As the owner of a small, yet successful Pilates studio in Chicago, I viewed my staff like a second family.  However, when I decided to double the size of my space, I knew that stepping in to the role of business owner and away from the role of friend and mentor wasn’t going to be easy. 

EVERYONE was excited for more space to breathe and move.  But this new endeavor would have to be founded on more than excitement alone.  I began preparing for the expansion by writing a new business plan, crafting a budget and handing over a Letter of Intent.  These were the easy parts.  Tackling the subject of studio culture along with operations in the business proved to be a bit more challenging.  In truth, I had fallen into the habit of forming policies and procedures based on problem-solving individual client issues as well as doing whatever I could to keep my staff happy.  These people-pleasing procedures worked in the moment, but weren’t great for long-term growth or sustainability. I recognized that the relationships I treasured with my staff and clients could no longer be the sole determining factor for my decision making, but I also knew that to shift the model smoothly, I had to get them on board.  

I knew that if the staff could buy into the changes at the studio, the clients were sure to follow – or at least limit their complaints!  So, I decided to invite them to become an integral part of the process and help me build the new studio operations from the ground up. To help the process, I hired a consultant who served as a neutral party to facilitate our group. Everyone contributed input as well as opinions to develop our new model for policies and procedures.  As you can imagine, the task was arduous and at times, I thought it would break up the team for good.  However, having a say in the future of the business helped the staff to claim a level of ownership over the decisions that affected them as well as their clients.  With all of us at the table, we were challenged to listen, contribute and even compromise. When all was completed, we felt a collective sense of empowerment to uphold the policies and procedures that we had helped to create.  

When the time came to open the expanded studio, we entered in with a sense of responsibility and reverence for the growth of the space.  We had worked hard to get to this point and wanted our day-to-day operations to reflect our professionalism.  From the first touchpoint of a new client phone call, to the way we ended our sessions, we were crystal clear on what needed to be done and how.  Not only were these procedures a win for the studio culture, but it also established the value of the studio itself, which was reflected later in the sale of the business – But that’s another blog post in its entirety! 

Before this experience, I had convinced myself that in order to be a leader in my business, I would have to sever the personal relationships with my staff and become THE BOSS. The truth was, stepping into the role of leadership ultimately meant creating more seats at the table. 

As I reflect on the type of leadership I’m working to embody in this next decade, I am reminded of this lesson.  An effective leader is one who works to create an environment where the input of the community is seen as an asset, not a liability.  An effective leader is one who works to invite people into a process of change and helps them claim ownership of their role in that process.  Leadership is not a solo endeavor, but rather a group project.  But most importantly, leadership is the ability to be vulnerable and open to a new definition of your role in the process in order to help move it forward.  

If reading this post piques your interest about the ways in which you can develop your own leadership skills, be sure to check out our Brink Quarterly event on March 27th, 2021  The theme is Creative Leadership and we’ll be joined by Kira Lamb, James Crader and Martin Reid for a full day of workshopping what it means to be and embrace leadership in your professional life. Learn more at

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