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We don’t need managers in the 21st century; …we must have great leaders.

Dr Paul Thomas, aka the BBC Business Doctor, is a respected voice on matters relating to change, organisational development and structures that allow people to flourish within organisations.


he majority of people in the fitness industry are hardworking, loyal, innovative, creative, passionate and committed - except for the 8 hours when they are in work! This must be true because when they are in work they have to be supervised, controlled and told what to do with a myriad of rules, regulations, procedures and policies. We spend more time trying to control the behaviours of others than developing staff or creating new ideas/products, even meeting customers! The problem isn’t however with the Instructor, Personal

Trainer, or receptionist as most managers think; it’s with the notion and ‘mind-set’ of managers, management, their systems, processes and structures. Disagree? Then just ask your workers if they are excited about coming into work each day. Then ask your managers the same question and you’ll probably have a different response.

Over the next three editions of body Life UK, I will attempt to explore and explain why the role of ‘manager’ is dead, along with the notions of planning, control and structure in the Health and Fitness industry. It’s important to be that blunt and I want no misunderstanding about the notion of playing with words or moving terms academically from Manager to Leader and such like. There is a Russian saying that the ‘fish rots from the head’ and Management is not only rotting, in the 21st century it’s now beginning to smell quite badly. Those of you that were around in the 80’s and 90’s may remember the revolution that took place amongst frontline workers and the ‘change of power’ across unions. The

revolution now however, must be in the Boardroom and with senior manager teams. Many companies around the world are already managing without managers, indeed some companies like Nucor Steel in the USA which has 48,000 workers, already reap the benefits and is also a Fortune 500 company. We have to stop managing with 19th Century principles and thinking and leap to the 21st Century if we are to survive as a leisure, health and fitness industry on a local, national and international scale.

In this, the first of three articles I will attempt to posit the need for change and why this change is needed in the health and fitness ‘management’ field. My company was founded in 2003 and is a collaborative network with key economy- enhancing bodies such as industry associations, private enterprise, higher education and government. I have always argued as part of DNA group, we must encourage and support managers to become critical about managerial thinking and practice for in the most part, managing today just doesn’t stack up. Organisations are (without getting too academic) Human systems which are complex and fundamentally different from machine-type systems. Human behaviour is not predictable and people are capable of changing their rules of interaction, thus changing expected outcomes, which is particularly worrying in the service sectors. They are able to self-organise, to influence each other and in turn be influenced and this reciprocal influence can change ideas, behaviours, ways of thinking, working and relating on the micro-levels in which the impact is seen only way down the

body LIFE 2 I 2015 I 29

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