How Creating Opportunities for Others to Rise Makes You a Strong Leader

Last Updated on May 29, 2021 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Ideal leaders are leaders because they serve their followers selflessly, carry them on their shoulders, and have everyone’s well-being at heart.

In this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast with John Corcoran, the guest speaker, Michael Abramson, COO of Xponential Fitness, is an example of such a leader.

They discuss ways of being a strong leader, bringing up emerging/potential leaders, facilitating the growth of team members, the positive effects of self-discipline.

Listen to this interview

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Show Notes

0:06 – Intro

0:26 – John Corcoran shares the best solution that makes documenting standard operating procedures drop-dead easy, highlighting a 14-day free trial. No credit card required.

1:25 – Mr. Corcoran introduces today’s guest, Michael Abramson, COO of Xponential Fitness.

1:48 – Mr. Abramson introduces himself, his background, previous jobs, what the company is about, and how he found his way into that line of work.

4:11 – Mr. Abramson talks about his dad, and how he acquired the world championship title in weightlifting.

5:40 – The guest explains how discipline helps him in operations and putting systems in place.

7:46 – Mr. Abramson talks about leadership, leading team members, how discipline helps him keep track of employees, training leaders, and how it makes his life easier.

9:35 – The guest speaker lets us know how he spots emerging leaders, giving key points to consider and look out for.

11:31 – Mr. Abramson talks about creating opportunities for emerging leaders, not overwhelming them with opportunities, and giving them space to work.

13:53 – The guest explains how to decide when to take the blame for a worker’s mistake.

15:08 – The guest talks about mistakes he notices other leaders make in taking workers under their wings, and mistakes he’s made as well.

17:42 – The guest talks about how he manages different brands under the company.

19:22 – Mr. Abramson gives advice to persons in operations who are responsible for grooming emerging leaders within their company.

20:39 – Mr. Abramson tells us where he can be reached online.

21:01 – Outro

Guest Profile

Michael Abramson is the COO of Xponential Fitness in California. He studied political science at Rutgers University and law at UIC John Marshall Law School. His skills range from contract negotiation, dispute resolution, and civil litigation, to leadership, contract management, and many more leadership skills.

Transcript of the intervew

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran: All right, welcome everyone, john Corgan here, co-host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations at your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything that they need to be successful at their job.

John Corcoran: Some of our past guests go check them out, David Allen of Getting Things Done, Michael Gerber of the E-Myth, and many more. And this episode of course, is brought to you by SweetProcess, have you ever had a team member ask you the same question over and over again? It’s like the 10th time you spend explaining it? Well, there’s a better way. There’s a solution.

John Corcoran: SweetProcess, it is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff, and save time with existing staff. Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations.

John Corcoran: You can use SweetProcess document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time, so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. Because for a free 14 day trial, no credit card required, got to Sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-T

John Corcoran: All right, such a pleasure. We have today, Michael Abramson, the COO of Xponential Fitness, he’s going to explain to us exactly what they do. He is a recovering lawyer like myself, which is a good thing because they manage 3,000 franchise, 1800 open locations, incredible complexity, so we’re going to dive into it here, but Michael tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Michael Abramson: Sure, yeah. So I’ve been with the company for about two years now. I came over as COO, prior to this I was president of D1 Training, a performance-based fitness company out of Nashville. And before that I had the misfortune of being a practicing attorney, where I loved my life every day as most practicing attorneys do.

Michael Abramson: And you know, what I found is your actual passions lead you to better places. And so it’s funny to say, but powerlifting has actually been kind of the secret to my success so to speak.

Michael Abramson: When I was in law school, my mentor, who was the chair of the young lawyers section of the Chicago bar, and later the president of the Chicago bar association, he was GC at a couple of different multi-billion dollar insurance companies, he was into powerlifting, so I used to coach him in power lifting.

Michael Abramson: I’m a three-time national champion in power lifting, my dad’s a world champion. And so I coached him up, I got all these intros, then I later started my law practice. He was my partner, he was president of Chicago Bar. I landed D1 as a client, and it was really a beautiful nexus of practice and training.

Michael Abramson: And so I really excelled in the D1 environment, and that’s actually how I ended up on the operation side. It was really my love for training, we had all these pro athletes coming in all the time. You know, we worked with Chris Paul and Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow, if they weren’t a huge name, I didn’t know who they were.

Michael Abramson: There’s a great story of me flying to San Diego to go meet up with Danny Woodhead, and my wife was on the trip with me and I had no idea who he was. So I had my wife Googling him in the car and telling me stats just so I could know, because for me it wasn’t really about the athlete, it was about the training, and that’s how I ended up on the operation side.

Michael Abramson: My passion for training got me more and more involved in strategic decision making, because I grew up in the gym, and my background lent itself to really advising the CEO and COO of that company on what to do.

John Corcoran: And you worked your way up at that company, just out of curiosity, you mentioned your dad was a world champion, was there a weight amount that he lifted, that led to that world champion?

Michael Abramson: Yeah, so his best lifts were at 242. When he was a two 42 pounder, he squatted about 850. He deadlifted 755, and his bench was around 600, I can’t remember all the numbers. But I had the good fortune of growing up with him as a dad, and a training partner for 10 years.

Michael Abramson: But then I also trained with some other phenomenal powerlifters, like Ray Benemerito, who was 15 time national champion, eight time world champion. Ray’s little brother, Jimmy, who was a world champion, full-contact stick fighter and multi-time national champion powerlifter.

Michael Abramson: So I had all these guys around me that were disciplined and very technical and they help coach me up. And then my dad won world’s at 275 in 1995, and he won for both the drug tested and undrug tested. So he’d beat guys using the juice, and he’d beat guys not on the juice.

John Corcoran: Wow, interesting, interesting. I didn’t know those are two different categories in that sport.

Michael Abramson: Oh yeah.

John Corcoran: Wow, interesting. It’d be interesting if other sports did it that way, wouldn’t it?

Michael Abramson: It would, but with people being honest, I mean, I don’t care if you use or not, but it’s one of those, it’s like, Hey, don’t put yourself in a position against other people not taking advantage of that.

John Corcoran: You mentioned discipline as something you learned from that, how has does that help you in the work that you do now in operations and putting systems in place?

Michael Abramson: So life is about discipline, you know, before Jocko Willink was famous, I used to say, "Discipline equals freedom." That guy stole it from me, if Jocko’s listening, you can come talk to me about it. [inaudible 00:05:56].

Michael Abramson: I learned that with my dad, my dad went 11 years without missing a single workout. When you make disciplined decisions, you don’t limit yourself, you actually create opportunities and options. And that’s really what I like to focus on whether so in business, as you make a disciplined decision, even if it’s the tough decision, it will ultimately yield options in the future.

Michael Abramson: Because if you make the lazy or short-sighted decision, that’s going to limit your options in the future. There’s actually a scripture that says, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but yields a harvest of righteousness." And that’s kind of what I think about.

Michael Abramson: Or this old Jewish proverb that says, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands and poverty will come upon you like a bandit." It’s the incremental slipping that usually crushes you, not the one-time bad decision.

John Corcoran: It’s funny, I have a comfortable chair over my shoulder here in this office, and my wife asks me sometimes, "Do you ever want to crawl up and sleep on that comfortable chair?" I said, "No, because if I do it once it’s a slippery slope, and then it gets much worse from there."

John Corcoran: Let’s talk about leadership and particularly leading team members and emerging leaders below you. The company has got 3000 franchisees, you’ve got about 700 people that work at the company, about 200 to 300 to work more in your area, under your supervision.

John Corcoran: Talk about how that approach to discipline, how that merges with your approach to training up leaders below you, and then we’ll get into how that affects and how that makes your life easier?

Michael Abramson: Sure, so one of the key things is making sure you’ve got a really strong rhythm with all of your direct reports. So there’s actually a system that we employed at D1 that I really enjoyed called the EOS, the entrepreneurial operating system, you know, Gino Wickman?

Michael Abramson: It’s a really nice… It’s a very simple operating playbook. For me the key takeaways when you have your direct reports are same meeting, same agenda, same time, and then no one is ever late, everyone focuses and you pay attention to what your followup tasks are.

Michael Abramson: Because the idea of team or the central idea of team, to me as a group of people that keep 100% of its commitments to each other, I don’t know if we’re going to fail along the way, but it’s the effort, and it’s the discipline of showing up each time, that allows you the ability to work together, to actually overcome when someone doesn’t live up to their commitment.

Michael Abramson: So when you look at discipline, it’s creating that ritual meeting. I’ve even gone to the extent of having people that are late to our weekly meeting, stand up and apologize to the rest of the team for being late. And I don’t do it to embarrass anyone, I want the person to feel the weight of their commitment and their lack of fidelity to that commitment, even if it’s as simple as being late to a meeting.

John Corcoran: How do you spot emerging leaders? Is it through this philosophy and approach, is it just the little commitments, and then you see as people are disciplined and they follow through on their commitments, that they are potentially a good leader for you to grow.

Michael Abramson: I think there’s a number of things that you have to look at, because character really comes first. People can be highly competent and highly disciplined without being great character, and so that’s not the only marker.

Michael Abramson: I think you see the discipline piece, but then you have to start looking at the people that are looking for more that whether they’re directly asking you or their supervisors, or you can hear it in what they’re saying that, "Hey, I’ve completed this task, I want to now work on more."

Michael Abramson: And so you need to be ready to give them more and show them how to do it, so that they can grow. Great example, we had a guy who previously was on the development side, the construction side of the company, and was a little more project management oriented.

Michael Abramson: And he was finishing his projects quickly, he really wanted to grow his skillset, he was formerly in the army before we hired him. And so he kept finishing and he was a high character guy, so then we invested in education forum and in CAD design, and helped him continue to grow that, that skillset.

Michael Abramson: And I think he’s an example of a kind of guy that if you continue to invest in them, they will produce, you know, multiples for you as far as a return on whatever you are investing.

John Corcoran: Now you talk about the importance of creating opportunities for emerging leaders to lead alongside you, how do you create those opportunities, or is it at a growing company there’s an abundance of them?

John Corcoran: And how do you ensure you’re giving an emerging leader, the right type of opportunity, not giving them too much, so doling it out in the right amount.

Michael Abramson: So the number one, sharing your platform and then not micromanaging. So if there are larger initiatives at play, whether they’re of your own device or their strategic initiatives of the company, allowing other key stakeholders to actually take lead while you support them.

Michael Abramson: I think making sure your ego doesn’t get in front of that, because a lot of times people want… And I’m guilty of this sometimes too, so I’m not saying I’m free of it. But you want to make sure that your ego doesn’t get in the way of someone else getting the credit for the work that they’re actually doing.

Michael Abramson: Even if it’s your idea or you instigated it, you want them to take that opportunity to grow so that they can build their relational, social, political capital at the company, as well as their experience.

Michael Abramson: As far as making sure that they don’t get crushed by it, I think you have to scope out correctly the rules of the game for them, you know, lay out what are the key objectives that we’re looking for? What are the pitfalls that we’re likely going to see if we don’t do X, Y, or Z, and then ask them to actually structure out an execution plan for you in writing that you can visit with them on?

Michael Abramson: I think something that people overlook a lot of times now in just the fast pace of business is writing things down, whether it’s with your computer or in a journal, you know, when you have a plan, you need to actually write the plan down.

Michael Abramson: And that allows me to review it with them, give them feedback, and then ultimately know that my feedback while I can dominate them with it, just let my feedback be feedback, let them still make their own decisions unless it’s going to bankrupt the company.

Michael Abramson: Because they need to win and lose on their own decisions, and then if they do lose, that I’m standing in the gap to make sure that I take blame for whatever mistakes were made, because ultimately it was my leadership that allowed for that mistake to happen. They shouldn’t carry that, because you were just giving them an opportunity to take a swing.

John Corcoran: How do you know when it’s something that you should fall on the sword, and when it’s something that they should have known better?

Michael Abramson: I think publicly you always fall on the sword, I think privately is when you admonish them. I am a believer in, you know, pardon my French, but all shit rolls uphill.

Michael Abramson: So if at the end of the day, I’m responsible for you and you make a mistake, even if it’s you not listening to me, I should be a good enough manager to be able to forecast what you’re likely going to do and prevent it, coach you out of it, help redeem it however possible.

Michael Abramson: And if I don’t do that and there’s still an issue, then I need to own it. I mean, I’ve literally on at least one occasion offered my resignation to my former company because of a mistake a team member made, because we said, "Listen, if the company needs a cover for it, I’ll take it." Because they were on my team, so.

John Corcoran: Yeah, what are some of the big mistakes that you see when you observe other leaders and they are grooming leaders beneath them? What mistakes do you see other leaders make, or have you yourself made in grooming people below you?

Michael Abramson: They’re far too controlling? There’s something called the Pygmalion effect, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.

John Corcoran: I’ve heard of Pygmalion, but I don’t think I now what it is.

Michael Abramson: The Pygmalion effect basically distills down to the idea of people turn into who you expect them to be. You know, whether you read Shawn Achor or you read The Three Laws of Performance, there’s all different ways that they phrase it, but it’s effectively, your team members turn into the type of team members you expect them to be.

Michael Abramson: And so when you have leaders, myself included that misjudge a person’s motivations and treat them incorrectly, it can cause them to underperform significantly. So let’s say you think someone is much more of a self-starter than they actually are, and so you don’t actually feel the need to get in their business as much as you need to to get them going, they’re ultimately going to fail. Because you’re going to turn them into, or you’re going to allow them to be this lackadaisical team member.

Michael Abramson: Whereas if you believe someone’s on the team that is only showing up because they need the paycheck, and they’re a nine to five clock puncher, the way you treat them, even if they’re a stud employee, is ultimately going to turn them into a clock puncher, because you’re going to find ways to micromanage them, to be controlling.

Michael Abramson: You’re going to insert yourself constantly, and you’re going to disenfranchise them. And so I find that most leaders, when they’re failing it’s because they’re not setting the correct vision, and then creating the environment for people to position themselves for success towards that vision.

John Corcoran: This is going to seem like a massive question, but you’ve got eight or nine different brands that the company manages, 3000 different franchisees, you’re head of operations, you’ve got all these different leaders responsible for these different areas.

John Corcoran: How do you juggle all of that? And is it all in its separate silos, or do you find that there are ways in which there can be, I don’t know what he word is, but cross functional. Where you have teams that are involved in all of these different areas, like, you know, marketing or something they’re involved in all different areas.

John Corcoran: So from an operation standpoint, it simplifies it for you because you can manage that and say, "You go, you cover all these different brands."

Michael Abramson: Yeah, so the way we’ve set it up at Xponential, is Xponential is basically the foundation, and then the brands are built upon that. And so each brand has its own autonomy to an extent, each brand has its own president.

Michael Abramson: And we want those presidents to, excuse me, make their own decisions, to help craft the personality of the brand, while still keeping cogent with the rest of the expo ecosystem. But we all know that, you know, we’ve got club Pilate’s, club Pilate’s allows 12 people in a location at one time.

Michael Abramson: We also have CycleBar, CycleBar allows 50 people in a location at one time. You can’t sell perspective members the same way in a 12 person location, versus a 50 person location. And so you need to allow for the presidents, and then the marketing to, to really develop that personality so that they can sell properly and grow.

Michael Abramson: At exponential, so what you’re talking about with consolidation of departments, we’ve consolidated things like construction, real estate, all things that don’t necessarily tie into the personality of the brand, so to speak, but free up the president of focus on driving value inside of their personal ecosystem, their brand.

John Corcoran: Any final thoughts for anyone listening to this who is in operations, but also responsible for grooming leaders and wanting to get, create opportunities for emerging leaders within their company?

Michael Abramson: Yeah, invest in yourself. You know, I think a lot of times people get so busy working or managing, that they forget that they need to continue to develop, and you need to find ways to do that yourself. So I’m a part of an organization called Gen Next, which is similar to YPO, a little different focus.

Michael Abramson: I constantly sit in and on their talks, I read tons of books, listen to tons of podcasts, I get up at 5:00 AM every day and I try to get a workout in, sometimes my daughter joins me for my workout, which takes down the intensity a little bit, but it makes for a fun experience.

Michael Abramson: And I like to read and take that time to really kind of soak up some knowledge to start the day. Like I’m a big fan of, there’s a book called The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrold.

Michael Abramson: Hal’s a really good friend, the concept in there is phenomenal about actual self-development, which you forget about, and to create meaningful space for it. So that’s what I would say.

John Corcoran: That was great, great advice, Michael, this has been great. Tell everyone where they can go to learn more about you, connect with you, learn more about Xponential Fitness.

Michael Abramson: Sure, yeah. Our website’s just no E at the beginning of exponential, you can find us on all the major socials. And then I’m Mike Abramson on all the major socials as well.

Michael Abramson: So I appreciate it, thanks so much for having me on.

John Corcoran: Thank you, Michael.

Michael Abramson: Have a good one, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to The Process Breakdown Podcast. Before you go, quick question, do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and or policies for your company, so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job?

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Owen: Hi, this is Owen, the CEO and co-founder here at SweetProcess, if you’ve enjoyed listening to this podcast interview, actually, you know what I want you to do? Go ahead and leave us a five star review on iTunes.

Owen: That way we get more people aware of the good stuff that you get here on this podcast. Again, go on to iTunes and leave us a five-star review. Looking forward to reading your review. Have a good day.

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