Leadership… When it Really Counts

By Terry Hutchison, Vice President, South Florida FOA

We all have a story to tell. In both our personal and professional lives, we have experiences that would provide more than enough opportunity to fill volumes of books. Some of our individual stories might read like a comedy, some would be like a drama and, perhaps for others, more like a mystery.

Our stories are all different in the details. Nevertheless, for those of us who are 7-Eleven franchisees, we have similarities in terms of being leaders. We provide leadership to our store teams. Our store teams provide different levels of leadership to other employees as we execute the wide range of work it takes to successfully run a 7-Eleven store.

How we manifest leadership to those who rely upon us is important. This includes our family, our employees, our teammates and the numerous business partners who are also stakeholders in our success. The way we respond to challenges as leaders, matters.

What are some of the challenges a 7-Eleven franchisee might encounter that will test your leadership? There are many! In Florida, we are now entering another hurricane season. The last one to hit us was Irma, just last year. We suffered financially in many ways and the stress it inflicted on everyone in our community was significant. Events caused by disaster, social unrest, or supply disruption can put your leadership in the spotlight.

Another common challenge is the failure of your store team in maintaining the high standards it takes to execute brand excellence. This usually starts with those not consistently executing job assignments, which then places a tremendous amount of stress on others. This stress is then compounded exponentially when the weaknesses are documented, placing you on notice that changes need to be made.

I am originally from Oklahoma. My single mom moved from there to San Bernardino, California when I was close to four years old and placed me for adoption when I was five. I had a new family, a totally new name and, in just a short amount of time, we moved to Oklahoma where I grew up. My childhood was probably very similar to yours—school, sports, friends and so many other experiences. I had opportunities to get involved in organizations at school, church and the community in general. These provided my first life-experiences in leadership responsibilities.

As I matured, I came to learn about a famous Oklahoman named Will Rogers. He was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist and social commentator. Although he had passed from this life in 1935, I came to appreciate what he left behind. Will Rogers often spoke on leadership and there is no question that he made me smile. Even now, I often draw upon his common sense and wit to help me through difficult situations.

Over the past few years, we have experienced significant changes in our business. Several competitors have effectively transitioned into the made-to-order food business (or some variation thereof) while developing a gasoline-pricing model that attempts to place them consistently at or near the bottom of the market. The density and intensity of work-product necessary to meet our  customers’ needs has increased dramatically as we have grown our food sales as a percentage of overall merchandise sales.

Technology improvements have helped us and we are on the cusp of driving incremental foot traffic through even more innovative ideas, which we hope will provide us with a differentiating factor in our favor. We clearly don’t have the newest, largest stores in our market areas; nevertheless, when faced with competitors who do, we can effectively counterpunch by delivering the absolutely best service in a clean, well-stocked store with items our
customers want.

I believe “best service” expectations are already changing to include what I call “App-titude,” which means we are able to effectively serve the wired-up, cell phone carrying, #-tagged, Facebook-connected generation by meeting them in their space. I think our partner, SEI, is working hard to get us there in a big way. If we are successful, it can be a gamechanger.

This comes at a time when we are needing to heal our relationships with our brand-partner. It’s time for all of us to focus on growing our business well beyond what has been historical growth trends. How successful we are in accomplishing this will depend on our individual leadership. My old friend Will Rogers said, “ Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

There are five things we can do as leaders in taking our business to the next level:

1. Build Confidence:
Make smart decisions as a franchisee. Our people are truly our greatest asset. We all recognize we can’t run our stores alone. Your store team seeks stability in your words and actions. Control your fears and provide the confident direction your people need from you. This is especially valuable when faced with disaster or other difficult situations we don’t usually face day-to-day.

2. Show Understanding and Appreciation:
Serving the public in one of our stores is a tough job. I love it and it can be fun. Make sure your people clearly know that you value their contribution. Remember the basic leadership best practices such as praising people in public for jobs well done. If redirection, counseling or reprimand is needed, seek a private space. Respect is something everyone deserves.

3. Introduce Stability:
People’s minds are changed through observation, not argument. Let your people see you have their best interests at heart. Stability on a store team can be greatly enhanced by something as simple as job assignments. It’s not easy ensuring that each team member is properly completing their portion of the job assignment. Nevertheless, when it finally happens, you will see the effectiveness of teamwork in your results. Stability is also achieved through effective communication. The key word is “effective.” Your message has to be clearly understood by everyone on your team and, you should verify it. Failure to do so can end up in disaster. A good example is the phone scams we often experience in our stores. If we miss the new employee on the overnight shift, or the second shift employee really didn’t understand that someone might call and pretend to be from our Information Services Department, then we have failed.

4. Be Positive:
Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip. We can all find things to complain about, but seriously, why waste the energy? A good leader won’t simply walk away from processes and problems having a negative impact on the business. Instead, find a way to channel the negative into something that will improve the situation. This can be as easy as documenting the problem in detail, along with a suggested solution and sending it to those who can make a difference. Do it in the right spirit. Eventually, your thoughtful consideration will make a difference.

5. Be a good franchisee, in good times and bad:
We will always have external influences that seem to divert our attention from that which is important to our success. This can be anything from dealing with a major hurricane such as Irma, road construction, new competition opening up just down the street, working with someone new in an oversight position, failing equipment and the list goes on and on. We have a responsibility to provide the best leadership possible no matter what is being thrown our way. It’s part of being a good business owner. Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today!