A Lesson on Leadership, Social Media, and “Teachable Moments”

“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”—Erik Qualman

As someone old enough to remember when there wasn’t an internet and there wasn’t a thing called social media (when we wanted to be social, we went to the mall), I am constantly learning about how to best use and interact on social media—and I don’t always do it well.

The Stumble That Became a Teachable Moment

Case in point is a recent Facebook interaction between myself and Master SFG Fabio Zonin. Fabio is a friend and someone I respect greatly in the StrongFirst community. He recently underwent shoulder surgery and was posting about returning to some training. This “raised an eyebrow” for me out of concern for Fabio.Fabio Zonin Facebook Post

My concern was twofold. The first concern was that Fabio might be doing too much too soon. And second, that others reading his post and giving him encouragement might not use his example in the best way. I am cautious on social media and always try to think of the worst scenario and adjust my advice to try to prevent that. I have been involved in too many discussions where details emerged during the thread that made any preceding advice a very bad idea. It could be that the person seeking exercise advice is actually experiencing pain. Or it could be that the perception of the advice given does not match the reality or experience of the individual and is applied incorrectly. Needless to say, I am cautious on social media because it is blind.

So I chose to post on Fabio’s thread and this lead to two things. First, Fabio clarified his post-surgical rehabilitation plan. Second, I was reminded by my good friend Geoff Neupert that I could have contacted Fabio directly instead of questioning him publicly.

In hindsight, I know I should have contacted Fabio directly. This would have shown respect and friendship and I failed at that. But we did turn the scenario into a positive. After speaking to Fabio on FaceTime, we realized this was a “teachable moment.” Not only for me. but also for the StrongFirst community.

A Teachable Moment for StrongFirst Leadership

While my question to Fabio may have been better delivered in private, it provided him the chance to clarify and go into detail about his doctor-approved rehabilitation program. Fabio is one of the smartest people in the business with many years of experience. He knows his body and is working with his doctor. He is not “doing his own thing” and while a doctor may recommend a completely different program for you or me, Fabio is following the advice his doctor has recommended for him.

I want to believe the culture of our community is such that respectful questioning is accepted and encouraged. I know for myself the only time being asked “why” is a problem is when I don’t have a “why.” Fabio has a “why” and didn’t mind my question.

As professionals in an internet age, our message can spread far and as noted in the quotation that started this article we need to spread our message well and properly.

A Few Words From Fabio

And to paraphrase Paul Harvey, “And here’s the rest of the story…” from Fabio Zonin, Master SFG, SFB, and SFL:

Fabio Zonin Master SFGI feel humbled and honored to be part of the leadership of StrongFirst. I have been lucky enough to travel the world and do what I love most: meet amazing people, make new friends, share my knowledge, improve myself by learning from the best in the industry, help people achieve their goals, and give my contribution to our community. And I could add much more.

But being part of the leadership of a world-class school also means accepting great responsibilities. When I accepted my position, I also accepted that the shield of the School of Strength was printed indelibly on me. When people see me, they see StrongFirst. The two entities, Fabio Zonin and StrongFirst, are inseparable. And the same applies for all of the members of our leadership. Whatever we do, say, or post, it’s not only us acting, speaking, or posting—but also StrongFirst. Our private lives are confined within the four walls of our homes, but in public venues and on social media, we constantly represent StrongFirst.

We inspire people with our words and actions, and many see us as role models. We have the power to help people and motivate them by providing a good example and always being the first to do what we preach. But this is also a double-edged sword. If we make a mistake, we can deliver an incorrect message, give a bad example to those who are inspired by us, and misrepresent our school. Therefore, it is crucial we are always cautious in our actions and think twice before we act, talk, or post. It is not about us, but about all those who follow us and the integrity of our school.

Because of all that, I have learned to weigh carefully my actions—or at least I thought so. In fact, I made a mistake.

I allowed my enthusiasm to overcome my prudence, and I posted something that wasn’t a good example. I was so happy about my first training session after surgery, that I posted some videos without thinking that my training could have been viewed as “too much.” My intentions were good; I thought I could be an inspiration for those who suspend their training sessions for two months just because they have a broken nail. I also thought it was a good idea to deliver the message, “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but how many times you get up again.”

What I didn’t consider is that my training session was that of someone who has good control of his body, fairly high levels of strength, and, above all, clearance from his doctor. While for me pressing a 28kg bell for 5 reps is below 50%1RM and way below 30% of max effort, that weight can be very challenging for others, and would definitely be inappropriate a week after surgery.

In the hours that followed my post, a voice inside of me started telling me that maybe it wasn’t a good idea, and that voice was reinforced by the wisdom of my good friend Geoff Neupert, who was spending a few days with me here in Italy. Before I could take any action, I read Brett’s comment.

I confess that my first thought was, “Why doesn’t he write this in a private message?” But it was only my pride speaking those words, so I didn’t listen. Brett is not only a friend and someone who owns my highest admiration and respect, but he is also the Chief SFG. Not only does he have the right to make sure all the members of the leadership behave according to our code of conduct, but this is also his duty.

And Brett had at least three very good reasons to comment publicly on my post:

  1. He was concerned about my health, and this is something I very much appreciate. He could have sent me a private message, but if you see a child crossing a busy road and you save him from getting run over, who cares how you did it? In emergency situations, we act by impulse, and the final result is what counts.
  2. He was concerned about our community and the impact my post could have had on it.
  3. He gave me the opportunity to publicly explain my “why” and to turn a bad example into a good example.

In the end, our exchange itself delivered a good example on how to conduct a thread among gentlemen on social media. All this has made this experience a teachable moment, for the two of us and for the StrongFirst community.

Culture and Community Expanded

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a community as “a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society.” Or simply “a group of people who have the same interests.”

And the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization” and as “the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic” Or simply “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.”

A Teachable Moment for the StrongFirst Community

The community of StrongFirst is a group of people who have the same interest or passion for strength and our School of Strength. While we are certainly scattered through a larger society, and whether we began with the kettlebell, barbell, or our own bodyweight, the StrongFirst principles have drawn us together to form a community.

The culture of StrongFirst is perhaps harder to define. Since we are scattered and may even be on our own where we live and work, it can be harder to develop “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists” in our community. This puts a lot of pressure on how the “leadership” acts at events and on social media. “They are watching” is something I have said to our instructors so often. “They” means everyone we interact with and these interactions are something I take seriously.

People feel our culture at our events. StrongFirst representatives operate with respect within a structured experience. Attendees are pushed to perform and learn, and walk away transformed in many cases. Instructors guide and teach and act as examples of not only the techniques but also the culture. As Fabio put it, “The shield of the School of Strength was printed indelibly on me.” It is a responsibility.

StrongFirst and Teachable Moments

Within a social media format, the ability to connect is greater than ever—but also harder than ever. A smile or an encouraging word within a live experience can connect someone to our culture faster and with more impact than a tweet or Instagram pic. But a rude, offensive, or argumentative post within a social media context can drive more people away than we may ever know. It is an additional responsibility for those in our community and it can be a hard line to walk.

My hope for the culture of StrongFirst is one of respect, support, and encouraging the idea that strength has a greater purpose. As Michael P. Watson said, “Strong people do not put others down. They lift them up.”

Fabio and I stumbled a bit, but moved forward through respectful and supportive interaction. We are not above questioning and we should never be concerned about being questioned. Fabio wanted to inspire and I wanted to protect. In the middle, we accomplished that and provided a teachable moment. Not only regarding recovery from challenges, but also positive social media interaction.

Special thanks to Fabio for his portion of this article. Fabio is a Master SFG, SFB, and SFL. He is a former powerlifter, natural bodybuilder, and owner of fitness centers. He was the first Italian to accomplish the Beast Tamer Challenge and has been a Master Teacher for FIF (Italian Federation of Fitness) for almost two decades (1994-2012). He is also the Ground Force Method National Director for Italy.

Brett Jones
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Director of Education. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching—e-mail him for more info.

Brett is the author of Iron Cardio.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
Brett Jones on EmailBrett Jones on Twitter

9 thoughts on “A Lesson on Leadership, Social Media, and “Teachable Moments”

  • Im a little late to this posting but what a post indeed!

    The statue “I am a quiet professional.” stands out in this post and the situation presented in it. It is probably one of the most important things I took away from my certification weekend.

    We are a group of professionals no matter what the circumstances; carry yourself with class and honor the shield of our strength alma mater and what it represents to our community and the greater public.

    Fabio, Brett: You guys are fantastic role models. Its an honor to be part of this family of iron.

    Hank H.

  • A very mature approach. I feel that in most other instances on the web if someone is called out or questioned about their posts/actions etc they are very quick to jump into defensive mode. The above is a terrific example of how one can act as an adult, which unfortunately is very rare these days, especially online.

  • Great job setting an example. We all make mistakes with each other. How we handle them is what matters.

  • This is one of my favorite StrongFirst articles of all time. Integrity to the core, and I love the comment of one’s intent to inspire and the other’s to protect. That was the end result, excellent!

  • I totally agree with Steve Freides,
    This situation happens all the time and is either just water under the bridge (until the next time it happens) or drives a wedge between the two involved. The fact the Leadership of this great community took the time to respectfully clear the air with each other and then share the experience with the rest of us is inspiring.
    Thank you Brett and Fabio for Leading from the Front

  • This article is yet another reminder of why I am so proud to be a part of StrongFirst – because “Strength has a higher purpose” means “Strong Character,” too.

    Thank you, Brett and Fabio.


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