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In conversation: How to be a successful leader

In conversation: How to be a successful leader

It is safe to say that the franchise industry is not a boy’s club anymore

The number of female leaders is growing by leaps and bounds as businesses the world over are beginning to recognise the value that women in leadership positions can have.

As women are pushing through cultural boundaries to pave the way for future generations, we sat down with nine boss ladies from our Business Woman: 100 Influential Women in Franchising list to discuss how they are playing their part in cracking the glass ceiling.

Panel of boss ladies:

• Kristen Pechacek, chief growth officer, Massage Luxe International (KP)
• Laura Rea Dickey, CEO, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (LD)
• Emma Lehner, CEO and co-founder, Bodystreet International (EL)
• Heather Hudson, COO and co-founder, 9Round Fitness (HH)
• Amber Manning, CEO, Just Cuts (AM)
• Christine Kelly, founder and chairman, Little Kickers (CK)
• Lisa Mlinar Merry, COO, Junk King (LM)
• Amanda Hall, COO, Clean Juice (AH)
• Meg Roberts, CEO and president, The Lash Lounge (MR)

Q: What is your most important piece of advice to succeed as a female leader today?

KP: Identify the purpose behind what you are doing and stay strong and decisive to fulfil that purpose. Believe in your instinct, pull your shoulders back, and never shy away from the challenge that sits in front of you.

CK: Based on the past year, I would have to say that ensuring that an organisation is agile is incredibly important. The pandemic raised some very unique challenges for so many businesses, and the ability to adapt quickly has been critical to the survival of many.

AM: Surround yourself with like-minded leaders. I am part of a franchisor CEO group, as it can sometimes be lonely as a leader, so make sure you have someone to share a coffee with or to share ideas and vent. Seek out experts in your industry to learn from, and don’t be afraid to take a risk.

LD: What gets measured gets managed. I would encourage you to set quantifiable, measurable goals for yourself and regularly evaluate your performance. Without attaching a benchmark to your success, how are you able to track it? Don’t wait for someone else to define your success, do it yourself. Without confirming, proactively defining success in large and small ways for your career, how will you know when you’ve arrived and when you should push for more?

LM: My main piece of advice is to be confident and speak up while doing so respectfully. Somebody said to me a long time ago that you have to decide to put your positive pants on even when situations may get tough.

There is a quote from Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, that has stuck with me throughout my career, one I continue to live by and applies perfectly here: “Opportunities come when you least expect them. Rarely are opportunities perfectly presented to you. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognise. They’re risky. They challenge you. But things happen so fast because our world is changing so much, you have to make decisions without perfect information.”

“Don’t wait for someone else to define your success, do it yourself”

- Laura Rea Dickey, CEO, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit

MR: The answer should be the same regardless of gender. Be true to your character, don’t conform, don’t apologise, be you. If a person is authentic, and they have the characteristics required of a leader, for example – patience, vision, tenacity, strength, resolve, integrity – then those traits will be recognised and hopefully rewarded with greater responsibility.

AH: In leadership, the most important key to success is simple: people first! The success of a leader is a direct reflection of the success of their team. True leadership puts the team’s needs first. This does not mean doing their job. This means empowering your team by giving them all the appropriate tools, coaching and expectations to clearly execute.

EL: My most important advice for all women is if you know what you want, have the courage and dare to live your life; no matter if it’s about family, business or social goals. Discipline, perseverance, consistency, organisation and humour – that is my recipe for success.

HH: Know yourself: your strengths and things you don’t excel at. Do the things you are great at well, and delegate what you’re not great at with humility and grace. In doing this, lean on your team for input as they are on the frontlines and often have the best solutions to the problems.

Q: How can both corporate (the company’s culture) and regional (the culture of where the company is based) impact the ability for a woman to gain equal recognition for equal contribution when compared to male colleagues?

KP: In the eyes of old school corporate leaders, the perfect worker is fully committed and always available. In the eyes of society, a woman’s family is her primary commitment which must mean that work is secondary, therefore, concluding that a woman is not the perfect worker. It is because of this old school mentality that unconscious work bias exists. No person – man or woman – should need to sacrifice home or work to succeed and until this is widely recognised and advocated for, we will remain in our current state.

HH: Keep your eyes open to your own practices so that you are consciously creating the right dynamic in your brand or company. It starts with the right foundation and business owners, managers, and supervisors have to take responsibility for this for equality to truly thrive.

AM: At Just Cuts, we treat everyone as an equal – from admin to CEO. We are all willing to get in and get our hands dirty. I believe treating everyone equally allows both men and women the opportunity to show and grow their skillsets and succeed.

LM: The key is to be open and willing to expand the various levels of leadership that are allowed to collaborate on projects and larger brand initiatives. Unfortunately, there is still a disproportionate number of women in executive leadership roles. Companies should set aside a few times a year to bring in various levels of management into meetings which will, in turn, allow more women to join the conversation.

LD: Transparency, candour and objective results combined with consistent communication are needed for recognition and equitable compensation across any organisation, especially a geographically diverse company like Dickey’s. It’s also important as a woman to stand up and create visibility for your results and others; create communication and competition that is not self-advocating, but objectively beneficial and collaborative.

AH: Strong corporations drive recognition through a lens of results and data by creating systems that promote balanced recognition based on achieving an objective versus individual gender. Overall the company must create a culture where women are present within all levels of the organisation. A culture of recognition also means valuing your employees and what’s important to them that includes celebrating their performance achievements, birthdays, anniversaries or promotional milestones.

EL: It is a difficult question to answer as Bodystreet operates boutique studios on three continents and the role of women is defined differently within each. For a huge community like Bodystreet, it is very important to create guided corporate values that work as a guardrail. Bodystreet developed this from the very beginning and over the years it has given rise to a robust corporate culture. You can neither copy nor fake it. This culture transcends gender, origin and religion and has a common purpose that includes responsibility towards people and the environment.

Q: What do you wish you knew when you first started in the business world that you know now?

KP: I wish I knew that it was okay to not have all of the answers. I used to hear the word strategy and think it was this untapped piece of code that I had not yet been gifted. The reality is that a strategy is a plan. Some plans succeed, and others fail. You increase your chances of succeeding with data and informed insight, but it may not work and that is okay. The only true failure is not trying or speaking up in the first place.

CK: I knew very little about franchising or football when I started Little Kickers and for the first few years I felt almost apologetic for having set up the business due to my lack of experience – a real case of imposter syndrome! Then I realised over time that the experience I had acquired had made me qualified to run the business and the more my knowledge grew, the more confident I became. I also started to “trust my gut” more on business decisions over time, whereas initially, I second-guessed a lot of my decisions because I lacked the experience to be confident that I was doing the right thing.

LM: Don’t be afraid to fail because making mistakes will help you grow. At the beginning of my career, I was so worried about being perfect that I didn’t speak up when I should have. Over time, I learnt not to fear failure but rather embrace it as long as you learn from it and don’t continue to make those same mistakes over and over. Also, those moments where you are forced to work through how to solve a problem can oftentimes lead to you uncovering your best ideas.

LD: You have to take control of your destiny. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, go find them or create them. Have a curious mind and always try more. When I was younger and just starting professionally, I thought there was a defined career path that followed hard work. As I gained experience, I realised hard work is rewarded but advancement takes more than that. You must learn to actively seek opportunity, advocate for yourself and the company, and always quantify your efforts and results in long-term value. I have learnt that true female leaders never wait for opportunities, they proactively hunt those opportunities down themselves or design them.

MR: When I started in business, I thought success was about metrics, wins, awards and promotions. As an ambitious business person, I was fortunate to experience many of those things I thought were important. Yet, I never felt satisfied, and that was troubling. I was checking the boxes, I was moving up – why was I not feeling accomplished? As I moved through my career I began to discover that my passion was fueled by not what I was doing but rather for whom I was doing it. When I discovered franchising, I was instantly changed. I realised the greatest satisfaction for me came from directly helping others – putting your skills to work and seeing the results blossom in another’s business. If I knew this three decades ago, I would have been working on behalf of small businesses my entire career.

AH: Hire people that are smarter than you! As you build a team, the job of a great leader is not to know everything but rather to build a team of individuals who are experts in their field and have a passion for the role. This goes back to the philosophy that to be successful as a leader your team must be successful. Having the right people in the right positions is key.

HH: I wish I had been more in touch with my strengths and weaknesses, so I could have skipped some painful lessons! I would have also been more ready for haters early on and would have let it roll off me so I could focus on what mattered.

Q: How can the industry encourage more females to become business leaders in the future?

KP: The most difficult part about correcting industry or workplace gender bias is that most of the time it is unconscious. Because of this, the way to address and ensure equality is to bring conscious attention to it. Attracting and developing women in leadership roles requires company-wide and industry change that is driven from the top as a result of shining a spotlight where bias exists. Diversity committees organised by industry, or even within a company, help to identify this inequality. As female leaders, it is crucially important that we participate in these committees and that we seek out mentorship opportunities with future emerging leaders.

LM: It’s having publications like these that give an opportunity to spotlight the women business leaders who have succeeded and aren’t afraid to talk about the good as well as the bad of how they got to where they are.

CK: The franchising industry has a pretty good representation of female leaders compared to many other industries, particularly in the U.K. It’s great to see so many women at senior levels in the various franchise associations around the world – this sends a very positive message to the industry, as do groups such as EWIF, which have been established to specifically encourage women to take on leadership roles within franchising. I also feel that mentorship is important.

AM: This needs to be a global movement. Most of my career opportunities have been provided to me through men believing in me and being willing to teach me. Female leaders also need to be encouraging of women as leaders. I believe COVID-19 will make a huge impact in providing female leaders with more opportunities due to flexibility in the workplace and being able to work remotely, as we lead businesses while also running the family unit.

LD: Recognise those who deserve to be recognised. The industry should acknowledge and celebrate women for small and large accomplishments. I used to worry specialised recognition reserved for women might be interpreted as not succeeding in general, therefore, specialised recognition was needed, but I have since realised that is the opposite of true. Intentionally recognising outstanding women simply offers another opportunity to encourage achievement, provide good examples and widen positive influence.

“Hire people that are smarter than you!”

- Amanda Hall, COO, Clean Juice

MR: The wonderful part about franchising and entrepreneurship is the balance of support and independence it provides. Many women, whether leading in the home or the workplace, are seeking opportunities to contribute more, to develop their passion and secure additional income. I believe there is an opportunity to better educate and inform women of the incredible possibilities of small business ownership and franchising in particular. It’s refreshing to see blogs, podcasts and articles like these creating the forums for women to find information, exchange ideas and get informed about franchising.

AH: I firmly believe the key to this is putting more women in business leadership positions with a voice at the highest level of the decision-making process. Inspire more women in your company to see their potential and remove the barriers whatever they may be in your organisation to ensure that there is transparency and visibility for all.

EL: The empowerment of women is not something that only politics or the industry can solve but companies and brands should make this their main task, too.

As an employer, we focus on equal opportunities and among trainees there is equal representation. We also have leadership seminars which has led to a higher number of female leaders in our system. As an honorary senator, I always bring up such success stories to our Senate of the Economy. In this way, we also make our voices heard in politics.

HH: Each woman needs to have the confidence within herself to step up as a leader. But mentoring women who may need a little extra encouragement is a great thing any leader can do to pull up great talent from their female teammates. We’ve been very purposeful in ensuring that there’s equal opportunity for everyone in our company, and it’s not lost on us that we can be grateful for having control of that. But if you see behaviour or culture within your company or place of employment that makes it hard for women to have the same opportunities in your workplace, you should speak to someone who can help and become part of the voice needed to bring it to light.

Additionally, every parent should raise their sons to be aware of how they play a part in respect towards women so that in the next generation this isn’t even a part of the conversation anymore.

THE AUTHOR
Amanda Peters is a staff writer for What Franchise and Global Franchise.

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