Dr. Jackie Mills describes herself as a “willful child.”

“I was determined and wanted my own way a lot. I knew what I wanted to do and where I was going with my life,” Mills says. “I created a lot of stress for my dear mother.”

While that strong will was aimed at a lifelong gymnastics career—Mills spent a decade training as a gymnast—a family move far from her coach prompted an alternative career path, one that shaped her route to Les Mills.

In a time when women were truly coming into their own, Mills took advantage of the new opportunities afforded her and went to medical school. “I remember the day that I decided that I personally had the power to create my life as much as I could. I was 19 years old and in school, and I could just see that the opportunities for women were just starting to open up in New Zealand. So I thought, How can I consciously lead an authentic life—a life that is really mine? And I think I’ve done that.”

For the next 13 years, she worked as an obstetrician delivering babies and then as an integrated medical doctor. Mills credits her time in medicine and her background in gymnastics for laying a foundation for her current role as the chief creative officer for Les Mills—from studying the physical body and how it works to learning how to be with people and listen to their stories and relate to them.

“The combination of medicine and physical education training and gymnastics has been a really powerful combination in bringing me to this place in my life,” she says.

Since her decision decades ago to live her most authentic life, Mills and her family have truly changed millions of lives through fitness, and they have created a global community around Les Mills that is unmatched. So what is the secret sauce to creating a community you love?

Role modeling

You can’t change others, Mills says. You have to be the change you wish to see, through what you do and how you show up in the world. Your influence comes through your action.

“It is so powerful when you realize that there are things you can change and things you can’t change, and then there are things you have to move away from. Ultimately, the only thing you can change is yourself,” Mills says.

This is true for fitness instructors, as well, whom Mills calls role models. “If you are a fitness instructor, then you need to be fit and you need to be healthy, role modeling that way of life,” she says. “Others may choose to be inspired by you, motivated by you as an instructor. I would say that is a very cool responsibility to have.”

Authenticity

Successful leadership begins and ends with living authentically. “As a leader, I have to be authentic. People trust me … they trust me by making the right decisions for the company, around what they are working for, so that has to come from a sense of meaning and purpose that is true and honest,” Mills explains.

People recognize authenticity and are attracted to it when they’ve found it. “People see through personas and our masks, and they want to be able to trust and they want to follow someone who is leading a meaningful life,” she says.

Connection

For Mills, one of the highlights of being an instructor is the connection that grows from sharing your love of fitness with others, watching it transform them, and seeing it become a constant in their lives.

“Instructors are often held up in people’s eyes as someone quite special, and so they tell you things about themselves and their lives that they might not share with other people, and it’s really deeply rewarding to go through those journeys with people and have a special relationship with them,” Mills says. “Instructing is about connecting … it is about fitness but it is really about connecting.”

The law of attraction

Les Mills is the phenomenon it is because it is not just a company but also a tribe, Mills says. “I think our family business has a real heart and a real soul. As a family, we deeply care about what we do, we care very much about the people who work with us. We call everyone a team; we are one tribe and we stand together, and we see them as part of our family. I know personally I stand very much in that.”

One of the characteristics of a tribe is that it attracts like-minded people. “The people who are attracted to this company are like-minded, change agents, helpers—people who really want to create a better world,” she explains. “A change agent is someone who wants to effect change in the world, to do something that is positive for people. I believe our instructors are change agents.”

Being a tribe means more than being a team. It’s a way of being in the work that is positive, powerful and radiates outwardly, Mills says.

“It comes from the heart of who we are and the soul of the business and it radiates right out. We are truly one tribe of people,” she says.

Love what you do

At the end of the day, if you don’t truly love what you do, there will be no authenticity, connection or attraction. “I totally love what I do,” Mills says. “I love people, and every day I’m inspired by the people who I work with. There are so many people who fill me up. I love getting up and going to work. It just feels like the right thing for me in my life and the right expression of who I am on the planet.”

Les, Mills’ son, calls his mom the “Mother of Les Mills.”

“He says that because I care so deeply about what we do and about everyone who works with us that I am a little bit like a mother,” she explains. “Maybe I am. It’s not something I set out intentionally to do, but it is a real driving force for me to make sure that people are unobstructed in their work and get to be the best that they can be at work. So if I can help them in any way, then I feel like I’m doing my job.”

 

Photos courtesy Les Mills International

Background

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Author

Rachelle Mahoney

Rachelle Cihonski is an editor, writer and everyday fitness fanatic who loves running, yoga, BODYPUMP and trying the next crazy cool new fitness class. (Pilates on a surf board? Count her in!) A graduate of Biola University, Rachelle is a San Francisco Bay Area native and was previously the managing editor of a lifestyle magazine, where she also wrote about fitness, food, people and fashion. While Rachelle loves getting her sweat on, she mainly exercises so she can enjoy all the amazing foods her husband cooks up in the kitchen—but the happiness endorphins are definitely an added bonus!

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