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Being a Great Leader



    by Robin Davis



Being a great leader in the field of aquatic fitness takes time and effort.  Being a leader does not always come naturally.

Let’s think about it. Running a business – whether it is our own, a municipal facility, or a private club – brings responsibilities, staffing concerns, skills to develop, and variable situations with which to deal. For our staff, we are the motivators, problem solvers, coaches, and, oftentimes, we also have our own classes to lead.  People need us!  Our job is important, and we know that we need to strive to be our very best.

Here are a few tips that will help achieve the goal of being a great leader:

Establish a vision/purpose for your program, one that will keep everyone on track and motivated. The vision needs to be clear to all our employees know.  Make sure the vision is more than just a document. Post it, talk about it in staff meetings, and discuss it in trainings. Spend time with each employee explaining their role in the vision. Meet often and place a high value on two-way communication.  This will allow for the sharing of many inspiring ideas and suggestions. If an idea or suggestions does not support the vision well, then it likely will not be implemented. However, always be respectful of the person or persons who brought the idea to your attention.

Focus on your people as well as your purpose. You manage projects and programs, as well as your staff, and they should be at the core of your leadership. Always remember that a great leader is a teacher and a coach, not a dictator.  A great leader understands when to nurture their teams, and when they need to push them.  You need to have a balance between giving up too much control and being too controlling. Control in management means setting standards, measuring actual performance, and following through when corrections are needed. This should be done in a way that tells your staff that you care about them. 

The hiring process should not be rushed. It can be hard to find the right fit. For example, know what you’re looking for in an instructor, including abilities, skills, and personality that fit well with the program vision. Be willing to train the right person. Look for people who come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds. You will be amazed at the creativity, skills, and productivity that a well-rounded staff provides.

Let values guide you and know what values you want your staff to have. Make sure your staff knows what values are important to you and then help everyone turn those values into everyday behaviors.  These are just a few values to consider:

  • Innovation. Advance new ideas and constantly seek improvement.
  • Caring. Maintain respectful relationships with your participants and employees, and value a person's ideas, feelings, space, and privacy.
  • Loyalty. Be loyal to your employees and work collaboratively with them to solve problems.
  • Integrity. Exhibit honesty and integrity at all times, and be trustworthy, fair, and sincere.
  • Commitment. Be dedicated to the success of your programs and to your employees.
  • Knowledgeable.  Be an expert in your field.
  • Accountability. encourage your employees to perform the duties required by their job, and to be present for their proper shifts.


Have a plan. As the leader, you need to know what needs to be accomplished. Identify the goal and what it will take to get it done.  Know where you are in relation to the goal, how are you going to accomplish the goal, and who needs to be involved. Determine what steps, activities, and actions that are required of you and your staff. Once you’ve established all this, you will then need to work the plan.  After some time has passed, review the plan. Is the plan on track? Are changes needed? If so, what needs to be done?

Pay attention to how others perceive you. Listen and pay attention to what your staff is saying. Are you meeting their needs? Always remember that perception has value to the person who holds it, whether or not it is true. As the leader, you must find a positive way to deal with each staff member in order to be effective. Make an effort to see yourself through your staff’s eyes. What is your behavior? How do you handle situations that come up?  Do you listen?  Do you hear both sides of the story before you take action? Does your staff feel appreciated? Do you portray pride in the work you perform?

Allow feedback to be given anonymously from time to time, not through e-mail. Encourage honesty. Your staff will be honest with you when they aren’t worried about losing their job.  You don’t always need to know who said it, but you need to know how your staff feels and make adjustments if needed. Remember: without your staff you cannot run successful programs.  

Don’t overlook the stress your employees are experiencing that may affect their performance. In aquatic fitness, this stress may come from lack of equipment availability, storage systems, musical choices, and support from you, or upper management.

Humility. You can certainly make it big with an enormous ego and a grandiose personality. But humility – knowing what you don’t know – is an endearing quality that will gain you respect. Don’t let your ego get in the way.  You cannot walk on water.  You’re not right about everything, and you don’t know everything. The same rules you expect your staff to follow apply to you also.

Great leaders face their fears and act in spite of them. They do the right thing because it’s the right thing.  A great leader understands that different situations call for different communication styles. Without good communication skills, no leader will truly be successful.

As you can see being a leader is not easy. The job comes with many challenges and responsibilities that are important to the success of your programs. It is also very rewarding when you work as a team to make your program the best. Always take advantage of other resources and opportunities to that help you lead.

Keep in mind that people don’t quit jobs - they quit bosses.  So be the best boss in your area.



Robin Davis, owner of Aquatics and More and a professional aquatic fitness instructor with 30 years of experience in the aquatic recreation environment, dedicated to excellence in leadership.   Robin developed a beginning Instructor training program and has trained many beginning Aquatic fitness Instructors throughout the Pacific Northwest.   Robin is currently semi-retired and looking forward to having more time to write and bring knowledge to others.  She is also looking forward to traveling with her husband and playing more softball. For more information, Robin can be reached at aquaticsandmore@gmail.com

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