How do you ensure that your team is meaningfully engaged with their work? That’s the golden question for many leaders and managers. On this episode of The TalentGrow Show, Personal Training Manager (and my first personal trainer) Dan Kubo joins me to share his advice for cultivating intrinsic motivation in your team and making sure you’re giving each team member the trust and the support they need to thrive. Dan puts a strong emphasis on implementation and talks about how to implement his leadership philosophy on a day-to-day level without being overwhelmed. You’ll also learn about his unique approach to team building activities that will help keep your team motivated and having fun! Tune in and be sure to share this episode with others.
ABOUT DAN KUBO:
Dan Kubo is a Personal Training Division Manager at Lifetime Fitness. He was formerly a medical instructor in the IDF leading between 80-90 cadets through combat medic training course. Dan has an undergraduate and a masters degree in exercise physiology. He’s been a personal trainer for 13 years and now serves as a manager and leader at Life Time Fitness training division for the last three and a half years specializing in recovery and grand opening scenarios. Dan’s biggest passion is around culture, team building, talent development, and intrinsic motivation.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
Dan briefly outlines his personal leadership philosophy (4:26)
What is ‘intrinsic motivation’ and what are some obstacles that commonly prevent us from cultivating it? (7:11)
Dan discusses what Simon Sinek calls ‘circles of safety,’ and why it’s so important to implement them (9:05)
As a leader, how do you implement Dan’s leadership philosophy on a day-to-day level without being overwhelmed? (10:33)
How to balance trust and support, and learn when to give your team members more freedom to accomplish the things they set out to (14:33)
Dan shares a real-life example of how he gave a talented individual on his team the freedom and the trust she needed to shine (16:22)
How Dan keeps his team engaged at work, and his approach to team building activities (18:16)
Dan’s best advice for helping existing team members continue to stay engaged with their work (22:02)
What’s new and exciting on Dan’s horizon? (25:12)
One specific action you can take to upgrade your leadership effectiveness (25:45)
Episode 142 Dan Kubo
TEASER CLIP: Dan: I don’t think anybody drives to work or wakes up in the morning and has the thought of, “Man, let me go to work and not do a great job or let me do a bad job.” I think everybody generally wants to do the best that they can at whatever they pursue, whether it’s recreationally or professionally. It’s a challenge. The tricky part for leaders, managers, whatever you want to call it, is how to be able to kind of dig that up and bring it to the surface everyday.
[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.
Halelly: Welcome back TalentGrowers. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is the TalentGrow Show. Most of the time when I interview people on the show they are thought leaders, experts of some kind, in the leadership domain, and what I don’t usually get the opportunity and the pleasure to do is to feature actual, real leaders that are just doing great work and not trying to promote themselves as leadership experts. This week, I do have one for you. It’s actually someone who is a friend and a colleague and I met him because he was my first personal trainer when he first began his career and when I began my fitness journey back 13 years ago. Dan Kubo is going to share with you how he has been getting tremendously successful leadership trajectory in his career. He works for Lifetime Fitness, which is a major and very successful organization and he continues to get noticed by them and promoted and the kind of work that he’s doing with his teams is really tremendous. You’re going to learn about his leadership philosophy and the kinds of tips, tricks and things that he does with his team and teammates to help them grow, to help them shine and to help him have an easier job of his work, which is – as he says it – growing other people to be leaders. I think you’re going to love this episode and I can’t wait to share it with you. Without further ado, let’s listen in to my conversation with Dan Kubo.
TalentGrowers, I’m really happy this week to have my friend Dan Kubo on with me. He is a manager and leader at Lifetime Fitness training division. He’s been there for the last three and a half years, specializing in recovery and grand opening scenarios. He says his biggest passion is around culture, team building, talent development and intrinsic motivation. He’s going to tell you a little bit about his background, but he’s got background both in the military and he has a background with both an undergrad and a master’s degree in exercise physiology and he’s ben a personal trainer for the last 13 years. Dan, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.
Dan: Thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to be a part of it and looking forward to get started.
Halelly: I am too! Before we get into some of your techniques and tips and why I’ve asked you on, I wanted you to, always my guests introduce their professional journey briefly. Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?
Dan: You mentioned my military background. I started instructing or leading people in the military. I was actually taking people through the combat medic training in the Israeli military. That’s kind of where I started getting in front of groups of people and educating them and taking them through education and content. Since then, I became a personal trainer and at some point, within the last four years, I was fortunate enough to start leading teams with Lifetime Fitness. I’ve had by now three clubs that I manage the personal training division and have been fortunate enough to work alongside well over 100 trainers by now, around building cultures, obviously performance and things of that nature. That’s a little bit about my background.
Halelly: It’s really interesting. Of course I mentioned in the intro already how we met and I was fortunate enough to be one of your first clients I think in the U.S. It’s been a tremendous pleasure for me to watch you from afar, growing and developing. We’ve stayed in touch just in general as friends, but what’s cool about you is that you work out loud, which means that you share what you’re doing with the world. Many people don’t. I think that you do that in a very tasteful way. You guys should go follow him on Instagram – I’ll share that at the end – as I have, and I’ve been seeing what you’re sharing and I’m like, “This guy is doing team building and games and contests everyday. Does he even have any work?” It seems like you’re just playing games all day long! I know that you are chosen by a very prestigious and very business-minded business, which is Lifetime, to open brand new divisions. This is no joke. You’re doing good stuff for them. I wanted you to come on the show and share some of your leadership approach and philosophy and tricks with the TalentGrowers community. Let’s start just in general. Do you have a leadership philosophy that guides you?
Dan: There are multiple ways about thinking about it. I think a big term in the leadership community these days, the idea of servant leadership. We can peel that layer by layer, but the idea of my job is to be there for my team members, support them and I like to say cultivate their intrinsic motivation. As I shared with you offline, I’m not necessarily an original thinker. I’m just a really good applicator for the likes of Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink with the book Drive, which area probably two of my biggest cornerstones, and I just try to apply those teachings to the way I interact specifically with my team, the health and fitness industry, but those are things that are applicable to Fortune 500 companies and across industries, whatever your profession and whatever interaction you have with your team members.
Halelly: Totally agree. Of course I would really like to get Simon Sinek on my show. I have not successful done that yet, but Dan Pink has been on the show. It was one of my favorite episodes of 2018, so we’ll link to that in the show notes, and I do also love to share some of the teachings that he has in that book, in Drive. For those who haven’t read anything about that yet, he says there are three basic motivators for people in the post-industrial, knowledge worker kind of world, which is having a sense of purpose, connection of purpose to your work, mastery and feeling like you’re always wanting to grow, and autonomy, which is having a sense of some control over how you work or when you work or with whom you work or where you work, to some degree. What are some of the things that you’ve successfully applied? Let’s step back one more. You said intrinsic motivation – I feel like we should probably just define that really quickly. What does that mean to you?
Dan: Intrinsic motivation stemming internally from one sense of purpose, wanting to do the best that they can do. One of the things I always share with my upcoming and emerging young leaders that I am privileged to work around is the idea that I don’t think anybody drives to work or wakes up in the morning and has the thought of, “Man, let me go to work and not do a great job or let me do a bad job.” I think everybody generally wants to do the best that they can at whatever they pursue, whether it’s recreationally or professionally. It’s a challenge. The tricky part for leaders, managers, whatever you want to call it, is how to be able to kind of dig that up and bring it to the surface everyday.
Halelly: To kind of cultivate and engage people so that they can show up with that best intention?
Halelly: Tons of things get in the way, right? They don’t wake up wanting to do a bad job, so what are some of the obstacles you’ve seen people face?
Dan: I think trust is a big one. Especially as we kind of see more of the Millennial generation entering and starting to dominate the workforce, we know from a lot of studies and a lot of research that that generation wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, or making an impact on the world. It’s really easy and no matter what business you are in, especially if it’s a revenue-driven business, to get really detail-oriented on that revenue metric, or whatever metric you’re measuring, and lose sight of the big purpose of the organization and lose connection with that big impact or even that mission statement, whatever that organization, and tap into that from an individual talent level, I think. I think sometimes it gets in the way of really showing, Simon Sinek refers to the idea of the circle of safety, around your team members and not just your top performers, but everybody. He mentions the idea of – I don’t remember the name of the company – that you cannot get fired, you cannot end your employment there. If we hired you, we need scrutiny, we did all our stuff, beforehand, and now we’re going to cultivate you regardless of your learning curve or your aptitude or your initial potential. We believe in everybody.
I think that’s something that’s really important to make sure that you cultivate and you want to develop everybody. Like I said earlier, I think everybody generally wants to develop themselves personally, both on a personal as well as a professional level, and they want to do the best job they can. Again, it’s opposition to teach them the ropes and some people are unable to put their best food forward, just because they might not know how, and they might not have the confidence and the platform to ask those questions and want to put themselves in a vulnerable spot to show, “Hey, I don’t know. I need help.” It’s our job as leaders to foster that environment and to kind of, I don’t want to say pry it, but get our team members to feel like it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask questions, and to know that no matter the circumstances, we have their back.
Halelly: How do you implement that kind of a philosophy in the real world, I guess, like in the day-to-day. I know you have pressures, like you have performance metrics you have to meet, and you have to get them accomplished through others. So the people that are on your team, you’re accountable for results that they produce and so if you’ve got somebody who is kind of struggling in terms of meeting their results or meeting their metrics and it sounds like you’re saying it’s your job to then get them up there, I know you have a lot of pressure and you have limited time because lots of people are vying for your attention. How do you actually balance that kind of a mentality in real situations?
Dan: Absolutely. I’m going to be lying if I told you it’s not challenging at times. It certainly is, and I know any other leader can share the same thing. We all want to believe in an ideal situation, but it hardly if ever happens, so it’s just a matter of sticking to consistency in the message that you’re relaying. Teams are always going to look to the way we behave and at the minimum, emulate it, meaning if in the face of pressure and adversity – whether it’s a revenue metric or whatever may be the case – all the sudden all these good ideas and all these philosophies go out the window as soon as the situation gets challenging, we’re going to seem untrustworthy and our ability to motivate and engage our team is going to decrease and I know, again, engagement is a big word right now in the workforce, versus people who just show up to work versus employees who are actually engaged in what they do. I think we need to be careful where we start to be inconsistent.
To kind of more directly answer your question, I think it starts with that idea of, “I’m here to do this. My job is to make you the best you can be.” Whether it’s in our organization or whether it’s later down the road, maybe outside of it. I want to be here to support you and Daniel Pink talks about it a lot. I’m here to support you, but I’m also here to give you wide berth or give you some latitude to be able to do the amazing things and implement the great ideas that you have versus putting you in a very small space that you can operate out of. I think Stephen Covey talks about it as well. He uses a concept that I really, really love, from the book Speed of Trust. He refers to his experience with his father about the backyard and the idea of as long as you keep your backyard green and clean, no matter how you get or accomplish that target goal, everything is going to be okay. If you need my help, if you need support – for example if you never heard about the invention of a lawnmower, say, and you don’t know how to use it, I’ll show you how to use it. I’ll give you all the tools and all the support to be successful, but the ownership is on you. Kind of going back to empowering our team members to take on projects. You asked me about time management – part of it is trusting in our employees that they are able to accomplish the job versus, “I’m the manager, the boss, the leader, whatever title you want to put on it, and that means everything gets handled by me,” which leads to a lot of bad outcomes. At the end of the day, typically leaders want to advance themselves and if we’re not showcasing how great it is to be in our position, which they have great benefits and they have a lot of advantages, but they also have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of challenges, just like we discussed. Making our jobs seem like something that a lot of people will want to aspire to, or somehow if we can replicate ourselves and inspire our team members to want to assume our position, not only creates better, more engaged workforce, but also gives us opportunities.
Halelly: I like that. I know that I’ve seen in your pictures, at least, it looks like you’ve got a lot of times where people … I’d love to tell you more about this training where it looks like you’re asking your team members to create the training and deliver it. So, it looks like you’re engaging them in being part of the ongoing development. Tell us more about that and maybe tell us a success story if you can?
Dan: Sure. Absolutely. I think, again, when you deliver content and especially I can only present in one certain way and I think that effectiveness or the efficacy of one’s ability to motivate or engage or inspire, especially if it’s on a regular weekly basis, kind of diminishes. The idea of letting others, especially those aspiring leaders, giving them the opportunity to deliver content and come up with ideas and face the reality of, “Hey, I need to present in front of my colleagues and peers,” we already know that public speaking is a major fear for a lot of people. It’s something that gives them the opportunity to not only develop themselves but it gives voice and perspective that is different from the “I’m the boss, I need to say the corporate line or march to the tune of the corporate office,” whatever may be the case. Now, this is coming from a leader within the team, somebody that doesn’t necessarily have the title. I think sometimes those, if you want to call it, leaders within the team or titled leaders tend to have a much bigger impact that we are able to do so from the effect of our position.
As far as an example, I have plenty, but I’ll share one that’s recently happened. I was fortunate to get to work with a lot of young individuals, just due to the nature of the industry. One of my new trainers, she just came into the field when we started this location, funny enough about a year ago now, new to the field, new to the industry, but amazingly talented, amazingly ambitious, just a sponge to a T. Recently she was able to get promoted to one of the assistant manager roles in our division, which is a great honor, especially doing it so quickly and being young as she is. She delivered the meeting recently, discussing actually the golden circle, so that concept from Simon Sinek. I didn’t give her too much structure. I basically gave her free rein. I discussed it with her earlier today and that’s something that she valued tremendously, the fact that I gave her the latitude and gave her the trust without necessarily giving her all the guidelines exactly how I wanted it and let her own it and deliver great content and it was great to see the engagement from some of our peers that maybe sometimes are not as engaged because they’ve heard me speak weekly for the last year. Just seeing a different voice, different energy, I think it can deliver great results, and again, show some other team members that might be a little timid, might be a little shy, might be a little skeptical about their own abilities, seeing one of their peers in front of them inspires them to pursue those goals and pursue those ambitions themselves.
Halelly: That’s great. Wow. Totally you develop people when you give them the ability to try things and make mistakes and spoon-feed them everything that they need to do. That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing that. The other thing I notice a lot about the things that you share is that it seems like you guys play a lot of games. It looks like sheer craziness and silliness 24/7 over there. What are you trying to accomplish and tell us some of those tricks? What are you doing there?
Dan: Sometimes, especially in the corporate setting, we need to have meetings, and sometimes those meetings are just meetings for the sake of meetings. I know especially in the health and fitness industry, it’s hard to sit a bunch of trainers down, but I’m sure it is for any work environment. I know we’re working with business professionals all the time. The idea of a productive meeting is someone elusive in most industries, so keeping that meeting engaged, it’s not just a privilege to lead but I view it more as a responsibility. It’s my responsibility to make meetings almost as entertaining as if we’re going to the movies or we’re going to see a show. That’s kind of the underlying thought of what I’m trying to achieve as I’m planning my meetings. Also, it’s about shared experiences. We know that sharing experiences is something that is a great way to really quickly build trust among teams, and we know that trust is a great way to move that performance or revenue or end metric needle. Once we have teams that trust each other and like each other, all those things kind of fall into place if you want to look into the concept of the Harvard Service-Profit Chain.
But going back to the meetings, because I digress, I think team building activities, again, put people in a place to be vulnerable, but not just on their own, but with the rest of the team. Something that might take off the tension of the day-to-day minutia, or just kind of do things differently. We don’t often get to play at work as adults. I’m not saying we need to do stuff that our kids necessarily will do, but activities that can highlight. I always try to finish one of those team-building activities with the idea of, “Hey, what did we measure today? Maybe we built paper airplanes today, but what was the difference between the group that was immensely successful to the group that didn’t do so well? Getting those insights and then we can translate those and make those parallels to our work on the business side of things, whether it’s communication, teamwork, trust or things of that nature.
The biggest thing is just an opportunity to blow off some steam, and I really think I can speak for my organization, but I’m sure it’s true for most. Generally speaking, the big mission statement or the large purpose of any organization has not changed drastically over a very long period of time. We need to be very selective on how we deliver what comes down the pipeline, what’s delayed this initiative, and be able as leaders to recognize what is the best way to present it and how do we keep it close to our mission statement and how do we keep it to where one of the expression that one of my assistants taught me and I really like to use is majoring in the minors. How do we make sure that we stay on the big task at hand and not stopping to lose people and their engagement but really dealing with stuff that ultimately don’t make that much of a difference.
Halelly: Like don’t sweat the small stuff.
Halelly: Nice. What's your best advice, in addition to everything that you’ve been sharing so great, for helping existing team members continue to stay engaged?
Dan: That’s a tricky one. I think that’s the art part of being a great leader. I think if you were to ask me, “What is one of the most challenging parts of my job?” is that I need to be a chameleon. Whether you have five team members, 30, 100, whatever may be the case – each one of those individuals is going to require a little bit of a different interaction, a little bit of a different approach. I like to try and get to know my team members on a personal level as much as possible. Again, going back to that trust factor, once that trust is there, we’re able to move much faster, whether it’s like you mentioned earlier, those pleasant conversations that we all love, but also during some of those more difficult conversations where we might need to share something that is not so great with our team members or maybe we need some behavior change or correction.
Again, going back to how to keep people engaged, I think it’s, like you said earlier, I don’t know how you manage your time. Time is our biggest asset and investing it in our people is I think the greatest way to show them their value and give them the love and attention that they deserve. Constantly putting some idea of, “Hey, how great you are and what can we do to make you better? What are your aspirations at this moment?” and not what we want them to do. As leaders, I think sometimes – especially if you’re a competitive individual, which let’s say I would generalize and say most leaders are. They’re very competitive and very driven. Sometimes it’s really easy to say, “Wow, you are extremely talented. Here’s what I think you should do, A, B, C, D, to get to be the next general manager of so-and-so.” And sometimes those individuals, while it’s a great compliment, we need to hear what they’re looking for. What their aspirations are, even though it might sometimes not necessarily align with what we might think is best. You mentioned that earlier. We need to allow some of our team members in some situations – not always – the opportunity to try something on their own, to try their ideas and implement them, even though we might know that they might fail or they might fall short or they might not be successful. I think we can all agree, our biggest learning experiences are usually when we fail to achieve that win or achieve that target. That’s where we really have to look back and say, “Here’s what I’ve done. Where’s where my misses were. Next time I won’t make that error.”
Halelly: And it takes a lot of self-control and discipline for you, as a leader, to not swoop in and save them from themselves.
Dan: Absolutely. It’s immensely challenging.
Halelly: Awesome. Dan, I would like to talk to you forever more, but we’re getting close to the time. Before you share that one specific action tip that you will, what’s new and exciting on your horizon these days?
Dan: Right now I’m in the process of really trying to mentor and develop some of my upcoming talent. I was fortunate enough to be able to promote several of my leaders, so now I have a lot of emerging new talent. Just investing that time that I mentioned in their success and growth has been something that’s been front and center, and something that I’m extremely passionate about. It energizes me everyday, so it’s a really great time in my professional career right now.
Halelly: Fabulous. What’s one specific action that our listeners can take today, tomorrow, this week, that can help them upgrade their own leadership success?
Dan: This one is really simple and really easy to do and I can say has been immensely impactful for every team I’ve been a part of. I’ve been receiving feedback on it and it’s greet your team members. It’s really easy, as a leader, as a manager, to come in straight thing in the morning and get locked in your office and get going on all the reporting, the project, whatever it might be that we’re working on. We’re extremely busy. But that human interaction, that, “Hello, good morning, how are you today? How are the kids?” Some of those personal questions, I’ve seen it makes a tremendous impact. Unfortunately, that small interaction is outside of the norm. And it’s really easy. All it takes is, “Hey, how are you?” It literally takes anywhere between two to five minutes, do it at the beginning of the day, do it at the end of the day before you leave – just circle through your entire team. Make sure they’re in a good spot. Say goodbye. I think that, in my experience, has made a tremendous impact. It’s easy and actionable and it’s something that you can start implementing tomorrow.
Halelly: I love that. It really is super simple and it really is unfortunate how many people don’t take the time to actively, proactively, consciously, make the effort to do that. I agree with you, it’s the human connection that can make everything go faster or can totally derail everything when it’s missing.
Halelly: How can people stay in touch with you and learn more from and about you Dan?
Dan: I’m available on major social media outlets, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram. I’m sure you’ll share my handle later on, but I’m also available via email. I would love to chat with anybody. I’m always excited to share leadership tips. Like I said earlier, I’m not an original thinker, so anything I can do to implement my skills or the skills of others is something that I relish on.
Halelly: I really appreciate that you came on. I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you, Dan, but most of the people I bring on as guests are actually “original thinkers,” like they’re thought leaders, authors, they’re experts, and they have something interesting to share. But what I crave to bring on to my show and it’s harder for me to find is exemplary leaders. People who actually do a good job as leaders, who are not trying to go out and sell themselves as leadership experts. They’re just going to work and doing it. And that’s hard to find, because the minute that you tell me that you’re an expert in leadership, I doubt you. You don’t get to say that about yourself. Someone else has to say that about you. It’s hard. I want to hear, listeners, TalentGrowers, if you know people that are remarkable, that are exemplary, the kind of people we want to learn from who are out there doing it, put me in touch with them because I want to see them. You know, you didn’t ask to be on the show – I invited you and I think you were probably surprised because it’s not the kind of thing you do a lot on a day-to-day basis. Most of the time you’re just doing your job, but I’ve watched you because you share. So thank you for sharing what you do. I think that is so wonderful and it really allows you to become a role model for others. I’m not even sure what your intention is. But for me, it allowed me to see what you’re doing and because of my line of work, I see kind of the undertones. I know what you’re doing, but I don’t know if it’s obvious to others. I really appreciate what you’re doing.
Dan: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Halelly: Well done. Thanks for being a role model. Thanks for doing great work, and let’s check in again in the future so we can hear about even more things that you are discovering that you can share with others.
Dan: Perfect. I’d be happy to. Thank you so much Halelly.
Halelly: It’s my pleasure, thank you. It’s a really great pleasure for me to be able to showcase to you someone who is doing exemplary leadership work, and it is a personal pleasure of course when it is someone that I know and have been lucky enough to be able to watch him do this and watch him grow over the years. What a great job he’s been doing and he’s going to continue to skyrocket in his career, I have no doubt. You’re going to be hearing about him more. I hope that you enjoyed it and that you will take action. I think that he shared tons of actionable advice and so just choose at least even one thing to start working on this week and then continue to add new ones as you master the ones you’ve already done. I’d love to hear what you thought. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried. I’d love to hear other ideas and as I said, if you know other exemplary leaders – because usually it’s not the people that self-promote themselves as exemplary leaders that are the bonafide exemplary leaders, it’s usually the ones that are just doing their job and doing a good job and no one is singing their praises necessarily – but I’d love to, and I’d love to share them because they’ve become the best role models. They are actually doing it. If you have people like that that you know, please put me in touch with them. I’d love to potentially feature them on a future episode of the TalentGrow Show.
I appreciate you listening in. I put lots of stuff in the show notes, including that episode I did with Dan Pink, and some of the resources Dan mentioned, and of course how to stay in touch with him. A great place to land is the show notes page, which is on TalentGrow.com, and that’s also a place where you can fill in to get my free resource, which is “10 mistakes that leaders make and how to avoid them.” That allows you to avoid making those mistakes, but also to stay in touch with me. All you have to do is go to TalentGrow.com for the show notes, on the podcast, and just give me your email address and the rest is easy from there. All right, TalentGrowers, thanks for listening. I appreciate you. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and this is the TalentGrow Show. Until the next time, make today great.
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