Neil and Erika Tkatchuk are the owners and entrepreneurs of Trench Fitness. For the past five years they have been providing nutrition, strength training, and sound education on these topics to the citizens of Regina, Saskatchewan. Originally, Neil began his post secondary education in Business Administration at the University of Regina. After two years in Business, he transferred into Kinesiology, majoring in Fitness and Lifestyle, to fulfill his passion to see what the human body was capable of. As a result of this desire to push the limits of the human body, Neil has competed numerous times on the natural bodybuilding stage and the Canadian Powerlifting Union/Saskatchewan Powerlifting Association platform. Since stepping on stage for the first time in 2006, he has earned his professional bodybuilding status in a number of drug free natural federations including IFPA, WNBF and IFDA. On top of that, Neil has competed in two CPU Nationals and has achieved a 551-pound squat, 363-pound bench press and a 601-pound deadlift in competition. Once he graduated from the University of Regina, he served as a firefighter for the city of Regina. In 2014, he left firefighting behind him to put all of his efforts into helping others achieve their goals through Trench Fitness.

When I asked Neil to define leadership, he defined it as being able to stand for something that provides value to others and not wavering away from that or worrying about what others are saying (Personal communication, Feb. 23, 2016). He continues by saying that he is a big believer in the “practice what you preach” approach to leadership. Neil believes that if you are trying to lead a group of people, you should be someone that they can look up to and model himself or herself after.

When I asked Neil what attributes are the most important for a leader, he replied with someone who has confidence, but also humble so your confidence does not come off as arrogance (Personal communication, Feb. 23, 2016). He goes on to say, “if you’re going to stand up and say ‘this is what I’m about,’ you’re going to have to be confident to be able to do that, because often times that means going against the grain, against what is kind of the norm, what’s popular.” (Personal communication, Feb. 23, 2016). When I asked Neil if leaders are born or they can be created through experience, he reflected on his own experiences and how he has grown over the years. Growing up, he states that he was a shy and quiet kid. Once he found his passion for strength and nutrition, he began to build more confidence through learning more in that specific domain. Now, he harnesses his confidence through his abundance of knowledge that he possesses with a humble demeanor.

Results, responsibility and relationships are three of the biggest factors that affect the success of an organization. When I asked Neil to rank them from most to least important and why, he responded with responsibility, relationships, and results respectively. He ranked responsibility first because he believes that if you are going to stand up for something and provide that for others, but you are not leading by example, then you are not being very responsible with your role as a leader. Secondly, he ranks relationships as the second pillar. Neil has a huge emphasis on trust. By being open, honest and having integrity, it allows people to develop trust with you and ultimately buy in to your vision that you have set out. He believes that all good relationships are built on that trust and honesty. Lastly, results are the last pillar for Neil. He believes that you need to have the first two pillars in place in order to achieve the results you want. “Once you have that responsibility, you know what you stand for and you’re actively practicing that, then you can build and develop relationships with people, and you know, get through to people on a level that works for them. Then, you can really start producing the results” (N. Tkatchuk, personal communication, Feb. 23, 2016).

Neil has also put a lot of work into creating an environment that will motivate and make people feel like a part of community. The community of Trench Fitness is very tight knit and the gym itself is branded with a distinct bright green color that energizes people. Neil also has the words “motivation”, “nutrition”, “training” and “results” in huge lettering on the walls of Trench. When I asked what depicts what Trench is all about, he said it is the transformations that his clients make from their before photos to their after photos. The approach that Neil has taken is not a quick fix or a crash diet. He prides his business on educating people and distilling his values throughout his entire community at Trench. He wants to help people make a lifestyle change and become healthier, stronger people both physically and mentally. When you hear about organizations that have a very strong culture they have pronounced characteristics: espoused values that are widely shared, energizing employees by rallying around unified and meaningful goals and a deeply rooted culture that is hard to change. Neil demonstrates these as a leader with Trench through earning the trust of his clients and distilling his values in them. When I asked Neil about employee selection, he talked about how he makes sure that when he is bringing in someone new, they are going to fit in with the culture of Trench and have the same “practice what you preach” approach that he does. He has made sure that the employees share his values and beliefs so they can help grow his vision for his business.

The reason why I chose to interview Neil is because he is someone that has very similar values to me and shares a deep passion for health and fitness with regards to our own physiques, but also helping others. He is living proof that if you want something bad enough, and truly believe in something, you can do anything you want. There are many lessons that I can take from hearing Neil talk on the subject of leadership. When I asked Neil if he had any advice for me as I look to pursue my goals and dreams, he responded by saying, “Put yourself out there. Do not be afraid of making mistakes” (Personal communication, Feb. 23, 2016). He went on by telling me to follow my passion and be persistent with my pursuit of my goals. “I think just not being afraid to kind of take that leap of faith and put yourself out there and go over and above, and do something completely different, or something that people might say, “that’s crazy”, or you shouldn’t be doing that” (N. Tkatchuk, personal communication, Feb. 23, 2016). After hearing Neil’s advice, I am going to try and implement these things into my future leadership role. I will not be scared to stand up for what I believe in and follow my passion. Neil has built Trench Fitness from the ground up and by following his passion, being persistent and leading by example, he has created something that truly depicts his core values and has changed the lives of many.

– John Odgers