Flexibility – A Key to Successful Entrepreneurship

Leadership, commitment, a strategic mindset – great qualities for veterans to bring to the world of entrepreneurship. And a fourth quality can be every bit as valuable – flexibility. That quality separates the United States armed forces from those of other nations: American combat leaders are taught to take greater initiative in response to suddenly shifting battle conditions. In the world of franchising and other forms of entrepreneurship, this initiative often translates into adopting new ways of thinking and acting – even ways that run contrary to the military way. Here are some of do’s and don’ts for veterans who are new to the world of franchising. **DON’TS** - Don’t get so stuck in your own way of doing things that you fail to see opportunities that will undoubtedly fall into your lap. The military’s utilization of strict, regimented order certainly has its place in the business world. But when you are your own boss, you are empowered to think outside the box – and you should. - Don’t treat people who work at different levels in your organization any differently. In the military, rank is a big determinant of how you are treated. But your civilian employees will not be as focused on a structured, rank-ordered, chain of command. They will want to be treated the same, whatever their civilian “pay grade.” - Don’t forget that you have to earn your respect. This goes back to rank being a determinant of treatment. In the military, a senior NCO can step into a new job with built-in respect purely because he or she is wearing a bunch of stripes. - Don’t count on being respected only because you have a nice title. To get people to follow you when you are starting up a business, you will need to show them: 1. you know what you are doing 1. you have a clear idea of what you want accomplished 1. you have defined a clear path for them to reach your mutual goals - Don’t overextend yourself physically or mentally. In the military, you were trained to do this so that you would stand strong in the heat of combat – or when working under intense time pressure in a support role. However, when you become your own boss, you should not overburden yourself. You will have a lot of people relying on you. You will not want to run the risk of stressing yourself out, generating a stressful work environment – something that is not conducive to productivity. **DO’S** - Do promote integrity throughout your business. In the words of retired Air Force Colonel Robert Stanley II, “Expect integrity at all times from all people.” As a veteran, integrity and service are two words that should run through your mind at all times. When you run a business based on integrity, you cannot go wrong. Being a leader of integrity will help you gain respect and trust. And by making integrity a clear expectation from all of your employees, you will promote an honest and friendly work environment. - Do act in a precise, orderly manner. Although you should be flexible in approach, you should use that regimented mind you developed in basic training. Employees will respond well when their duties are clearly outlined without a lot of meaningless jargon mixed in. - Do provide regular feedback – your days of fitness reports are not over. One of the great things about the military is the amount of feedback that servicemembers receive on the work they do. When running your own business, set – and adhere to – your own deadline for sending feedback to your employees. Providing regular feedback will keep open the lines of communication between you and your employees – and will reinforce their trust in you. **SHORT AND SIMPLE DO’S** * Do be punctual. * Do be process-oriented. * Do be decisive. * Do enjoy what you are doing! **LEADERSHIP TRUMPS ALL ELSE** For any of this advice to help, you will have to build a strong foundation as a leader among your people. This process must start right off the bat in the hiring process, and it must not end until the day you retire. One great thing about your time in the military was your experience with multiple styles of leadership. By adopting the practices of the excellent leaders you had and rejecting those of the inadequate, you can make yourself into a great leader. Keep in mind that no person is ever going to be a perfect leader. Readily admit when you are wrong, and find and implement solutions. If you do this effectively, your employees will gain respect for you. Furthermore, if you are selective in your hiring, you will also come across people who are much smarter than you are. This does not to mean that they should be running the company over you, or that you are unfit to be their boss. It does mean that you should use their abilities to fill in the gaps in your own skill set. One of the most powerful moments of General George Washington’s career came when he addressed his officers in a building in Newburgh, New York, toward the end of the Revolutionary War. The troops were not expecting him to be there in person. His speech asked them not to take action against Congress during a time of financial crisis – not a message the men wanted to hear. After his speech, he began to read a letter from a Congressman. He could not take the squinting anymore, and he pulled out some glasses and put them on saying, “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.” Washington’s troops had never before seen him in a moment of vulnerability. In that moment, they recognized his humanness and felt even more affection toward this man who had been their brave leader through so much. They agreed to the rules of Congress, thus preserving the civilian government. How would this story apply to you as a business leader? Yes, you need to be strong and confident in your decisions as a leader. But when the moment comes, do not be afraid to put on your glasses and show your employees that you are human. As a franchise owner, you will be able to apply your leadership skills while making a difference and working in an industry you thoroughly enjoy. And you will be at liberty to make out-of-the-box decisions that can take your company to new heights. …and the view from the top can be FRANtastic! *David E. Omholt is a franchise advisor with Veteran Franchise Centers (VFC) – a RecruitMilitary strategic partner. His company offers a free service to veterans looking to learn more about the franchise buying process and options in the market. Omholt is a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) and a frequent speaker on the subject of franchising on talk shows, at industry conferences, and on college campuses. He has been both a franchise licensor and a franchise licensee. Omholt is available at 866-246-2884 or david@veteranfranchisecenters.com.*