Ish Cheyne: The Power of Your Personal Story
In February 2022, hundreds of leaders from service businesses across the world gathered together online to take part in the Global Frontline Experience Summit, an event we are delighted to sponsor and host again after its hugely successful first run in 2020. It was a phenomenal event with a contagious heaping of inspiration, excitement and possibility for anyone working in the customer experience and frontline service space.
If you missed the summit, brought to you by our Frontline Magic Community don't worry! All of the sessions are available right here, and are just as powerful the second time around.
Our personal stories make us who we are. Where we grew up, the people we crossed paths with, the environments we found ourselves in and the things we were told. They make us human. As a business leader, learning how and when to use your personal story will help you stay relevant, foster genuine connections and build empathy with your team. By understanding your personal story and getting good at sharing it with others, you can deepen a sense of purpose and create masses of motivation and trust. Here to tell us his personal story and the impact of connecting to the frontline is none other than Ish Cheyne, Head of Fitness and one of the world’s leading fitness brands: Les Mills.
Having got into the fitness industry “completely by accident” Ish shares with us his origin story of how he went from being “a bit of an epic fail at school” to one becoming a key influencer in the fitness industry, leading an empowered, connected and motivated frontline workforce.
The Wrong Address?
Ish struggled in school with dyslexia, and found himself following in his family's footsteps towards the food and hospitality industry. After graduating, he found a restaurant that was hiring and scribbled down the address. When he arrived at his destination, he looked up to find a gym, not a restaurant. Having jumbled his numbers with no idea on what the actual address was, he walked through the doors of the gym, to find a small cafe. This will do, he thought. He introduced himself and said he’d like to work at the cafe. While there weren’t any jobs at the cafe available, he was offered a job selling gym memberships.
“I walked out of the gym thinking I have no idea what I’m doing”
Having never set sneaker in a gym before and having zero sales experience, it’s fair to say Ish was thrown in the deep end. He decided the best first step was to get into the gym, and get a sweat on before his first shift. With so many dumbbells, machines and equipment and so little knowledge of what he was doing, he decided to find someone, and mirror them.
“You find someone who’s in a better shape than you and you just follow them around and do what they do”.
Fast forward a few years, and Ish had completely fallen in love with the fitness industry. He was no longer sheepishly following people around and asking them what to do, but coaching others. Once he got the hang of the gym, selling it to other people was easy. He felt first hand the incredible physical and mental benefits of working out, and he was passionate about sharing them with the world.
“I ended up falling in love with the fitness industry, in fact so much that I went back and retrained as a personal trainer”
Ish worked his way up the ranks from trainer, to manager to his current position as Head of Fitness at one of the world's most prestigious fitness brands. He even made a few smoothies at the gym cafe in his time.
Ish has shared his story far and wide to remind people of the unexpected paths life can take you on. Through it, he’s realized how personal stories can create genuine connections and bring people together, especially in the context of workplace teams.
Personal Stories Build Trust
As someone who leads a large frontline workforce, Ish is always looking for ways to connect to and engage with his team. He learnt that through sharing his story, he can build a more trusting relationship with his employees.
“People want to follow people that they like, people that they believe in, people that they trust”.
When Ish makes the time to connect to his team, share his story and listen to theirs, it builds trust. He stresses that this isn’t about showing up once and calling it a day. He says that in order to build trust with your teams, leaders must show up more often and more authentically, not just in times of crisis.
When you focus on building a strong sense of trust within your team, you increase employee retention, improve communication and build a culture where employees feel valued, appreciated and seen.
In the era of “the great resignation”, building trust with your employees is more important than ever.
“I think a lot of employees are just waking up and realizing that they don’t have to do their crappy job anymore and their boss is an idiot”.
Ish sees this as an “investment opportunity” – to invest in frontline workers and to create a systemic shift in the world of frontline work.
Connect to Get Connection
It takes two to tango. You cannot expect your team to have open, honest communication with you if you don’t have open and honest communication with them.
“It comes down to practicing the skill of storytelling, practicing the skill of listening, and making sure that you can actually have a real authentic discussion with someone”
A whopping 86% of employees blame lack of collaboration and communication as the main cause of workplace failure. When was the last time you had a meaningful connection with your team? Whether that be a coaching conversation, a moment to recognize and celebrate an employee's work or just a catch up about how they’re feeling about life in general?
For Ish, it is important to start small when making meaningful connections.
“If it's always the big stuff, it's harder to land it if you haven't landed the little stuff, the little conversations”.
Connecting goes back to those little moments of authenticity and truth which in the end compound to create a company's culture.
Culture is Everybody’s Responsibility
Ish closes his presentation by calling attention to the issue of culture responsibility. As humans, we have a tendency to point fingers. It's easy to blame someone or something else for the culture issues in your organization, but Ish reminds us that we all have a responsibility to shape culture.
“You're not stuck in traffic, you are traffic, you're part of the problem”.
Instead of blaming a lack of workplace culture on others or getting a third party to come in and ‘fix things’, Ish recommends taking a step back and looking at how you can best support your team in their work. Whether that be through technology, authentic conversations or simply listening to your team.
Personal stories are powerful. When we share them, listen to them, and make more meaningful connections with our team, we create a people-first culture that is built upon trust, authenticity and empowerment.
A huge thank you to Ish Cheyne for sharing his personal story and reminding us of the power of our own stories, especially in people powered businesses. Want to see more presentations from the Global Frontline Experience Summit? We’ll be releasing blogs every week diving into all the juicy insights from our incredible lineup of speakers. In the meantime, you can join the Frontline Magic Community to receive updates, frontline news and more!