Leadership - How you can become a franchise leader

Leadership is a vital skill for franchisees who aspire to get the very best out of their franchise. Tom Albrighton looks at some essential aspects of leadership for franchisees

So, what is leadership? It's sometimes discussed with great reverence, as if it were a great calling or some kind of godlike ability.

Management writer Warren Bennis memorably wrote: 'Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.' This view draws a contrast between elevated leadership and down-to-earth management. While management and leadership are different, they're not opposites. They're more like stages in a journey or points on a learning curve. We can think of leadership as a new dimension that is added to our existing management skills when we reach a certain level of authority.

Management consists of the abilities that make your franchise buzz.. Organising, prioritising, scheduling, analysing, communicating and a general ability to get things done are the skills of a good manager. We can learn them, and teach them to others. Most people acquire them just by doing their jobs and will have developed them before considering franchising. Leadership is something more.

Becoming a leader
Many executives become leaders because they have very strong management skills, or have effectively managed a relatively small functional team. That gets them promoted. Then, as leaders, they ignore the big issues and continue the micromanagement that got them promoted, to the irritation of their subordinates and perhaps the frustration of shareholders too.

For others, being a leader is about winning, or more accurately beating others. The vast majority of companies have a pyramid-like structure that stimulates people's natural tendency to compete for whatever is scarce - in this case, leadership positions and the material rewards that go with them. You can't get the best rewards just by being good at what you do - you have to climb the ladder to reach the fruit. Over-intense competition can result in leaders who are about dominating people rather than leading them.

There is a third type of leader - the reluctant leader. They get promoted without really trying, or because someone else leaves, or they simply inherit an unwanted leadership position. Some wanted to be leaders years ago, but have lost the desire or run out of ideas. Others don't like taking decisions, and have always relied on their superiors. Whatever the reason, they really don't want to be in charge, and they can be uniquely damaging to the business that they lead.

As a franchise owner, you have an advantage. You have chosen leadership for its own sake - for rewards too, but basically you want to be in charge. You have an entrepreneurial drive to be the boss, but you're not trying to win promotion or prove a point to colleagues. Nobody's twisting your arm. You can take the step to leadership with your eyes open, and for the right reason: you believe you'll be good at it.

What leaders do
Leaders don't leave management skills behind. They must understand how the business works, and the issues its people deal with every day. But they bring an extra human element to their work: the cultural dimension. Leaders are in charge of a community, rather than teams or departments, which we often talk about as if they were machines that happen to have human components. Leaders create and maintain the culture of the workplace, handling the organisation as a structure of human relationships.

At the highest level, that means creating a vision: defining the future of the business in broad, and hopefully inspiring, terms. For you, as a franchisee, the vision is already in place, having been created by the franchisor. In fact, that's part of the appeal of franchising - you're buying into a business model that's already proven in the marketplace, hitching a ride on someone else's vision in effect.

That security is part of your motivation, but the people who work for you may not see things the same way. You need to translate the franchisor's vision into something that makes sense for the people directly involved with your franchise, so they feel part of a community.

A big part of feeling motivated is knowing that your work makes a difference. The best leaders make people feel that they've made a unique contribution. This is about using whatever flexibility you have within the franchisor's business model to create chances for people to add value in ways that are unique to them.

Find out what skills they have, other than the ones they need, and try to fit them with what you want to achieve. Make opportunities for them to learn new skills that help the franchise move forward, and never assume that people know what you know - take time to explain to them what differences their own specific contribution has made to your success.

Be yourself
In contrast with management, which can be 'book-learned' to some extent, the only way to learn leadership is by becoming a leader. Every leader is different, and they discover their uniqueness when they step up to take a leadership role.

The best leaders use their own characters as the basis of their work. They don't suddenly become someone else because they've invested in a franchise. They might need to gain some new skills, but at a basic level they are the same person they always were. They don't change, but do grow to the challenge of being a leader. Because they're essentially genuine, people believe in their commitment. Your aim as a new leader is to continue being yourself while taking on the extra authority involved in owning and operating a franchise business.

Being yourself means working with what you have. If you have an outgoing personality, don't try to become too statesmanlike. Instead, channel your enthusiasm into building a team that shares your love of work. If you're naturally laid back, don't push yourself to become the life and soul of the workplace. Instead, build a reputation for listening and thinking carefully before acting.

Know yourself
Becoming a leader doesn't mean stepping into another world, or becoming a different person. But it does mean looking at yourself and your abilities in a new light. If you know yourself and what you can and can't do, this awareness is the foundation for developing good leadership.

Leader's can't, and shouldn't, do everything. Developing new abilities and perspectives is positive for everyone, but some leaders try too hard to be all things to all people. As a result, they burn out. Owning a franchise working long hours to get the business started might feel like sailing a huge ship alone. But there's a difference between putting in extra effort and endangering the business by taking on too much.

You can't do everything, so you have to let something go. Knowing yourself means understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie, so you can take steps to get help where you need it. That might be a specific area of business competence, such as finance, or it might be a 'softer' aspect such as coaching.

Do a realistic skills audit. How many of the things you need to do have you actually done before? If you haven't done them, is it realistic to think you'll be able to acquire the required skills? Certainly you'll pick them up, but will it happen quickly enough?
When you've audited your skills, think about where you can get help in weaker areas. A good franchisor will always be available to provide advice and support with whatever challenge you may face. You may also look to colleagues, professionals, consultants and learning centres.

Delegation and trust
So knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is key. But knowing is only the first step. Leaders need to be able to delegate to others effectively. For delegation to work, the other person must take the task on...and the leader must also not take it back. Successful delegation requires knowing, understanding and appreciating the strengths of others.

Recognise that other people's strengths are different from yours. Expecting your people to handle things just as you would sets them up to fail. Allowing them to handle their work in their own way, to the best of their abilities, and deliver, sets up an expectation of success. Trust is the most powerful motivating factor there is.

Why do some franchise owners find this hard? Well, it's natural for those who've found success to think they know best, but below the surface, there may be other reasons. Some leaders can hide from important issues by burying themselves in detail. Others like seeing themselves as essential, and feel threatened when others flourish.

To make delegation work, rethink your notion of control. Rather than controlling every action in the workplace, exercise high-level control over targets and values. Explain the 'what'(desired results) and let others worry about the 'how'. You'll be surprised by what they come up with.

Finally, enjoy owning your franchise and the leadership that this entails. Be yourself, create a vibrant culture and delegate effectively and your franchise is well on they way to prosperity. That's something every leader will smile about.

Tom Albrighton's Business Tools column returns next edition, where he will discuss strategy basics, reading trends and valuing innovation.