“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu
Back in the 1980s when leg warmers ruled, the fitness revolution had just begun. At the tender age of 19 I started teaching high impact aerobic classes, in the day when no training or certifications was required. If you looked cute in a bright unitard and could work a tape deck, you could take the helm of a class.
Back then, the sign of a ‘good’ instructor was the highest number of people you were able to 'drop' out of your classes during the hour. The more people walked out because it was too hard, the better you were (because you were fit!).
I am so embarrassed now, reflecting back on those days. What were we thinking?
I have learned a lot over the years, and since my return to teaching group exercise classes nine years ago I have learned that being a good instructor is easy, but being a great instructor is much harder.
GOING FROM GOOD TO GREAT
There are many ways you can go from good to great, and while you may not always be ‘the best instructor they ever had,’ you can be the best that you can be…and make a difference.
As a great instructor:
- You are a leader, coach, and cheerleader.
- You read the people in your classes, and adjust your rides according to the mood and energy of the group.
- You balance giving students a good solid, ride while not boring them to death.
- You constantly educate yourself and your class participants, arming them with new tools for success each and every time they walk out of the room.
- You strive to be the ‘best hour of their day’ no matter how you are personally feeling. They showed up to your class…they deserve your focus, attention and passion.
- You set the bar in terms of work effort, but you also let your students see your human side (“Did you eat too much candy this weekend? Me too!” “Whoa, that was hard ,but we did it!”).
- You empower them to feel successful, rewarding their efforts with genuine compliments and reminding them that they don’t have to be perfect all the time. Trying is good enough.
- You help them feel OK with the fact that sometimes it’s perfectly fine to go a little easier in class. As long as they show up, they are a success in your book.
- You care about your students, their lives and their goals.
Most of us are in this business for one reason: We want to help make a difference, and we are passionate about what we do. While there are a few instructors in it for, as Lady Gaga would say, “the applause,” those instructors are flashes in the pan—here one day, gone the next, onward to the next round of applause somewhere else.
Unlike days past, I now aim to keep people in my classes, not drop them in the first 20 minutes. I want someone to leave a class feeling confident and strong, not feeling that they “could never do” what I am doing on the bike. I am their coach, their guide, and their cheerleader, but not their ruler.
Ultimately, I want class participants to know that they succeeded on their own.
“We did it ourselves.” Yes indeed. You did.