As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Henigan.
Patrick has been a sought after Strength and Conditioning Coach for the better part of a decade. He has trained MLS players, Fortune 500 CEOs and SNL Cast Members. He is the owner of Jacksonville Fitness Academy in Jacksonville, FL. Patrick views fitness differently than most of the industry because his path to fitness was much different. From his late teens to early 20s Patrick was an opiate addict. He was unhealthy and unhappy and used vigorous physical and spiritual discipline to transform his body and his mind. Today he is 10 years sober and brings the lessons he learned to all of his clients.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was a high level soccer player for most of my life, so I understood the value of physical fitness, but it was very shallow. When I was around 18 I developed an opiate addiction which morphed over time into a heroin addiction. When I was 22 I realized I needed to change everything about my life if I wanted to live a full life, so I started using physical fitness as part of my recovery routine. It was more effective, empowering and sustainable than any 12 Step meeting. I realized through my own journey that most people could use physical fitness as a means to transform not only their body, but their mindset and their life.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Oh, man. Too many to begin. I think when you’re young and new in any industry you become very infatuated with whatever is trendy, so you follow and maybe even seek out those trends. As you get older you realize that the trends don’t matter, and don’t last. It’s the principles that are the guiding light to success.
I remember when I first started as a trainer “Functional Fitness” was a big trend. Every movement and exercise had to mimic a real life “functional” movement or it was deemed useless. I fell for this trend very hard. I would try to shoe horn my clients into a functional program, even if it didn’t fit their goals.
It was a great learning experience because it taught me the value of individualism in both the programming and the communication needed in my profession.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m immensely grateful for my two mentors, Luke Hocevar and Steve Krebs. Luka is one of the best gym owners in the country who has taught me more than I can list here, from how to track KPIs, to how to write copy, to how to program for professional athletes.
Steve has really turned me from a business boy into a businessman. He’s helped mold and guide my mindset to the effective, stoic and strategic place it needs to be for my company and myself to grow.
Steve has called me out for much of my less than effective behavior. I remember once he called me just to tell me to stop turning everything into a joke. I like to laugh and I like to make people laugh, so a lot of times I use that as a defense mechanism, but no one had ever called me out on it before. Ever since then my communication, content have flourished because I no longer fear letter people see the real me, or voicing my real opinions.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
My vision was, and always has been to use physical fitness as a vehicle for personal improvement. Too many people ignore the health of their bodies, and really it’s the quickest way to empower yourself. Pushing yourself in the gym is a very fast path to creating a stronger mindset, which allows you to better handle the rigors of life. It’s a great way to build capacity to handle difficult situations, much like we find ourselves in now.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
We’re lucky in that we had an easy pivot point. We could transition very quickly and easily to online delivery during the COVID shut down. I knew that my team were feeling the same uncertainty and anxiety that our clients were. It was my job to provide opportunities for my team to be involved, active and autonomous in their work when we transitioned to online business.
I tried to provide as many virtual training sessions for my team to coach as possible. This kept their schedule relatively close to what it was pre-shutdown. More importantly it kept them close to the clients, so both parties got the benefit of socializing and maintaining their strong relationships.
My head trainer, Andrew, actually ended up working more hours during the shutdown than he did before. The clients loved be able to see him everyday, and he loved being able to see and still coach them. Oftentimes he was their first defense against the anxiety created by uncertain times.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I never have, and never will consider giving up. To be honest I found the shutdown a great challenge, and I am always seeking challenges. The motivation to conquer whatever is put in front of me is enough to sustain my continuous action.
I also found it easy to focus on growth and maintaining the company’s pace once I turned corona from an obstacle into an enemy. I had something to measure myself against, and something to focus on beating. It made my daily focus very on point.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The purpose of leadership during challenging times is to keep everyone within your reach calm, positive and moving forward.
This was made abundantly clear during the shutdown, when everyone’s routine was forcefully upended. It was my job to help as many people as possible instill a sense of discipline in their daily life so they would not fall victim to the anxiety that uncertainty brings.
It’s the leaders job to survey both the past, present and future to plot the safest path for their people to progress. A leader also needs to focus on these 3 things so their people only have to focus on the present, and only have to focus on taking one step at a time.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best thing a leader can do is to remain disciplined and calm to inspire confidence in their team. If you don’t take the time to think, strategize and move forward your team will never do the same. In uncertain times we need to grow broader shoulders so we can carry a heavier load.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I always like to speak face to face, in a very calm and rational manner. Even during difficult conversations you can minimize the impact by not overreacting and implementing a helpful mindset, instead of one based in conflict.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You need to be realistic, but also keep your big picture goal in mind. JD Rockefeller built his empire during a depression. There are always opportunities for those who have an adaptive mindset and the will to follow through.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Our principle has always been culture first. We keep a culture that is positive, encouraging but not afraid to push people in order to help them improve. That means that my team is self motivated, but accountable to what’s needed to be done. Our collective mindset allows us to come together and push through many obstacles.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
In my industry a lot of trainers just accepted the situation and did not attempt to pivot online. That just shows a lack of care for your clients, and it implies to me that you might not be in the industry for the right reasons. We’re agents of change and that means we need to roll with the punches and adapt to help our people.
I also saw a lot of public complaining and name calling on social media. If your job is to lead people to a better, stronger life loud complaining is not going to help them. You need to be the example.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
We’ve actually grown during the COVID situation. We perfected our virtual and online services, and still offer them despite the fact that our physical location is open. Now instead of our market being North Florida, it’s the whole world. We have clients in Philadelphia, California and even Italy and Australia now. There is always opportunity if you’re willing to learn and to work.
I’ve also had the chance to work virtually with a lot of high school soccer teams, none of which are in my area. I train 75 high school soccer players from St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia. Their coach is very forward thinking and adapted quickly to keep his players in game shape.
The gym’s membership has grown since we’ve reopened because we’ve invested heavily in medical grade disinfectants and cleaning supplies. We disinfect the gym once per hour, and provide each client with a spray bottle and towel during their sessions.
We limit the capacity of the gym to 4 clients per hour for Semi Private Training, so they have adequate space to maintain social distance. We limit the capacity of our classes to 6 clients per class for the same reason.
A lot of people are looking to improve their health. Coronavirus has shown people the importance of their personal health and it’s our job to provide a safe location for clients to get stronger and healthier so we’ve done everything we can to keep the gym perfectly clean.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay Calm. If you’re not calm your team will see and react accordingly. Be prepared to be your team’s therapist. Your team is going to feel anxiety, fear and depression just like the rest of society. Sometimes you need to take off your boss hat and just listen to their concerns and fears.
- Be ready to do a lot for free. I wrote a 25 page eBook called “Daily Discipline” that I gave away for free. Almost 400 people downloaded it. It was simply a book that showed the benefits of creating and sticking to a routine during uncertain times. I provided tips for creating a simple morning routine that would help people set their mindset for the day. They say the first battle you face every day is the battle in your mind, and I wanted to help as many people overcome that as possible. The book also provided strategies to create a night time routine so people could sleep better. I didn’t care or want to make money from this, I just saw the statistics about how the mental health of the nation was suffering during the quarantine and I wanted to help as many people as possible with these simple, science backed lessons.
- Adapt or die. We really didn’t have a choice during quarantine to adapt. The government told us that we HAD to shut our doors, so we did. If we didn’t find a way to deliver our services virtually to our clients we would have died. There’s no wiggle room. It took a week or two to perfect the delivery and systems with virtual training but once we got over the first few road bumps it was easy sailing. Our clients had access to multiple personal training sessions and classes every day. My team had a chance to keep their hours pretty close to normal.
- In chaos there is opportunity. When everyone else is losing their head it’s always the calm mind that wins. When every other gym owner was scrambling to figure things out, I was a step ahead. I saw the writing on the wall as gyms were forced to close on the West Coast. I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened in Florida.
- You can’t deny reality to make yourself feel better. You need to look is square in the eyes and make a plan. If I denied reality I would not have been able to develop a plan to keep the business running during the shutdown, and my current reality would look much more bleak.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from Oliver Wendall Holmes: “Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.”
You can’t accomplish what you want in life if you’re afraid of what other people think of you. You can’t reach your full potential if you’re always planning and never acting. Action and work ethic are the great equalizers. You can grow, build and become what you want if you’re willing to work.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I post daily helpful videos on instagram my username is JaxFitAcademy.
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