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Uncovering Your ‘Why’ in Leadership with Matt Cuzzort

Discovering your ‘why’ can be tricky. But once you figure that piece out, you can root back to purpose, and growth becomes natural rather than a challenge.

In this episode, Matt Cuzzort, Head Coach at Orangetheory Fitness Broad Ripple, joins us to share his journey of becoming a leader in the fitness industry, reflect on his experience of leading through challenges, and how he built a strong team culture. He discusses the importance of seeking mentorship, finding his zone of genius, and maintaining energy through the reinforcement of his ‘why.’

Join us as we unpack Matt’s journey and how he used his ‘why’ to shape his evolution as a leader in the fitness industry.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Know your “why” to inspire and lead effectively – it changes everything
  • Seek out a mentor and ask questions – it’s a sign of strength, not weakness
  • Let your team have a voice and collaborate to build a strong culture

Things to listen for:

  • [01:24] Lightning round with Matt
  • [11:04] Evolving through different leadership roles
  • [13:56] Maintaining a positive work culture
  • [15:52] How a strong culture helps your business grow
  • [17:16] Taking care of yourself while taking care of others
  • [19:11] Matt’s biggest piece of advice he’d give his younger self
  • [20:54] Craig’s takeaways

Matt’s Transcript:

[00:00:00] Craig P. Anderson: In the midst of doing 150 layoffs, the head of HR looked at me and said, you’re really good at this.

Welcome to Executive Evolution. Some more context. There was a time when part of our business, when I was working for a large Fortune 500 company required us to lay off a significant chunk of our team. It was a difficult time for everybody, including me as I’d never had to do it before.

But going through that process, I really started to understand my why. In that process. And my why was to take my team, who I’d known for years, through that process with as much empathy, dignity, and respect as possible. And when the head of HR said to me, you’re very good at this, what she meant was I was treating them as well as I could within the context of what we had to do.

And again, it came back to knowing my why today. My guest is Matt Cuzzort, who talks about his why and the power of how that why helps him lead effectively. He’s the Head Coach at Orangetheory Fitness in Broad Ripple in my home of Indianapolis in Indiana and has been working there since 2015, and he has got a great story for you today about his Executive Evolution.

[00:01:15] Craig P. Anderson: Matt, welcome to the Executive Evolution podcast.

[00:01:23] Matt Cuzzort: Thanks Craig. Excited to be here.

[00:01:24] Craig P. Anderson: I am so happy to have you here today. As, as we were talking before we started, I’ve been under your leadership at Orangetheory and looking the team you’ve built for the last four years and thought you would have a lot to say about leadership. So glad you could be here. Are you ready to dive into the lightning round?

[00:01:39] Matt Cuzzort: Let’s do it all out. Only let’s do it.

[00:01:41] Craig P. Anderson: All right. Here we go. All out for sure. What is the best leadership book you have ever read?

[00:01:48] Matt Cuzzort: So I feel like you might agree with me on this. It kind of changes different seasons of the year, like whatever you may be going through, but one always resonates with me. It’s such a basic concept, but it start with why by Simon

Sinek. And really the whole reason it resonates with me is so many people are so focused on just the what and the how, and everybody knows what they’re doing, how they do it, but if you have an actual why to inspire you behind what you do. It just changes the course of everything. I mean, when actual staff members come in and they’re actually there to show up for themselves, not just for you as a leader, you can really tell a big difference. So as a leader reading that book, I try to do my best, giving them a kind blueprint to build their why.

As they come in there, kind of make it the bigger picture.

[00:02:32] Craig P. Anderson: Love it. And that’s so true. Even a lot of people I know, . Want to be in leadership because, well, that’s my next progression, or, well, I wanna make more money, or whatever it is. And if you do it for that reason, you burn out and you’re miserable. But if you have that driving thing, the change you wanna make in the world or in the company, that’s what really can drive it for you. So I love that example.

[00:02:54] Matt Cuzzort: Alright,

[00:02:55] Craig P. Anderson: Question number two. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:02:59] Matt Cuzzort: Leadership. Crush. So his name is Nick Bear of Bear Performance Nutrition. It’s a supplement company based out of Austin, Texas, and I’ve followed this guy since he was, gosh, he probably had, I don’t know, maybe 50 followers on YouTube. This is probably 10 years ago. And right outta college, he. Started making supplements in his dorm room and tying in with what he was doing at the time, which was bodybuilding. Fresh outta the military, had that military mindset. He was just gung-ho, ready to open something up, become an entrepreneur. can listen to all his podcasts about how crazy that whole trajectory was, but I.

I actually had a chance to meet him this past April. They put on a big marathon in Austin, Texas. Very small venue, and I gotta see the team that he had built there and it was just contagious. The energy there is just something else. And I think what it starts with, and really why I respect him so much, is his example that he sets. guy as CEO and founder Will go out and run a hundred mile race or do an Ironman or start a bodybuilding competition and win it the first time he does it, and he will develop a formula or a supplement to go along with this endeavor.

So his staff and the people around him and the people buying these products are actually seeing him go through this journey. He’ll document it, whether it’s on YouTube or through podcasts, currently at Broad Ripple, our studio, if our members were able to go see this culture down there, they, they’d feel the exact same like that family, that small community vibe and now is such a big company that he has there. So big leadership crush on Nick Bear.

[00:04:30] Craig P. Anderson: when you look at that example and you translate that into what you’re doing, where does that really influence how you do it every day? That kind of family vibe that you’re driving towards?

[00:04:40] Matt Cuzzort: I love setting the pace at the studio. I feel like I would never want to ask someone under me or people in the class, you I’m coaching to do something that I couldn’t do myself or that I wouldn’t at least try to do myself. so Nick really embodies that and if I’m taking class or I’m going to do a 5K or a marathon, whatever it is, I get excited to tell that story later on to inspire someone. You hear it all the time with people starting up at Orangetheory with their fitness journeys, whether it’s the first time they’ve run a mile, the first time they’ve even jogged or run in five or 10 years. it’s all relative, but if you can tell those stories to inspire others, it’s huge. So success stories that just drive you.

[00:05:20] Craig P. Anderson: Okay. And final question, which will be interesting based on some of your examples already. In 10 words or less, how do you define leadership?

[00:05:29] Matt Cuzzort: So when talking about leading others, I believe it’s empowering, inspiring and being the example.

[00:05:38] Craig P. Anderson: I love it. That’s perfect. Right? That’s the summary of everything you’ve been talking about, right? Give people the energy, inspire them to do it. It’s such a perfect way to look at it. Alright, now Matt, this is my favorite ‘ part where we get to go back. cause you never know what people consider their first leadership role. So what was the first real leadership role you had in your life?

[00:05:59] Matt Cuzzort: so I don’t know if you know this, but it actually was at Orangetheory and it wasn’t at Broad Ripple. It was a studio very close by, just north of us. Actually. I was the studio manager, uh, a little over a year. And uh, just happenstance there was that roll open. I wanted to, as you mentioned earlier, just kind of progress in my journey.

Take that next step. And I threw my name out there, you coach Matt, two years of experience. I want to take this leadership role by storm and, uh, rest is history. That’s, that was my first role.

[00:06:29] Craig P. Anderson: what was it like stepping in, you just walked right into this and now you have your why, but there’s a whole lot you don’t know. In that first leadership role, what were some of the challenges that you faced out of the gate?

[00:06:42] Matt Cuzzort: it was exciting at first, but those challenges, they mount quick you start to realize that it’s not just the illusion of this really awesome business, that you have this great product, love the people that you work with. It’s interesting coming from the fitness side of things where you’re this encouraging and motivating voice and all of a sudden you have to be in front of your peers, over your peers.

And, not knowing how to set that expectation right out the gate and just kind of,  going in as friends. That was not the greatest way for me to go about it. But that’s the first thing I learned is really to set the expectation and take that why or that vision and actually instill that early, which I did not do.  I Didn’t have the tools or didn’t know how to do that. And then, the whole rigmarole of hiring, firing, having difficult conversations. Those things come up in a cascade and you just start to learn as you go and fail as you go. it was a big learning curve for me. Huge right from the side that I was working on into that side.

[00:07:41] Craig P. Anderson: what did you draw on? ’cause that’s always a big challenge in first leadership roles, is you say, well, they put me in this role . So they must think I can do it. So I don’t want to ask for help and raise my hand and I gotta figure this out. So where did you reach out to to try and figure all this out?

[00:07:57] Matt Cuzzort: It’s funny you say that because that’s the piece that I missed. That’s the biggest piece that I missed. I didn’t ask questions you’re young, you get that first leadership role. If I fail this right now, am I going to get another chance? Am I going to get another shot at this you have all those thoughts in your head.

If I don’t hit  numbers by this day, or if I ask a question, is that going to show a sign of weakness? you’re, trying to instill that strength early. But really what that’s doing is just magnifying your weaknesses by not figuring out a way to get better.

the only thing I knew how to do at the time was just to try to read as many books as I could listen to as many podcasts as I could take little notes here and there thinking I was leveling up, but I just didn’t have the experiences to tie those tidbits of knowledge in with. that’s, one of the things I wish I would’ve done. Just reached out more often.

[00:08:44] Craig P. Anderson: yeah, and it’s such an interesting piece because that, that was kind of the way I went, right? Was like, well, I don’t want to ask anybody ‘ I read so many books so many magazines. it was all I knew how to do was just voraciously read and then fail a lot.  ’cause me, I always coded conversations as conflict. so it was always a scary thing. And people generally know when they’re not performing, a sales rep’s not hitting their number, you know, whatever’s going on. But it’s hard, at least it was for me. Which of those things was really the one that you struggle with the most?

[00:09:14] Matt Cuzzort: honestly it’s just letting people do their job and, you know, whenever I was not able to figure out how to do something on my own, I would stay there for X amount of more hours, or I would go through the training booklet teaching them all the things they need to know. But I would still take over at the end of the day and I’d be there working. day and night, all day, every day. And that’s not helping me out. That’s not helping the employee out to take that next step, but putting in those hours like that, that was kind of the, the toughest part about it is, you’re equipping people but you don’t want to give them the trust to do it when they probably had it in the first place.

It’s just believing in your team and your squad, They pick up on those things too. If you don’t let them take those steps, they pick up on it pretty quick.

[00:09:58] Craig P. Anderson: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And it’s such a hard thing, right? ‘ cause you’ve been successful at certain things in your life through your own internal drive. Now as a leader, you have to get things done through other people. That leap of trust can be a big chasm depending on where you’re at in your mindset. So what was the toughest lesson you learned from that first leadership role?

[00:10:16] Matt Cuzzort: There’s lots of them. But I, think I just keep going back to that same, that is reach out to somebody who’s been in your shoes before and don’t be afraid to do it. Because What do you have to lose at that point? there’s so many people, especially in the business that you know, I’m in now and at the time I was in Orangetheory is just booming and there’s so many studios in this area with managers who’ve been there for a long time.

There’s other states that we can reach out to, other people in other, countries we can reach out to. At this point, just asking that simple question, how did you do this? How did you handle this? And just realizing that that’s not a. Weakness. it’s a strength. It’s a self-awareness check. It’s just trying to take other people’s experiences and take your studio to the next level, because the more knowledge you have, the better off you’re gonna be.

[00:11:03] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah, so, let’s fast forward to now several years later. basically came in at the ground level of a new studio. You’re building that out. What’s different in your current role as you’ve grown that and, the lessons you’ve applied from before?

[00:11:17] Matt Cuzzort: So I’m a lot more confident now and it couldn’t have started at a better time because when I stepped down from studio managing at the previous studio to Broad Ripple now, I mean, I did get in on that ground level. I was able to jump in before anybody was hired. I had an amazing counterpart Molly who helped me open the studio. honestly, we had so many sit down conversations about all the Issues and problems and difficult conversations, the hiring and firing aspects of our previous roles, and we just laid out what do we not wanna see in this company? What do we not wanna see when we open up this studio? What’s our vision gonna be? What is the main criteria for each employee, whether it’s a coach or a sales associate? And we basically wrote out this Bible in a sense of things that we wanted, this vision that we had. We stuck to our guns at every single hiring position, bringing people on. The questions that we had were based off of all of that stuff, and both of us sat in on both sides of our interviews, which typically is not, standard way to do it.

I would sit on the sales side, she would sit on the fitness side, but we opened that together and it really helped out. So again, me relying on somebody asking ’em for their knowledge, her doing it was me. It was awesome.

[00:12:32] Craig P. Anderson: So, and that’s such an interesting leadership opportunity to build something from scratch, right? I mean, there’s a lot of people out there, startups kind of doing things, but you’re starting something from scratch within an existing structure of all the Orangetheory franchise support. sounds like you went in and said. Here’s the profile of the kinds of people we want, the attitudes, the skills, and what did that afford you that maybe was different from those earlier leadership roles to build your own team like that.

[00:13:00] Matt Cuzzort: when you have the time and the patience to just wait for the right candidate or person, open your net as wide as you can. You’re gonna have some crazies in there, some, maybes, and then some like stars, some It has allowed us to run the studio since day one with a lot less effort. I these people are so bought in. And their why aligns with what Molly and I initially wanted to start the studio with. And so it’s that intrinsic drive. They had the same idea in their head that we had. And so a lot of those difficult conversations that could have come up later don’t end up happening because you’re on the same page.

You understand each other, you understand the bigger picture, not just the brand. So it’s like thinking outside of the box, but inside the brand of Orangetheory, just able to kind tie those experiences together and See that in the long run and see it actually pan out with people that you, hired and vetted to the process.

[00:13:55] Craig P. Anderson: and you started out with so much culture in mind and it’s been on, what do we, four years since you started it with a little fun in covid there with the closure, but Lessons have you learned in maintaining the energy of the culture you set out to create? Because people do change over time, right? New people come in and all that. how do you maintain a culture?

[00:14:14] Matt Cuzzort: it’s many areas, many avenues that we focus on. It’s always been, and I know this sounds kind of cliche ’cause every business company wants this, but having that fun environment, that fun vibe because at the end of the day, at broader least, we are very serious about our roles. We’re very professional about our roles. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Like we go out and we have fun. We try to schedule staff workouts, staff get togethers. And from day one, we really allowed the staff to have a voice. So we wanted them to be able to speak. We wanted them to be able to share with us their thoughts, their feedback. It wasn’t just that original vision that was like holding true because we brought in some really, really smart people, some great people with some awesome experience outside of us. And when you get everyone in the room together like that. Sky’s a limit. I mean, we’ve seen so much growth just in people who have been there and like you’re mentioning, the tenure at our studio is

unheard of. Most of our coaches, we actually have five coaches who are still around from day one, at least in this area, who have been moved on to head Coach Mo working at another studio. We’ve got three of the originals at Broad Ripple, and they’ve stayed around because I really feel like we’ve invested in them, not just, Professionally, but also just friendship wise.

You scheduling things outside the studio, being intentional about taking each other’s classes or, you know, motivating each other through a text. Little things like closer leaving a post-it note for the person opening in the mortar. Like little tiny things like that. It really starts from, that organic growth in the beginning of just having fun. You let somebody come in, let them be themselves I hope that’s why people have stayed on for so long.

[00:15:51] Craig P. Anderson: And then how has that translated for you all as your success as a studio? Right. It’s, as you said, there’s always the hot exercise trend. About everything ebbs and flows. So how is this paid off for you on the other side of the equation with clients and all that? How does that, focus on such a strong culture help you grow?

[00:16:08] Matt Cuzzort: I can give you some numbers. So as a studio, we’re, we’re nearly 900 members, which in Orangetheory terms, that’s a big studio. So in four years to have nearly 900 members, it’s, unheard of. It’s, every year we, try to keep low attrition, you know, members churning over. Our number was very low this year. We actually had the best number out of all of our studios and our ownership group. And I don’t say those to, to brag on Broad Ripple, but it’s an example of the intentional care that a lot of the staff members have with our members. I stories all the time of Facebook messages from the, the staff and, a member coming in for the next class the next day, or asking a question about this injury that might be nagging them or, causing them trouble with their workouts or There might be a race coming up and they need some encouragement or even her on the other side of it where the coach will reach out to that person because they saw in class, they were kind of looking down that day, and it’s just taking those steps and seeing that progress even in this past year, like not only that, we’ve also had the, the highest net member gain at this studio, people coming in.

So that atmosphere that we provide as a staff amongst each other,we want to spill out into the members and include them.

[00:17:15] Craig P. Anderson: And that’s great. And so interesting thought for me though, as you’re doing this, right, it’s still kind of early on in your leadership career, you still got a lot going on. You now are responsible for 900 members, you said, right? You or 15, maybe 20 staff members that you’re dealing with all the time.

Where is the effort to build your own energy? How do you take care of yourself through all this as you’re kind of taking care of all these people?

[00:17:41] Matt Cuzzort: That’s actually a really, really good question, especially in the line of work that we do as head coaches because it’s not cut and dry with that many people and that many follow-ups to do. You never have a certain schedule. You can’t just time block this here, this there during your week and these days, but over the years I’ve become a bit more efficient at where I wanna spend my time when I wanna do things. All of that to say it’s really hard to pinpoint a certain schedule, but where I get my energy I truly mean it when I say this. members think that us coaches come in there to pour into them. Like we want to give all this energy off to them and we gotta bring the heat so that they can work out in this great environment, which we do. But what we see in that studio, that is the biggest driving force. If I go in there like this morning, if I’m able to see Two or three people lift a heavier weight that I gave them or push a little bit harder on the row or add a 0.1 on their speed on the treadmill a half percent. That’s all the energy I need for the rest of the day.

I’m good. I’m a big coffee person. I love caffeine, but that is way better than caffeine. It just makes your day. ’cause you realize that no matter what’s going on in your own rigmarole of life and all the, the hurricane of this scheduled, that schedule, things get done eventually. Having those, those moments where you can just sit back and think like, this person is working so hard right now. It’s just so inspiring. Motivational. It’s like, if they can do that, I can get through this task or whatever it may be to help them on their journey.

[00:19:06] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah, so your energy really comes from the reinforcing of your why.

[00:19:09] Matt Cuzzort: Hundred percent.

[00:19:10] Craig P. Anderson: It’s all just a great big circle at that point. That’s fantastic.

All right, so Matt, we always like to close the podcast with one big question. You get to jump in a time machine, a DeLorean, whatever you want, But if you could go back to yourself in that very first leadership role in those early days. What’s the one piece of advice you would give yourself that would help you the most? that point?

[00:19:33] Matt Cuzzort: I like the dolorean. I, I would choose that For sure. if I could go back and just have a meeting with myself think it earlier in this podcast, I would just let myself know. It’s not a bad thing to ask questions. You’re not weak for asking questions and seek out a mentor. Seek out somebody who’s been there before you that has done it. Try to learn as much as you can about your role before jumping the gun and scheduling things or trying to roll out this big thing you learned from a book, weeks ago or a week ago, whatever it may be. Actually ask questions about those and be confident about it because it’s not failure that you want to be afraid of. It’s, not even having the attempt of failing that you want to be afraid of.

[00:20:12] Craig P. Anderson: Yep. Perfect. Alright, well Matt, if people wanna find you, follow you, learn more about what’s going on at Orangetheory, what are the best ways for them to get in touch?

[00:20:21] Matt Cuzzort: so on Instagram, it’s Coach_ FastMatt. And then on Facebook it’s Matt Cuzzort or you all can hit up Craig and uh, come take a class with him at Broad Ripple at six 15, anytime. That’s another way you can get in touch with me,

[00:20:34] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah, perfect. There’s nothing like that 6:15 experience except trying to do it any other time of day, so . All right,

Matt, thank you for sharing the story of your Executive Evolution. I know a lot of people are gonna benefit from this, so thank you very much.

[00:20:48] Matt Cuzzort: Thank you, Craig. Appreciate it.

Thanks, Matt, for that great story about your Executive Evolution. I really appreciated the insights he has gained into leadership. In a leadership career that’s lasted at this point, just a few years, but he has really demonstrated an affinity for it. I often say people aren’t born leaders that they become leaders, but Matt has really shown as close as any of my guests to being a born leader in the work he’s done.

I always like to take these episodes and break them down into the three key areas of competence, confidence and calm in the leadership that we learned about today. So in the area of competence. Matt talked about how we really had to consume a lot of information to help him grow through podcasts, through books, a lot of resources that he went and found himself.

And we start to build our leadership competence as we start to learn more about it. In the area of confidence coming back to how we open this podcast episode about knowing your why how Matt lets himself be energized by that why and that really builds the confidence he has when things are going great and when he has to have more difficult conversations with teammates and then finally in the area of calm I think Matt really understands what his zone of genius is and how much power and calm and strength he gets from living in that zone.

So when we start to learn where our area is of highest contribution and what really gets us in that zone, that helps us to drive calm. So thanks again, Matt. As always, remember you can go from becoming an accidental leader to the greatest of all time leaders. All it takes is developing your competence, confidence, income.

Thanks. And we’ll see you next episode.