Well, hasn’t the world been turned upside down? We had already been reeling from geopolitical upheaval, societal shifts in attitude, supply chain woes, climate dilemmas and continued digital disruption. Then comes along a virus that really throws the world off its axis.
Writers more qualified than I have written many words on how business can cope through these troubled times. Not for many decades have business leaders been called upon like they have now. How do leaders need to adapt? How must they now organize themselves to be a good leader in what looks like a “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world forever more? How do they know what people in their organization need from a leader?
I’ve been in franchising for 30 years. Many of that as a senior leader including as CEO and board director of small and large franchise businesses. I have a global network of franchise business founders, CEOs, and board directors. In my line of work, I deal with all of these types of people on a daily basis. Advising them through the last two years has been one of the most challenging periods. Equal parts crises and opportunity was being balanced by the need to keep a steady leadership presence and, most importantly of all, manage oneself. More on this later.
I can’t remember a time in my career when team members and franchisees have had such a clear opportunity to express themselves and influence the decisions of franchise leaders. You would be a Teflon-coated leader at the moment if you didn’t have your ears wide open to the feelings and opinions of team members and franchisees. Hypo levels of consultation and feedback have often been the distinguishing activities of leaders that are proving effective at navigating through this VUCA world.
What is expected of me?
For those that are blessed with the gift of being a franchise leader, the demands of managing the survival or thriving of your franchisees has taken a heavy toll. Some leaders have found themselves in the fortunate position of having had thriving business models during the pandemic, as their services and products proved to be in high demand.
Others literally had to plan daily to determine how to avoid the land mines of uncertainty as their customer base dried up or their ability to deliver service and products had been deeply curtailed by pandemic-created government rules. If you’re a franchise leader, you’d be forgiven if your hair turned grey or even greyer.
Many anxious franchisees rightly were looking to their franchisor leaders and teams to help them make sense of the chaos and opportunities. Franchise head office teams were called upon (and still are) like never before and all the while wondering if their job was safe. Suppliers were wondering if some of their franchise clients could get through. If they were in the right sector, which was experiencing an uplift in business, then how do we keep supply working in a world when raw material and products were just almost impossible to get or get in time?
How does a leader know how to lead in these times? How do they know what is expected of them? I believe leadership can be simply boiled down into two distinct responsibilities: The ability to create ways of cultivating people, and your ability to manage yourself. It is a little more scientific than that but really, when you think about it, what are you really doing?
Let’s deal with cultivating people. This works on many levels. I have never believed a leader has all the answers. They don’t sit at the head of a business coming up with the solution to every problem or seizing every opportunity before them. It’s impossible.
Being an effective leader in franchising requires, like that of any other business leader, the ability to build a team of people around delivering support systems and technical expertise to help franchisees thrive. Easy to say. Harder to do. The answers to any business challenge or opportunity often lies within.
I remember a founder of a very well-known franchise system once told me, “We don’t hire consultants.
We have franchise owners and a great head office team. We will find the answers to our problems within. Even if we created the problem in the first place.”
Here is an example of what to do. This founder knew that his core strength was his people. He gave them permission and encouraged them to speak up, experiment, take risks and be themselves by making it clear that he trusted them to be get it right. He would have their back. Hard to do when you’re at the top.
It happens more these days, but there is one thing good leaders do know: You never have in your possession of all the information you need to make a risk-free decision. I’ve always been more concerned about what I don’t know, than what I do know.
Knowing what the people expect of you as a leader is a clear pathway to getting leadership right. It can be hard to hear sometimes. It can go against all your instincts. But listen carefully, be visible (really important), think deeply, consult widely and be clear about why you are making a decision (or not making one) and communicate this well and frequently.
“I have found the constant pursuit of knowledge and curiosity are powerful levers to managing myself to be a better leader”
At a conference recently in the U.S., I was talking to a young man who was recently appointed to his director of franchise development role. He had only been in franchising for five years. I asked him why he liked working for that particular franchise. His answer was stunning in its simplicity, “My CEO makes me feel like I can do anything and be whatever I want. Even though it’s tough, I don’t feel stressed. I just want to make it work.” Powerful leadership right there.
Okay, we’ve all read about the importance of self-awareness and its impact on being an effective leader. That skill in which we need to be able to hold up a mirror and have a very honest conversation with ourselves about how good our leadership is. But more importantly, it is the ability to also be able to change ourselves and our leadership style.
As I said earlier, leaders are being tested like never before, it would appear some are thriving and some are being left behind. Circumstances may have overcome them through no fault of theirs. Hopefully, the resilience they have through management of self will see them bounce back.
If cultivating people is a core skill of good leaders, then managing yourself is number two. You can’t have one without the other. They’re absolutely interdependent. Just like the relationship between a franchisor and its franchisees. One can’t be successful without the other being successful too. Anything else is not sustainable and not moral.
Over the years I have had my fair share of failure. I know many other franchise leaders who have too. It’s not nice. It hurts. It can be hard to recover from but having the ability to manage yourself for the better will always result in another successful leadership experience.
Today, as I completed this article, I was speaking to the founder of a successful residential building franchise. He was adamant the ability to “hold strong ideas loosely” and “to know when I am being egotistical or biased in my decision making” was a constant battle with himself but one worth having. “Because people depend on me to manage myself just as I ask them to take responsibility for themselves and their roles.” Again, simple statements but clearly true. Don’t expect people to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself.
“I believe leadership can be simply boiled down into two distinct responsibilities: The ability to create ways of cultivating people, and your ability to manage yourself”
I have found the constant pursuit of knowledge and curiosity are powerful levers to managing myself to be a better leader. Reflecting on past mistakes and scenarios is another. Not feeling guilty about them or beating yourself is essential. Admitting to yourself you made a mistake is important. But don’t live in the past. You can only work on a better future. As another franchise founder mentioned to me recently, “fearlessness is essential. Recklessness is not necessary.”
Resources or effective management of self and others
We are surrounded by endless sources of information about how to be a good leader. In the franchise world, there’s a bit less of it. We need all the normal skills of business to be a good leader in franchising but, we also need to be highly skilled in empathy, influencing (not the social media kind!), negotiating, persuasion, communication, collaboration, and compromise.
These are the learned skills of a good franchise leader. We aren’t all born with them. We can learn them. My favorite source of developing my franchise leadership skills is one many of you will know. It’s Greg Nathan and his team at the Franchise Relationship Institute.
Read their books, articles, and attend their courses. I can’t think of a better way to manage self and learn how to be a franchise leader people expect you to be. Keep carrying that mirror around. It has more uses than helping you style your hair or fix your makeup! Help people make sense of this VUCA world.
Michael O’Driscoll, CFE has been in the franchising sector for 30 years. He has been a CEO, COO, and board director of several franchise systems. He is the former director of the Franchise Council of Australia and holds an MBA in International Franchise Strategy