When you own a franchise, you’re the leader of a small business. Its success and challenges ultimately fall on your shoulders. But, as the landscape for leaders evolves, the skills and competencies that once would get leaders by will no longer be enough.

The emerging environment for a leader is requiring an increasingly visionary and motivational approach to leadership. While this might seem like a daunting challenge, it can be broken down into core components. Here are three essential traits that I’ve found franchise leaders should cultivate to remain competitive and thrive:

The Human Element

The functional elements of tech today are easy to come by and replicable by your competitors. Almost every fast food joint has self-serve ordering stations, but success at this level doesn’t come down to having better tech. For instance, Chick-fil-A’s marked success comes not from better tech, but from its superior customer service driven by the personability of its staff.

As the application of tech systems becomes the norm, it will be the human element that sets leaders apart. Leaders must make a conscious effort to not rely on technology in lieu of human connection. Giving someone a thumbs-up or five stars on their quarterly review is nice, but not as motivating as a real pat on the back and words of thanks and encouragement from the boss. Even Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, is often said to have practiced managing by walking around.

Smart Growth

Neither staying stuck in your ways nor jumping on every bandwagon that comes along is an effective way of running a business. Too often, business leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset develop “shiny object syndrome.” They jump from one interesting system to another.

New apps and startups promising the world emerge every day in our tech-driven environment. It’s easy for leaders and decision-makers to get distracted. That’s why it’s vital that leaders remain focused on what they use and the initiatives they undertake.

Of course, this is easier said than done. To accomplish this, leaders need to establish a steadfast vision for their business. This must be a vision that determines their values and their greater reason for being in business.

A great way of staying focused is by having a mission statement generated from a business plan and using the statement as a litmus test for business decisions. I have a friend who had a successful business selling clothes for dolls. One day, they saw a cute home decor item that they could sell to the parents already coming in to buy doll clothes, which sounds logical. They bought a case of the item on a whim, but they didn’t realize the shipping costs and taxes on the imported item, and it ended up costing them money and eating into the profits from the doll clothes.

Cultural Awareness

The world of work doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s embedded in a particular culture, time and place. This fact is becoming increasingly relevant, as according to Pew Research Center, the younger generations in the workforce, and those soon to enter it, are the most diverse in U.S. history. The workforce is set to continue diversifying for the foreseeable future.

I believe the most successful set of next-generation leaders will be those who are aware of the cultural differences within their workforce. Of course, this might raise the question with leaders of how to preemptively account for these changes and get ahead of them. This is where servant leadership comes to play.

Servant leadership is a leadership model geared toward serving your team and anyone who is impacted by your leadership. It doesn’t just involve an autocratic command of your team, but it also fosters a relationship of collaboration and reciprocity. This collaboration is essential for keeping up with changes in culture.

Several years ago, there was a water main break over the weekend at one of the subway stations in New York City. The train tracks were flooded, and the electric circuits were “covered in muck,” according to the New York Times. Joseph Hoffman, a former mentor of mine who was vice president of the subways at the time, worked with a crew of close to 1,000 transit workers to help get the station up and running by Monday. It seemed like an impossible task, but they were able to get the job done.

I believe some leaders wouldn’t make the effort to help with the clean-up, but Hoffman’s role provides a valuable lesson: Another way to practice servant leadership is to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty. If you work alongside your people, it will garner respect.

As useful as technology is in the workplace and in running a business, nothing replaces hard work, human connection and following a well-thought-out plan.



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