“You’re blowing my mind right now,” is not what you would expect to hear from someone attending an in-service on how to give an introductory session. We had gone over the format, variations and suggestions, and reviewed the relevant paperwork, but the student teachers wanted to know how they were going to navigate real-life scenarios. What were they to do when faced with integrating and retaining a client? What did it mean to be the expert? And what did generosity have to do with making a recommendation? What was the outcome they were looking for? They hadn’t thought much beyond the ins and outs of teaching the exercises, of being the technician, and naturally so.
We don’t talk much about the elements of creating relationships, building trust or holding to a larger vision – especially at the offset. There’s too much else to do and to learn. We shield our new teachers from overly complex relationship skills and tools because we don’t want them to be overwhelmed. To their detriment we assume that these things are inherent or out of our scope of practice. But nothing could be more within our scope. We are in the business of building relationships and lasting ones are made on a foundation of giving.
The Why, What For and For Whom – Clarity of Purpose
Why do you teach? Why do you ask someone to do Pilates? Is it for you or for them or because you need to pay the rent? Maybe it’s all of these – sometimes it is, but what lies beneath?
Teaching, as lasting and meaningful work, is primarily an act of service. When we are truly invested in what’s best for our students, our teachers and all of those involved in making our work possible then teaching is a vehicle not only for generosity but for contributing to the bigger picture. Teaching as service puts us immediately in a generous state of mind. We own a studio not just because it serves our ego or is an expression of our entrepreneurial urges, but because our work is truly about making someone’s life better.
“Never stop inspiring others and contributing to the world,” writes Michael Carroll, in his book The Mindful Leader. As one of the 30 reminders for creating truly meaningful work and leadership, Carroll speaks directly to our underlying purpose. If we are committed to contributing and inspiring we are guided by what’s best for the whole not just ourselves.
In the goings on of our daily routine we are faced with any number of opportunities to be thoughtful and adhere to our greater commitment. In the Pilates studio we make endless decisions about what exercises to use, what kind of program to recommend, what teacher to recommend, what we’ll charge, what our policies will be and other logistics that either line up with that objective or not.
Where do you stand? The good news is it’s pretty easy to tell. When we are blindly motivated by what will be best for us we feel bad – sometimes sooner than later – but it comes around in the end. We loose clients, we can’t keep teachers, our profits drop and worse we end up hating or feeling indifferent about what we do. If we are on track, at the very least we show up excited to offer our teaching. Inevitably this leads to a staff that feels supported and inspired, clients that can’t wait to come in and growing profits.
Generosity at work:
- You’ve just completed an introductory session and you see that the client would be best served coming in two times a week for 10 sessions, but you will be out of town for 2 weeks in the middle. You know they need consistency because staying motivated has been a challenge in the past. Instead of trying to make it work you help them set up their next appointment with a fellow teacher. (You’ve taken into consideration that the beginning is the most crucial and what you ultimately are driving people toward is being excited about Pilates and making a significant change in their lives.)
- You’ve just completed 10 sessions with a new client and they are progressing well. You know that finances are a concern, but you’ve also just lost a client and could really use to keep these private sessions. It wouldn’t be a detriment for them to do 10 more sessions, but you see they are excited to gain more strength and classes would allow them to come twice a week. You schedule them into a class that works for their schedule (with another teacher) and let them know you’ll check in with them in 2-3 weeks to see how they are progressing. (You, and your studio, are most committed to students practicing for the long run, not just as long as it benefits you.)
- You have a relatively new client who is consistently asking you to rearrange your sessions and come in on your days off. You have been flexible so far because you are building your practice and because you want them to stay. When they come in they are late. They are constantly comparing you to other teachers and questioning your decisions. You leave every session feeling bad. Other students and teachers notice the negativity this client contributes. You either recommend that the student try a different teacher who might better suit their schedule and needs or refer them to the studio down the street. (Generosity toward yourself should not be under-emphasized as a key aspect of your contribution! When you respect your own needs and boundaries those whom you lead will be inspired to do the same.)
1. Do you refer clients easily and readily to other teachers or other studios?
2. Are you willing to turn a student away if you see they need something other than Pilates? Or if you know you will not be able to serve them well (think conflict of character etc.)
3. Do you create goals and programs for your students that are truly what they need even if it takes them away from you directly?
4. If you’re a teacher in someone else’s studio or an employee are you willing to participate, support and contribute even when it’s not easy?
a. If not, why?
b. What motivates this decision?
*If you are not, perhaps this is the moment you look at the lack of generosity in the studio or employer. Are your underlying commitments being reinforced by where you’ve decided to teach?
5. Is service a part of your business model (this pertains to studio owners and individuals? Do you contribute your time or efforts to support a charity or cause?
Make a list of areas that you feel are in need of improvement. Begin to look at where you are not being generous and explore why. For instance, maybe finances are tight and you feel like you need to keep every student that walks in the door regardless of if they are the biggest jerk you’ve ever met. Perhaps you will do anything to get a student to sign up because you really need to make your rent this month. Start to peel back the layers and see what you’re afraid of. What’s the worst that could happen if you begin to respond rather than react and make decisions based on inspiring others and generosity? When you have clarity of purpose even your introductory sessions become a pivotal part of the larger, grander picture of generosity.
"If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives." Biddy Mason
Chantill Lopez has been writing and teaching since 1994. She has written for several weekly papers and magazines both fiction and non-fiction and is excited to merge her love of teaching Pilates with her love for the written word. Chantill is co-owner of Pilates Collective in Sebastopol, California and a Balanced Body faculty member. Chantill welcomes comments, questions and feedback.