In these turbulent and rapidly changing times, leading with resilience is a must-have skill for every business executive. But how do you do it, and where do you begin? Alicia Couri’s guest is Fran Dean-Bishop, founder and CEO of Aerobodies, whose mission is to help employers of all sizes immediately create energy and engagement in their workplace culture. In this episode, Fran discusses that you need to know your vision. What is the end you see in your mind? Work backward from there! Then outsource tasks you don’t like doing so you can continue to iterate, grow, pivot, and develop your business. Are you hungry for more? Tune in to this wisdom-studded episode with Fran and learn to lead your team with confidence and resilience!
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Confidence In Leading With Resilience With Fran Dean-Bishop
With me is Fran Dean-Bishop. I love this woman. She’s the CEO of Aerobodies Inc., Creator of the MindWell Suite, and Workforce WakeUp turnkey systems designed to help employers of all sizes immediately create energy and engagement in their workplace culture. After two decades working with a range of sports and semi-pro athletes, Fran has parlayed her coaching acumen and training discipline into a multimillion-dollar workplace wellness brand, helping global brands and federal agencies design wellness engagement experiences that transform workplace culture and improve productivity and resilience of thousands of employees.
Since its start, Fran’s company has served over 20,000 employees in five countries. The company has launched several proprietary fitness and wellness technologies serving the workplace, K-12 students, and as a response to the pandemic, the company launched the Blaze Fitness app for health and wellness support available through Google Play and Apple Store. Fran has been featured on ABC, local news in Washington DC, The Washington Business Journal, and several industries, association, publications, including Regan Communications and National Contract Managers Association. Welcome, Fran Dean-Bishop, to the show. Thank you, Fran.
It’s lovely to be here. Thank you very much. I felt humbled by that introduction.
It is fabulous what your company is doing, but you as the head of the company, all these initiatives and things that you’re doing to help support everyone in their health and wellness through everything that’s been going on, especially. My first question to everybody on this show is, what is your leadership philosophy?
When I think about leadership, it means a lot of different things because you have to lead in many different ways in your organization, in your home life, in your work life. You lead all the time. If you are controlling, what’s going to happen to your vision and your mission. My leadership philosophy is to start with the end in mind and work backward. I tell my team that with everything that we do, I don’t care if we’re purchasing procurements for a big event that we’re going to do for a client. I don’t care if we’re hiring someone for a new contract that we won or if we’re looking at office space or looking for a new place to move into. We do think about where are we going at the end of this? What does it look like when it’s done and work backward from there? You’re looking at the long-term and long-range plans.
Start with the end in mind. That’s the first time someone has given that particular answer, but I love when you project all the way to the end like, “What is my goal here? What are we trying to accomplish here? Reverse engineer so that we are taking all the right steps to get where we want to go and not run off the bridge somewhere.
A lot of times, people are looking at leaders to be able to exponentially share their vision in where you are going. If you stay finite, then people can’t capture into that vision, and how many times does a CEO or a lead get the chance to speak to the masses of the organization? With everything you do, you’re always communicating, “What’s the goal? What’s the vision?” Working backward, you’re always, in real-time, sharing that vision, and people can buy into that, especially when you’re a small company. I think when you’re a large company, there are press releases. People can go online and see what the chairman of the board was speaking about, the stockholders were speaking about, but when you’re small, people need to see that and feel that every day. That makes them believe in the company and want to stay with the company.
That reminds me of NASA’s mission. I know that’s a big company, and we’re talking about small companies, but when they had that mission to the moon, everybody was buying into it because that is all that everybody was saying. They were putting that vision, “This is what we’re going to do. This is what’s happening. Every step towards that was taking us. We haven’t even launched a man in space yet, but we’re going to the moon. We haven’t successfully done that yet, but that’s not going to stop us from getting to the moon.” I’m sure SpaceX did the same thing, “We’re going to Mars.” Having that forward vision, everybody knows that there’s something that we’re all working towards. How did you start your whole company? What was the genesis of that?
I get that question a lot. It has lots of iterations. If you read it somewhere else, it would be like, “I didn’t know that part. I left that part out.” I’m a former track and field athlete. Since I was seven years old, I feel a lot of systems have always been a part of my fabric. When I finished school, my degree, my focus was to go into Law. After spending about three years going through the process and undergrad, I realized as I was graduating, “Time for a pivot. This is not what’s calling to me.” I pivoted back to business. I did well in business. I was in sales. If you like people and people like you and I have a gift for gab, then I could sell anything. I’ve been told that many times.
I think about four years into my career, I realized quickly that, “Yes, I’m selling, but I’m not in love. I’m not in passion with what I’m selling and with who I’m doing it with.” When I thought about it, I come from a generation of entrepreneurs, and my grandfather owned a business. My parents ran several different businesses since I was a kid. I grew up in family businesses and seeing my father start different businesses. He was very successful in the restaurant business. He pivoted into construction. He pivoted into facilities management and did extremely well. I know what that looks like to pivot. When I thought about it in terms of my sales career, I was making a lot of money, but I was very stressed out.
I was losing my hair. It was bad. I said, “What else can I do? If you can make $1 million for this company, you can make enough to feed yourself.” That’s always my go-to. I thought about, “What do I want to do?” I’m dating myself a little bit, but back then, Spa Lady and Bally’s fitness were all the rage. All of my track and field buddies were into this fitness thing, working out, and we’re past the Jane Fonda era but right before the 24 Hour Fitness era. They would invite me to these classes. It was a lot of fun. Back then, a lot of spandex, people are loud. It’s like, “This is fabulous. I love this.”
I was like, “How can I make this work?” I got into it. I got a certificate. I started teaching. When you’re good at something, that’s why I always say it’s important that you’re good at your craft, but you need to look at your craft. I love the craft of athleticism. When I started teaching, I loved it. People automatically assumed I could make them look like me. They are coming up to me like, “Do you do personal training?” I’m like, “I had no idea what a personal trainer even was. I’m in sales, but let me see what it’s about.” I would look it up, and I said, “I can try.” I did. Back then, when I first started, I was charging $20 a session.
Little by little, I started doing a little bit more. I remember at that time, my sales manager asked me, “I noticed that you’re leaving the office at 5:30 every day and somebody told me you’re teaching classes. What are you doing that for?” I said, “It’s fun.” Before I knew it, I had a following. I said, “Fran, you’re doing enough that you can step out of here.” I stepped out, went on my own, and little by little, as I grew the personal training piece, I had clients that had corporations or worked for corporations that said, “I can take this into our corporation.” Before I knew it, I had a corporate wellness business.
What I love the most about what you talked about is the example of your family being entrepreneurs. It didn’t seem like it was scary for you to step out and do that because you had that modeled for you. A lot of people are afraid to step out with confidence. That helped build your confidence in, “I could support myself. I could do this on my own. I’ve seen my dad pivot however many times and start new businesses.”Start with the end in mind and work backward; look at the long-term and long-range plans. Click To Tweet
Having that, even if it was subconscious and not a full awareness of it, it gave you that confidence to step out into your own thing instead of losing your hair, which I know is not fun. As you’re doing these corporate wellness programs, your business started growing. As your own leader now, what is one huge mistake that you made in your own leadership journey or something that you could say, “Oops,” that you had to recover from, and how did you recover?
I started my business in ‘94. I incorporated in ‘97. I didn’t realize in ‘97 that I was an innovator. That term has come on because being an entrepreneur is very cache. Everyone is starting a business and getting funding. At that time, I didn’t know it was an innovator. I was very much an innovator because there was no such thing as WeBank or an NMSDC. It was, “Here I am. I’m good at what I do. Can you use this?” I realized that as I was innovating, I was doing all of it. I was doing the operational meetings with my team. By ‘99, my team had swelled to about 60 trainers.
We were growing quickly and fast. It was exciting, but I was doing everything myself, and partly was because I didn’t understand the margin piece and the pricing rate. I never thought about going and getting a pricing expert or a pricing strategist for some of these contracts. I never thought about, “If you hire somebody from the team who’s already training for you as an operations manager, let them with that skillset develop. You can go and continue to innovate and pivot.” Looking back now, we continue to innovate it as a company. We’re obviously in a much better position now where we can take on and bring on infrastructure and bench support. Even back then, realizing in reinvesting in the business, you have to find ways that you can grow your team internally and delegate as you do it.
That ties people back into the vision. Now that I look back, I realized we had turnover here and there because people would get to where they wanted to get with their career in fitness, and they’d move on because I wasn’t creating a lane. You have to do all of that. If you figure out early on what you love about your business and the stuff that you don’t like, I’ve never liked the operations piece at all. I’ve never liked the numbers piece at all. Outsource those pieces, so you can continue to iterate, grow, pivot, and develop your business.
We had a little conversation before that because there are things that I do in my own business that I don’t want to do anymore. I’m about ready to find people to hand that over to. Leading and managing people, because it could be a sticky point for many people in business too, how were you able to grow your own leadership skills in helping to recognize those people that you can elevate in your business? What are those strengths and promote as they go versus finding people because of turnover? How were you able to navigate that?
I love Oprah’s take on reading. She loves the hard books. If you ever visited one of my offices in the DC area and Virginia, I have an office that’s like a library. I’m very old school with that. I would take things. I won’t say I’ve read all of the books, but at one point in the library, I had 1,000 different business books because I’m always absorbing what people are doing. How are they doing it? What’s the secret sauce they’re using over here? The one thing I started to do early on and realized is those different modalities and other lines of business can be applied in your own business if you allow it.
I started to follow Steve Jobs and the way he iterated Apple and intuitively made it interesting for people to want to use the technology. I started to do that in my own business. As I did that, that’s when I feel like I started to put on the real leadership skills. Maybe around 2004 and 2005. I realized I was coaching, and all of a sudden became this buzzword. I’d been coaching for many years. I found those pieces of my business that I enjoyed. I tried to develop those on that good to great thing, develop those strengths and be aware of your weaknesses because a lot of times, you can’t necessarily train yourself out of or completely reverse those weaknesses. My weakness is I love to start new opportunities and then find someone to grow them. That’s what I learned to do. I hand it off now. I had to learn that through reading, learning, and developing my skill as a leader.
Many people are afraid to admit their weaknesses or afraid to seem weak in front of other people so they won’t even go for the coaching or look at how they can use their strengths more effectively. Bravo to you for recognizing that we’re not perfect beings. Nobody is. Get over yourself, hire the places where either it doesn’t fulfill you, or it’s just not your thing, and you shouldn’t be doing it anyway.
I learned that from one of the first marketers who is a behemoth in the industry, Ali Brown. I went to one of Ali’s events back in 2004. She talked a lot about getting an assistant and farming out. She was like, “If you don’t like writing your newsletter,” right then, newsletters are all the rage. I got somebody to write my e-zine. I always had money in the budget to do that. After a while, you have many other things to worry about. Little practices like that I learned little by little as I grew.
Before I get to my final question, is there anything that you want to share either about your business, about leadership, your own confidence as you grew?
A lot of our business and the services that we provide now, especially in the time of COVID, are around resilience. We’ve created a new program called Workforce WakeUp, which is built on tools and resilience to help employers put the right tools into place. I have a new forum called the Workforce Resilience and Wellbeing forum, which is all about, “How do we talk about it? What are the trends? What’s the new research saying? How do we parlay into that? What are the new products coming out around that to support the workforce as they get back into the organizations and get back into these brick and mortar buildings? How do we think about that?” Based on your question, what I understand is, what would I tell a 25-year-old friend as she started her business?
Many years ago, I would say, “You’ve got this girl.” You hear a lot, “You’re more than enough.” Sometimes you are, sometimes you aren’t, but I do think you’ve got this. It would have been the confidence spearhead to keep pushing me even more and even faster. Especially as women and particularly sometimes as women of color, we doubt when we can’t see ourselves, or we can’t see the track record or the road. Back when I was starting, there was nobody else out there doing it.
You were laying the bricks.
There were no women, hardly. There were a couple of women and not women of color. You got this and saying, “Keep pushing, keep going. The doors will open.” The doors that close, another one’s going to open, but you’ve got this because if you had enough sense, wherewithal, and competence to get at the starting line, I’m a former sprinter. You got enough to finish the race. You may not be who’s in the boat, but you can finish the race. Finish it.
Do you still run, Fran?
Not like I used to.
People laugh at me in my six-minute in the morning run. I’m like, “I’m going to run full out for six minutes. That’s it.”
That keeps your glow, though. I bet you anything that keeps your exhilarating glow. Do you go flat, hills? What do you do?
Flat, it’s 0.65 miles. They’re like, “Why don’t you do a full mile?” I said, “It doesn’t get me back to my house.” I run it until I get back to my house.
That’s one of the mantras. When I was training years ago, “Don’t reach out to me for tertiary training because I don’t train anybody anymore.” I had executive women, and for whatever reason, I was attracted to women who hated working out. They were not passionate about it. I’m a former professional track and field athlete. I love it. I’d always get these clients who hated it and I’d always tell them, “Find your lane. I don’t care what it is you do, but find something that resonates with you that makes your body feel good. I don’t care what it is, standing on your head, because when you come and see me, I’m going to put you through the paces. When you’re not with me, you’ve got to figure out what that is that gets you up in the morning. If it’s your six minutes, then yes.”
I used to walk for 30 minutes to 1 hour, like a 5-mile walk. I’m like, “I don’t have time for all of this.” because I would make every excuse. I’m one of those women. I do not like to work out. I was blessed to have great metabolism my whole life that I didn’t work out much. When I hit my 40s, and my son was born two years before I hit 40, suddenly, those pounds wouldn’t come off like, “What is going on?”
The hardest time for women to lose weight is in their menopausal, during menopausal, and post-menopause.
I started walking, and then one day, I said, “I make every excuse not to do this because I hate doing it. Let me go out and run.” I started running, and I went from a 30-minute walk and a 15-minute run to do the same thing. I sped it up, spin it until it got to six minutes. That’s the speed. That is sustainable for me. I cannot give myself an excuse not to get out of bed and give myself ten minutes if I count putting on my sneakers, my running outfit, and getting out the door. That’s how that whole thing turned out. I did some research, and I found out sprinting, all the benefits of going out and doing it. At my age, as long as my knees hold up, I’ll be doing it.
It’s nothing like having that one thing that makes your body feel good. For me, it’s Pilates. I’ve had multiple knee surgeries, so I may not look like it, but I have. Pilates was the one thing that we had. It brought me back and made me feel good. That 30 minutes in the morning is everything. A cup of coffee is everything.
You touched on something that I want to go back to because you mentioned women, women of color, you were a trailblazer, and you started these things. As you went into corporate because back then, it was male-dominated, how are you, as the CEO of your own company stepping into these corporate arenas? What was that welcome like as a black woman coming in and saying, “I’m coming in here and I’m going to do all this stuff for you?”
There was no welcome. I’m sure you’ve heard this story. You show up, and they think that you’re somebody’s assistant or they were waiting for the CEO. I never forget when venture capital money became a big thing. We had an idea around our first app. Everybody launched multiple apps since fitness in apps has been a big thing. When the dot-com money first came rolling out in 1999, 2000, we had a meeting with venture capital on these four white guys, all in the 50s, and me. I never forget the whole meeting. I don’t think they asked any questions. They kept staring at me. I realized, “Why?” At that time, I was in my late 20s or early 30s.
Now, there are many things. Whoever is reading this, if you’re a person of color or come from a multicultural background, go for it. Back then, there was no conversation about it. There was no welcome. I came to the meetings and people didn’t talk, didn’t open doors, lots of doors closed, lots didn’t open, lost lots of contracts. After the fact, I realized why, but it never stopped me. I didn’t fight up. I realized now I’m very fearless. I’ve never necessarily own that extent and felt like I needed to, but I realized I had to be very fearless because otherwise, I would have stopped and gone.
Many people come to me for mentoring. The one thing I was telling them is, “I know I could have made millions of dollars more if I had stayed in corporate, if that’s where my heart was because I would have been paid more money, maybe the token or whatever the case is, but I didn’t want that.” 2021 we’ve arrived. We’ve worked with over 200,000 employee lives. We’ve done some incredible things, but if I had stopped and I had been afraid, lost confidence, it would not have been.Develop your strengths and be aware of your weaknesses. Click To Tweet
It would not have an impact on all those lives.
The thing I think I love the most now is that I realize now I can pay it forward. There are young women of all color schemes on my team that now I can mentor within. They don’t realize the legacy that I’m laying for them and the opportunities that they have that are opening because I see that they can do it.
You’re a woman making history. I love it because back then, I’m sure you had a lot of doors closed. At that time, did you see it? Now, it’s very stereotypical, but did you see the racism? Did you see and feel it, or did you say, “Whatever,” and move on?
It’s couched. People can smile and say the right thing.
“We’re going to pass on this for now.”
They were always kind and cordial. I was a member of Astia years ago, which is a women’s VC Angel investor group. They took us to New York and taught us how to pitch. We went into a boardroom and pitched a couple of VCs. All of a sudden, it’s like training. That whole boardroom was a mixture, no people of color, men and women. Even though I didn’t necessarily get warm, fuzzy vibes, it taught me how to stand on my own straight and strong. Now when I have boardrooms like that, those same clients are the first ones that want to sign the check.
You talked before about your resilience series. You came out with this whole product to help people during this pandemic. Tell me about that, and how can people take care of themselves during this time?
The reason I came out with this and I’m doing a Clubhouse on your people strategy in terms of resilience and building resilience. Think about COVID and everything that we were going through in 2020, and now we’re getting all these vaccines. Everyone is bursting out like flowers. We’re all like, “Tools. Let’s go.” What we’re not talking about is the potential PTSD that people have dealt with, all this stuff that’s under there that we’re pushing through and like, “Let’s get back out.” That’s going to show up. The analogy I use is a physical one in the fitness world. At the beginning of the day, you are having a good morning, you are running through your house, and you’re doing things. You decide to lift up a box that you’re nearly not ready and not available for your back to do that yet, but you’re feeling so good.
You don’t realize that you pick it up, throw it in the car, keep running, go through your whole day. At about 6:30 or 7:00, you’ve got this pain. You don’t know where that thing is coming from. Until you get to the therapist and they make you walk back through your week, you realized where it came from. That’s the same thing that’s going to happen, unfortunately, for all of us worldwide, globally where it’s going to impact the managers and the directors, particularly my HR leaders who are going to have to deal with all this trauma that we’ve gone through. That resiliency, building that and ensuring that the leaders are tasked with the skills to be able to.
We’re tasking our leaders. I keep going back to HR, but our team leads and our directors with being able to be therapists, coaches, and understanding with empathy, and having great emotional intelligence. Who checked in to make sure that they are able to get all of that and own that? They may have gone to the training but had perfected the skill. Now, we’re assuming that people have perfected the skill, and we’re going to rush it back into these buildings. What’s going to come up as a result of that? Who knows? It’s going to bubble up because we haven’t dealt with it. Our series is all about helping people with resilience, that wellbeing, and all the tools they need to develop around that.
We don’t know what’s going on. There are people who have been stuck in their homes, afraid to even go out, but they’re working every day. We don’t know the psychological effect that has had, that they don’t even want to go outside. They’re smiling on Zoom and being all bubbly but still afraid to step out of their doors. That is an incredible opportunity that you’re making available for businesses and companies to be able to take advantage of or to help their people overcome some of this. I love this conversation so much. There’s so much richness in your journey, everything else, and how you are able to overcome the slam doors and keep persevering through everything. I love your attitude. For your nieces or nephews or someone coming up, what is some advice that you would have about confidence, especially in this time that we’re in now moving forward to help, continue to build their confidence and their leadership abilities?
The thing that I would tell myself and I tell my nieces because I have nieces that are always, “Can we talk? I have a business idea.” I always tell them, “I applaud your willingness to ask for help. Don’t stop asking.” It’s one of the things I learned from the VC journey. I’ve never taken funding. We’ve always bootstrapped and made it work. I had lots of conversations with VCs and Angel investors because you learn. The one thing I’ve always noticed is that young white guys never have a problem asking for money, and their business is a piece of paper. I learned that as women and not just women of color, all women, we need to ask for help faster, sooner, and all the time. I liken it to the moms that raised little boys. Little girls are going to figure it out, but a little boy who’s like, “Mom,” has no problem with that. As women, we’re always trying to handle it, “I’ve got it.” Stop gotten it. Start asking, and you’ll get there that much faster.
It’s true. As moms, especially, we try to handle everything. I was telling my daughter, “If you don’t like how this is done, do it yourself. Stop complaining about something. If you don’t like how it’s being done, do it. Don’t come to me complaining about it, ‘Mom, what should we do?’ No, you figure it out. In a way that it’s not like you handle everything.” She wasn’t coming to me asking me, and she was coming to me, complaining to me. I was going to complain about somebody else doing something the wrong way. Not the way that she wants it done.
I’m like, “If you don’t like how they’re doing it, then do it yourself or find another way to do it but don’t complain to me because I’m not doing that anymore. My job for that is over. Mama doesn’t do that no more.” She’s eighteen. I’m like, “Mom is done with that. You’ve got to figure that one out.” She’s going to hate me for saying this on the show because they hate when I talk about them so much. They’re like, “Why did you have to bring me into this?” They’ll learn one of these days. I said, “I’m building a legacy here. You all could look back at this and say, ‘I remember that.’ You all can have great memories years from now.”
I want to add something too to what I said because I don’t want people to get the wrong impression that I’m for one group and against the other group. The thing that I’ve learned in my journey is that we can all learn from each other. One of my favorite passions to do when I have time is to ride my bike all over the mall. I live in DC. We have the big national mall. I ride my bike all over the mall. Please don’t ever find me because I have my earphones on. I ended up going, dancing, moving, and having a great time. It’s always the white guys that stop me and say, “You’re having a fabulous time. I wish I could do that.” We can learn from each other. I learned how to be fearless in the boardroom. They learn that I can be fearless in the mall. We’re all learning.
In this climate after 2020, with everything that bubbles to the surface, it couldn’t stay quiet. We’re all learning from each other a little bit more. We’re all trying to understand each other’s journey, see where our commonalities intersect, and how we can learn about our differences and still be okay with that. We are different, but we have some common experiences. Your experience is your experience. At least, I didn’t get the impression that you’re saying, “One is better than the other.”
It’s, “If this group of people doesn’t have a problem doing it, then you don’t have a problem doing it either. Take a lesson from there and incorporate that because as women, we do hold back, and not take that step of audacious confidence when we should, lean in, and those bold steps.” Thank you, Bold Fran, for being on the show. I love what you had to share with your journey because we’ve all had challenges. Life has challenges, but it’s an opportunity to learn from one another, grow, and become better at this game of life that we’re playing. How can people find you? How can they contact you? I’ll have it in the blog post, but you can also share.
I’m all over LinkedIn. That’s the first place I use to stop by. If you’re looking for any, we have a lot of stuff in the blogosphere, tools, and resources around wellbeing for your teams, leads, and also for resiliency. You can also find Workforce WakeUp on LinkedIn and our new forum, Workforce Resilience and Wellbeing. That form is for directors and leaders. We have our new app now in the Google Play store and Apple Store. We’re all over the net. Find us anywhere. Start with LinkedIn.
Thank you. I appreciate it. For those of you who are reading, thank you. I encourage you to lead yourself, your organizations and teams with audacious confidence. Until next time.
- Aerobodies Inc.
- MindWell Suite
- Workforce WakeUp
- Blaze Fitness
- Google Play – Aerobodies Blaze
- Apple Store – Aerobodies Blaze
- Workforce Resilience and Wellbeing forum on LinkedIn
- Workforce WakeUp on LinkedIn
About Fran Dean-Bishop
Fran Dean-Bishop is the CEO of Aerobodies Inc. and Creator of the MindWellSuite™and Workforce Wakeup™ turnkey systems designed to help employers of all sizes immediately create energy and engagement in their workplace culture.
After two decades working with a range of sports and semi-pro athletes, Fran has parlayed her coaching acumen and training discipline into a multi-million dollar workplace wellness brand helping global brands and federal agencies design wellness engagement experiences that transform workplace culture and improve the productivity and resiliency of thousands of employees.
Since its start, Fran’s company has served over 200K employees in over five countries. The company has launched several proprietary fitness and wellness technologies serving the workplace, K-12 students. Most recently as a response to the pandemic the company launched the BLAZE fitness app for health and wellness support now available through Google Play and Apple store.
Fran has been featured on ABC Local News in Washington DC, the Washington Business Journal and several industry association publications including Ragan Communications and National Contract Managers Association.