Olympic Insights for Franchise Leaders

Because the Winter Olympics are ending, I thought it would be timely to share a few insights I gleaned from a workshop I attended with Aerial Ski coach, Dustin Wilson, on the psychology of high performance. Dustin has taken a number of skiers to Olympic gold, so he had my attention. There are many applications here for good franchise leadership, both for senior executives and field consultants.

Putting in the work. High performance comes from relentless practise. Dustin would take his skiers through four years of gruelling training, knowing it would all be over in six seconds. Franchising is a marathon, not a sprint. Good franchise leaders help to create the culture and the brand passion that keeps franchisees putting in the work and feeling optimistic about the future, despite the inevitable ups and downs they will face in their business journey.

God is in the detail. Achieving high performance also comes from consistently doing the small things well, like checking your bindings. Good franchise leaders are clear on the good habits their franchisees need to develop, and they reinforce and support the practice of these habits through checklists, systems and routines, especially in the early days. Have you defined the important small habits your franchisees need to practise if they are to achieve high levels of performance?

Photograph of skier doing ski jump.

Maintaining trust and credibility. During the workshop, Dustin asked for a volunteer to come out the front, stand on a table blindfolded and fall over backwards. Most eyes in the room immediately looked downward. One of our values at FRI is to be courageous, so I figured I should practice what I preach. And I felt confident Dustin knew his stuff. Fortunately, he did and I had a safe, confidence building experience. His point was, to be a good leader you need to gain the trust of others and help them to manage their fear and doubt. Good franchise leaders build trust and credibility by showing they care, demonstrating competence, and by being honest.

Bouncing back from failure. Many skiers have falls that can result in physical and psychological trauma. Even though they still have the talent and the skill, anxiety can delay them from getting back into training. When people experience disappointment or failure, giving unwanted advice or criticism doesn’t help. Good franchise leaders identify and build on the strengths of their franchisees, stay solution focused, and encourage them to take “baby steps” to get back on track and achieve their goals.

Managing high achievers. There are two types of high achievers — those you need to slow down and those you need to push. This has to do with how they’re wired. Some high achievers can be lazy and dig in their heels when pushed, while others get over hyped and can burn out. A good franchise leader gets to know each franchisee and the conditions under which they perform at their best, and works out a joint strategy around the question, “what do we need to do to win?”

The success trap. Sometimes after winning a medal, athletes can get carried away by their success. Dustin told us about one of his top Olympic athletes who won Gold and wore his medal all the time. This elite performer started to believe that, because he was now a winner, he didn’t need to train as hard as he used to. Not surprisingly his performance dropped, and he failed to qualify for the finals in the next Games. We see this with franchisees who win awards and the attention goes to their head. The result is often complacency and disaster a year or two down the track. Are you managing the success trap by keeping your high performers level-headed?

Managing emotions. Dustin said his most useful personal qualities as a coach were his calm temperament and ability to think clearly when his athletes got emotional. When things go wrong, because of the pressure they are under, franchisees can also become agitated. When this happens, a good franchise leader stays calm and is direct and confident in keeping franchisees focused on what they need to do.

Rest and recovery. While high achievers often keep pushing themselves, this can actually reduce performance. Dustin used to insist his athletes took regular rest days and did activities they enjoyed. It’s important in business that we also take time to relax and recover. This is an individual thing, so we need to find what works for us. Are you helping your franchisees to put systems in place so they at least get a day off each week, and maintain the balance they need to perform at their best?

There are clearly many similarities between great sports coaches and great franchise leaders. I hope this has got you thinking.

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