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Lessons In Leadership: One On One With Dave Long, CEO And Co-Founder of Orangetheory Fitness

I spoke to Dave Long, CEO And Co-Founder of Orangetheory Fitness, about his thoughts on leadership and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Dave: Once I snowboarded from one of the peaks of Switzerland to Italy and then back in the same day. Needless to say, I’m extremely into extreme sports. I love to go surfing, mountain biking and snow boarding. There have been times where I snowboard one day and surf the very next, starting one day by snowboarding in Jackson Hole, WY and starting the next morning in the water surfing in Encinitas, CA.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Dave: Developing the business acumen needed to transform an unknown regional brand into the leader of the fitness franchise industry doesn’t happen overnight. Prior to co-founding Orangetheory Fitness, I spent a decade building my professional career around helping launch franchise concepts, and this experience gave me the foundation I needed to make Orangetheory what it is today. Essentially, I spent much of my early career in a constant state of learning and developing the skills I needed to not only build myself, but also to develop a world-class committed team.

I started out in the wellness industry with Massage Envy, which had 25 locations at the time I came on board. Alongside my team, I spearheaded strategic franchise development efforts to expand the brand’s presence nationwide, eventually growing the company to more than 800 locations. Expansion always comes with growing pains, and as mistakes and setbacks occurred along the way, I approached each decision as an opportunity to improve the team, the company and myself. After successfully growing Massage Envy, I joined European Wax Center as a consultant and helped build an area representative network at a time when there were only four family owned locations. In less than nine years, I helped European Wax Center expand from its original four locations into a leading brand with more than 550 units.

Working alongside franchise veterans and leaders in the industry, I learned first-hand how to build an infrastructure ahead of growth no matter the concept. I learned the importance of investing in key players in order to create the most effective teams that generate success. Over this decade of my life, my vision for growth sharpened with each experience and in turn contributed significantly to the path I’ve landed on.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Dave: It’s essential for an effective leader to be able to lead by example. Not only do you build credibility amongst your peers and employees, but also you learn to exhibit the best version of yourself. An effective leader has to have a firm understanding of the balance between delegating and being involved. There is a delicate balance that can change at any given moment, but being flexible and strategic of how you spend your time is crucial to your overall success. In my experience, being cognizant of how involved you are in different areas of the business is another defining quality of an effective leader.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?

Dave: I have been very fortunate to be around a number of great leaders. A constant theme that I have collectively learned from each of them is to always continue learning no matter how small. There are countless ways to improve yourself and that stems from having a steady flow of new knowledge, whether it be from new experiences, reading or immersing yourself in challenging situations.

One of those great leaders is Dave Carney who serves as the president of Orangetheory Fitness. He LIVES the culture, walks the walk and truly cares about the work he produces. His work ethic resonates with our team and continues to fuel our momentum.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

I strongly believe that in order to continue climbing to the next level, a leader must always be eager to learn. It’s vital to implement the mindset that we are continuously students. Leaders should be open to new experiences that help expand their knowledge, inevitably building their leadership skills. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the field for decades, there is so much to learn no matter where you are in your career. Reading is one of the best tools to keep yourself constantly learning and opening your mind to new perspectives and ideas. Many of the greatest entrepreneurs and business leaders of our time have published books offering a wealth of information just waiting to be tapped into. Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Andre Agassi have written a few of my favorite books on leadership.

Additionally, it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities available at industry summits or conferences outside of simply attending. I’ve found an important aspect of these events is to put yourself out there, spark conversations with anyone around you and capitalize on being in the same room as leaders in your field. Having an insatiable hunger to learn and putting yourself in an environment alongside successful leaders is a tool I’ve personally used to network and advance in my areas of expertise.

Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Spend a lot of time upfront to make sure you recruit the best of the best for your team and your company overall. A thorough interview process will help determine if the candidate has not only the right skill set, but also the right passion. It’s equally important that someone cares about the job as it is that they’re capable of completing what the role requires. Additionally, it’s important to develop a strong communication process and create a company culture that encourages collaboration and reinforces the importance of working together as a team. A key component to building a healthy work environment for your team is to hold each team member accountable for his or her responsibilities and make every employee feel like they are a part of something.

After assembling a strong team, there must be an underlying understanding that there will always be bumps in the road and obstacles to tackle, but any setback will eventually help pave the way for the future. Each initiative you tackle as a team – failure or success – will open up new doors for creativity.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they impacted your development as a leader?

Dave: As cliché as it sounds, sometimes it’s lonely at the top. As a leader, I’m often expected to have all the answers, so I utilize my spare time by getting involved in hobbies where the roles are reversed. At Orangetheory Fitness, we’re committed to spreading awareness on the importance of overall wellness, and that’s a philosophy reflected in my personal life as well. I love to train for races, play tennis, snowboard, surf, mountain bike… the list goes on. While I participate in these activities any chance I get, I know I’m not an expert and can only improve if I follow the lead of the professionals. Most of the time, I’m doing the learning from everyone around me, and it’s a humbling experience and keeps my mindset in the learning mode, even if it’s not directly related to my professional career. Incorporating a variety of hobbies and activities into my life allow me to not only exercise my body, but also serve a dual purpose of exercising my mind and providing an outlet for clear and critical thinking. My best work comes after turning off my brain and spending time doing the things that I love.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Dave: My last piece of advice for any leader is to align your role with passion. One of the greatest privileges of being in a leadership position is having an opportunity to take charge of your own journey and mold a role for yourself that reflects your objectives, goals and core values. Intelligence and experience can only get you so far if you don’t believe in the brand you’re building, and enjoying what you do each and every day is the ultimate driving factor not only for the success of your company, but for your own happiness and well being as well.

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