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The #1 Character Trait of Successful Fitness Business Owners Who Crush Their Goals

By Sean Greeley

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What’s the most important characteristic you’ll need to grow your fitness business?

A lot of fitness pros will say:

  • Courage to take risks
  • Resilience to endure difficulties, and
  • Discipline to keep going even when courage fails.

Actually, it’s none of those.

They’re all important character traits. And as you start and build your business, you’ll have plenty of time to develop all of those (necessary) traits.

But there’s one more that’s even more important. It’s a character trait you can develop, and one you can learn, and one that everything else hangs on.

The #1 trait of successful fitness business owners

It’s self-awareness.

Your fitness business starts with you. Your business’s success or failure will depend on the kind of person you really are, with all the strengths and weaknesses.

Self-awareness means pushing aside wishful thinking or idealized versions of ourselves. It means getting rid of blame and taking a hard look at our own role in anything that occurs. It means correctly assessing our skills, and seeing people basically as other people see us.

Business owners who lack self-awareness in one or more areas will make the same mistakes over and over again. They’ll get stuck. They won’t be able to adapt in time.

Or their businesses will outgrow them, so they’ll run headfirst into a wall that they could have avoided with greater self-awareness.

Self-awareness is so important that it’s the number one element before you begin writing a business plan.

There’s a lot of science behind the importance of self-awareness for success in business and in life.

What the Science Says

Psychological studies have shown:

  • The people who are most incompetent also are the worst at assessing their performance. (It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.) That’s because competency in skills goes hand-in-hand with the ability to gauge one’s ability and performance.
  • The people who score lower in self-awareness overlook their mistakes, ignore criticism (or don’t see it as criticism), don’t seek feedback, have less confidence, over-compensate, and waste time on non-critical tasks.
  • The people who are greater at self-awareness are more flexible in their thinking and that translates into better business performance.

Bottom line: Lots of bad things happen to those who do not accurately assess their own abilities, and lots of good things are possible for those who improve their level of self-awareness.

What Self-Awareness Looks Like (and What It Doesn’t)

We all know people on both sides of the self-awareness issue. We all know people who are:

  • open to feedback and even welcome it
  • focus on how their own behavior impacted others or the situation, and
  • know when they’ve goofed and look for ways to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

These people possess confidence. And for good reason — as they get better and better at self-awareness, they are better able to predict how their behavior will yield results in the real world.

And sadly, we all know a few people who don’t quite see themselves as others see them. Perhaps they think they’re outstanding at something, but they’re merely OK. Or they think that they’re funny, but come across as abrasive. Perhaps they see themselves as leaders, when they just like to control others.

They don’t get the results in the real world from their behavior, so they have less confidence. That can lead them to over-compensate, basically, get worse and more difficult to be around.

When You Need to Grow Your Business …

Whether you are just opening a new facility or are already have an existing business that’s successful and are thinking about opening another location, your self-awareness is what will help you continue to adapt yourself to the greater and greater business (and personal) challenges you’ll face.

The bottom line is, when you’re hitting a growth spurt in your business, you’ll need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about what you know and where you need help getting stronger.

Get some feedback from others, such as surveying your own current clients and even co-workers. Ask about your strengths and weaknesses and ask them to rate you on a scale (1-5).

If the answers don’t match up with your own self-assessments, don’t be alarmed. No one has perfect self-awareness and everyone gets out of sync every now and again. Yes, you know you have some work to do, but FAR BETTER to know than not to know.

And that’s true even if there’s a big mismatch. It can be painful to find out that we don’t see ourselves as others see us, but knowing allows for correction. Not knowing just gets us stuck.

Here are just a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I understand how to consistently generate leads and sales? Many fitness business owners do a lot of marketing, get clients, and then stop marketing while they provide service to the clients. Self-awareness means getting honest about your abilities to consistently generate leads, and your capacity to continue doing so when you are busy with clients.
  • Do I understand finance and financing? Profitability is how you keep going and keep track of how you are growing. Self-awareness means asking yourself just how much you know about how about calculating the numbers.
  • Do I understand commercial real estate? Many fitness business owners learn the hard way. They get more space than they need (or can afford). They also tend to be inpatient and grab what’s available, instead of waiting for the right opportunity. Self-aware people recognize if they need to be more patient in selection or learn more about commercial real estate.
  • Do I understand the cost structure of my business? Costs have a way of hiding until discovered later. For example, deferring maintenance is a cost. How well do you understand all your costs, even those that don’t show up right away? Self-aware people get help rather than just hope for the best.
  • Do I choose the right expense margins and pricing that will ensure profitability? Self-awareness means knowing if you can calculate the margins you need, or need to fill in that gap in understanding.

Remember: The business starts with you. If you aren’t aware of your weaknesses (or your strengths), running a business will soon smoke them out.

What Successful Fitness Business Owners Do for Self-Awareness

Successful business owners constantly invest their time, money and other resources to learn more about (and further develop) their strengths and weaknesses. They seek out ways to grow. They know for their business to grow, they’ve got to grow with it (and continuously reinvest in their growth along the way).

Always be growing in your self-awareness if you want to be successful. No entrepreneur has strengths in every area necessary to run a successful business. Sales and Marketing, Operations, Leadership and Team, Strategic Planning, and Finance (like reading a P&L statement)–everyone needs to “level up” their skillsets.

Successful fitness business owners must commit to making a fearless personal assessment in each of these areas. That should be the first step in your business plan. You must admit to yourself the required areas of growth, and make a plan to “get after them.”


(1) Justin Kruger and David Dunning, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Leads to Inflated Self-Assessments.” 1999: Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, Vol. 7, No. 6.

(2) Lans, Thomas, et al. “Self-Awareness of Mastery and Improvability of Entrepreneurial
Competence in Small Businesses …” 2010: HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, Vol. 21, No. 2.

(3) Dollimore, Denise E. and Page, Nadine, Measuring Cognitive and Behavioural Habit Systems of Entrepreneurs (January 11, 2016). 

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