weight loss, avoiding chronic illness, sporting success, repaired relationships, regaining the ability to conceive, a newfound outlook on life. My gym and my influence is partly responsible for these stories becoming a reality. These achievements are why we get into this industry, but I am not in it for the self serving gratification you receive when such success is made by our members. “I didn’t do it, you did it.” I am guaranteed to say, and genuinely mean it. 

I don’t really like receiving praise. I mean, I will always gratefully and humbly accept it. But I am just a bit awkward around it. I prefer to see the success of the team rather than my own. So I have never been driven to do things purely to receive acknowledgement. I am the guy that never tells you when I have achieved something quite remarkable, but will quickly bang on about Johnny and how bloody hard he worked to get that muscle up. 

I think this is why the success of the gym’s community culture is so incredibly rewarding to me. Striving for an excellent culture makes every success a team effort. Whether or not they knew it, it wasn’t just Johnny and I that got him that muscle up. Truman spent the extra time with him after class. The entire 6pm crew got around him every time he practiced. Sally at 5am sent him a few video tips. Kristie gave him the shout out on the members group for his efforts 5 weeks before he even achieved the feat. Krysten gave him nutrition advice to help aid his ability to achieve such a physically demanding movement. 

But it goes well beyond that. It is the inclusive, classless and cliqueless behaviour all members display. It is the attitude shared that all goals are equal and all journeys are unique. It is knowing when to be competitive with one another for the purpose of shared betterment and when it is just to pump up ego’s and swing dicks. It is the shared stories of gratitude, struggles and success. These values and shared ideals all contribute to not only creating an enjoyable space to be a part of, these values and ideals help foster greater individual success. By feeling supported and safe, our members thrive. And the best bit is, they’re all involved in the process, they all help influence each other’s success. It’s not just me and our coaching team. We don’t get to take all the glory, we don’t want to either. A champion team always trumps a team of champions. 

I certainly don’t think I have cracked The Culture Code, and I absolutely have made some epic mistakes over my time. But these mistakes turned into lessons and these lessons promoted change. Without the mistakes the culture wouldn’t be where it currently is and my confidence in my ability to effectively develop a desirable culture wouldn’t be equally as strong as my confidence in my ability to effectively teach, see and correct a deadlift. But it is. 

I have compiled a list of all of the actions and behaviours that, for a leader, I feel are vital in developing and fostering a vibrant and supportive culture. I hope to refine and define this list further over time, as I believe that this list holds so much power to positively influence a desirable community. So here it goes. In no particular order (like I said, it ‘aint refined), but every point is important and dependent on one another.:

  • Put others first. With care, kindness, generosity and selflessness

  • Have boundaries, don’t be a ‘Yes Man’

  • Be honest and transparent, always

  • Own your mistakes, always take responsibility

  • Allow others to make mistakes

  • Listen, you don’t always need to have a solution

  • Show your weaknesses, be vulnerable

  • Don’t hide any part of yourself

  • Celebrate the success of others

  • Praise effort over talent

  • Do hard things often

  • Don’t do anything for instant gratification or purely to serve your ego. Your self serving rewards of gratification will come to you in the long term, and by then you should have realised that you don’t need it

  • Don’t do things for praise (similar for the above point)

  • Lead by example, make your actions infectious

  • Define core values, share them often

  • Share your attention evenly, no cliques

  • If toxic cliques exist, disband them. Though following this list should eradicate the desire to have individualised cliques. In short, fuck them off. (What is a clique? It is a non-inclusive subgroup of people that enjoy eachothers company and enjoy your community, but prefer it on their own terms, have no desire to support others or be a part of the greater community. It often leads to behaviours including gossiping, negative groupthink, selfishness, self righteousness, entitlement and ungratefulness. Cliques are more infectious than COVID19. Cliques will kill your culture and push away the desirable people in your community.)

  • Create a sense of greater purpose by focusing more on the bigger picture and less on the small (insignificant) stuff

  • Don’t complain

  • Stop talking about yourself

  • Respond, don’t react

  • You don’t have to always be Mr/Mrs positive, so don’t pretend. Acknowledge when things aren’t well, then find gratitude and perspective and get back to leading humbly

  • Promote excellence, not perfection

  • Get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations

  • The little efforts and thoughts count significantly more than big grand gestures

  • Show courage in the face of adversity and uncertainty

  • Put yourself in your group’s shoes. Would you be happy with the decisions you are making and the actions you are taking for the group if you were a member?

  • When the desired culture is being displayed, praise it, celebrate it, reinforce it.

  • No dickheads

  • Sharpen the axe. When you think you’ve just about cracked the culture code. Find ways to prove yourself wrong, don’t stop until you have found a fault. Then find some more. Ask trusted and honest peers for their opinion and input. 

A community is organic and ever evolving, which is why the culture code will never be cracked. But we can strive for it. The pursuit of an excellent culture will lead to an abundance of team success. When the team wins, everybody wins. 

“While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” ― Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code


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