As business models shift, leadership's gotta shift too. Right?

Been writing a lot recently about leadership and some of its current failings. My friend Brian Solis is a master at this game; he recently wrote about some of the inherent problems with our current approaches to digital transformation.

Here’s how I see it, in the fitness industry and beyond. Let’s walk through a couple of different steps.

Step 1: Disruption is real

I know some people think the term disruption is overused but its relevant because at its roots is the idea that what people think is working isn’t really working at all and thus is at risk of being eliminated. This is where you start to lose some of the current senior executives and get excuses rolling through. Some guys think their business model is perfect and super “strategic” -- they’re oftentimes confusing strategy with operations, but that’s for a different post -- and as a result, they assume they can’t be disrupted. Here’s one of the issues with that. They’re probably thinking about what “disruption” is incorrectly. Disruption isn’t really about product. Industries have dozens, if not hundreds, of products existing at one time. A new product won’t necessarily disrupt anything -- heck, fitness has been “disrupted” by new product 91 different times, and it’s still all good. (A rising tide lifts all boats.) Rather, disruption comes from slow, plodding decision-making and silo-by-silo priorities and metrics. That creates a garbled mess at the consumer level, because marketing is sending them one thing but the operational experience at the health club is different; a fine example of something broken when people think its not. Alignment issues cause disruption. Smaller companies can move faster and offer better experiences. That’s real, even if your financials seem healthy. Bottom line : are you playing the game for the long-term to win or not ?

Step 2: Put aside the excuses

A lot of current executives (to me) seem to be burying their heads in the sand and waiting for retirement. Think about how many websites are just plain awful -- and not even mobile-friendly, at a time when there are more mobile devices on the planet than people! Now, I know the refrain: “Website? That doesn’t drive revenue! That’s a marketing thing! Let them deal with it!” That’s a horrible attitude. First off, even if you’re not e-commerce, websites do help with revenue -- because if you have a terrible website, people trying to learn more about you will navigate away. Just last week I was talking to a guy in Texas who was thinking about joining a specific health club because of the class offerings. He gets to the website and can’t find anything about the classes he heard about, or anything on pricing. Did he join? No. That club just left money on the table. I know that’s not the way execs typically think about finance, but you need to shift how you think. There’s too many excuses in the game right now, and not enough “Hey, I should learn about this…” or “Hey, what’s this thing over here?” Curiosity died out with hierarchy, and that’s bad. Because…

Step 3: It’s only getting deeper

The next post I’ll write is going to be about AI and how it will impact the fitness industry. (Hint: in several ways.) So go back to this website idea above. Most companies still have terrible websites. What happens when AI, VR, Internet of Things and more concepts get to scale? Will we make excuses and bury our heads deeper in the sand? Or will we try to understand how these concepts can help grow our business in new ways? That’s basically the crucial question of business in the next 10-12 years, I’d argue.

Step 4: You need to embrace change

… because it’s here, it’s the only constant, and it’s only moving faster. I know change scares you. It scares all of us. I’ve damn near cried in hotel rooms in my career over how fast business models are flipping and new things are happening. But look, here’s a great profile of Sam Altman of Y Combinator in The New Yorker. (Read it. It’s super detailed about changes in the economy.) If you get down near the end of that profile -- it’s long -- there’s a quote from Ben Horowitz, a co-founder of one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world. Here’s the quote: “It’s capitalism. Do your fucking job or get your ass kicked.” Pretty much the best summary I can find on everything that’s happening. Change is constant. If you hide from it, it finds you. In that situation, you lose. But if you confront it and try to learn from it, you’ll lose here and there -- happens to all of us -- but the process of learning, being curious, iterating, failing, and growing will drive your business forward.

Step 5: How’s this going to happen?

We’re going to keep exploring this throughout the fall, but for now check this out on leading through the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) period.

See the original LinkedIn blog post here. 

Bryan O’Rourke is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker, author, executive and investor, who has successfully advised and driven global brands for over 30 years. He has presented as a keynote speaker at industry and corporate conferences on four continents. You can hire him to speak at your next event or facilitate your organization’s strategic meetings. He is widely published and quoted in periodicals like Inc. Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and is CSO of a well known Houston based health club chain. Bryan is presenting at the IHRSA EU Congress in Seville Spain October 17-20 2016, and at the IHRSA ChinaFit Management Forum event in Changsha November 15-18 2016. He and his partners are launching Vedere Ventures, a boutique private equity firm investing in and advising various health and fitness business models around the globe. To learn more visit or follow him @bryankorourke.