Table of Contents
The Wealthy Franchisee

How to Stop Your Ego From Getting in the Way of Success The need to be right all the time closes your mind to new ideas and constructive criticism and deprives you of empathy for employees and customers.

By Scott Greenberg

Key Takeaways

  • Ego makes it harder to resolve conflict (and often causes it), alienates your employees and your customers, and stops you from recognizing others' contributions.
  • Instead of out-arguing someone, your goal should be to resolve the conflict and have both parties walk away feeling good.
  • Confidence becomes arrogance when your appreciation for yourself diminishes your appreciation for others. When you believe you're better than those around you, it's easy to stop listening and learning.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This is part 8 / 9 of The Wealthy Franchisee: Section 2: Mastering the Mindset for Franchise Success series.

The most cursed franchisees are those burdened with a need for affirmation. Rather than focusing on building their franchise business, these poor souls constantly seek validation, recognition, and respect. They confuse business performance with self-worth, putting themselves at the center of their operation, and their business suffers for it. Ego messes with your business acumen in many ways. It closes your mind to new ideas and constructive criticism, gives you a false sense of security, and deprives you of empathy for others. It makes it harder to resolve conflict (and often causes it), alienates your employees and your customers, and stops you from recognizing others' contributions. Mostly it makes you a jerk with whom no one wants to do business.

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When I was a business owner, I appreciated complaints. At least those customers gave me a chance to make things right. In my experience, if you validate their feelings and appease them, they become customers for life. But too many franchisees get defensive and argue with customers. The customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer. Right or wrong is irrelevant. All that matters is that the customer comes back and brings others with them. I'm not suggesting you sacrifice your principles. Your ego, however? That's got to go.

Lose the Need to Win

Your attempts to save face can hurt your relationships. That's what happens when you get defensive. You can feel as though you're under attack. The brain produces stress chemicals, setting off the "fight" part of the fight-or-flight response. In that moment, you're not using your prefrontal cortex to solve problems. You're governed by emotion rather than logic, making it hard to listen, reflect, empathize, or have a constructive conversation. Instead, you engage in a variety of behaviors that only make things worse: redirecting the blame, making excuses, countering with an unrelated accusation, barking at the person for how they're speaking to you, or pointing out their hypocrisy ("Last week you did the exact same thing!"). And when you do these things, how do they respond? Often the reply is, "Stop being so defensive," which only makes you feel angrier and even more defensive.

In most disagreements, the parties involved are coming from different perspectives. They don't see the same things, or they see them in a different way. To each of them, their outlook makes sense, and the other person's doesn't. Clashing logic leads to conflict and debate. And humans like to win! Why is that? What's the motive? What's the advantage? Healthy relationships shouldn't be competitive. In an argument, for someone to win, someone else must lose. That doesn't promote harmony. Winning an argument with my wife has never improved my marriage. It's hard to enjoy victory while sleeping on the couch. Likewise, winning an argument with a customer never improved my business.

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Many franchisees struggle with angry customers because their ego gets in the way. Instead of out-arguing someone, your goal should be to resolve the conflict and have both parties walk away feeling good. That only happens when you stop competing and start understanding. Resist the urge to be right and replace it with curiosity. What's the other person's perspective? Why do they see things that way? How would you feel if you saw things the same way? Even if their perspective is factually incorrect, it's still the subjective reality in which they're forming their opinion.

Understanding that is the basis for empathy. It's OK to be wrong. In many ways, it's better. When you're wrong, you have an opportunity to learn something, change, or improve. That's something you can control. Convincing someone else they're wrong is much harder, but apologizing is a great way to reduce tension. People calm down when you take responsibility for a problem, and that makes it easier for them to meet you halfway and own up to their mistakes. They'll also respect you more. Respect doesn't come from always being right—it comes from being a kind person who's open to all perspectives.

When other people accuse you of something, try not to process it emotionally. Take a second to cool off and breathe. Replace defensiveness with compassion. Remember that your accuser sees things through their unique prism. Their accusation reveals as much about them, their needs, and their perspective as it does your behavior. Be interested in their point of view. Clarify that first. Maybe they're right about the facts, in which case you can apologize and do what you can to make things right. They'll appreciate that. If they're wrong about the facts, they're still right about their feelings. Make sure you respect those feelings.

Proving Yourself vs. Improving Yourself

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck outlined in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success the difference between what she calls a "fixed mindset" and a "growth mindset." People with a fixed mindset believe that ability is innate. You either have it or you don't. These people spend their time trying to prove (or appear) that they're among the talented. Often this leads to jealousy, resistance to feedback, and fear of failure, none of which is good for business. Those with a growth mindset believe they're a work in progress. They focus on learning and welcome feedback. They don't like failing, but they don't beat themselves up about it or blame others. Instead, they embrace the lessons failure offers. They fail forward. This mindset enables them to live with less stress and improve.

Wealthy franchisees don't focus on how great they are — they focus on getting greater. Then even greater than that. They're forever students of their business. Few people care about your ranking, your car, or how clever you are. If you win an award at a convention, they'll applaud politely and maybe shake your hand. Then they move on with their own lives. They really don't care that much about your success. How invested are you in anyone else's? No one will judge you too harshly for failing, either. What people do care about is your impact on them. They'll remember how you treat them and how you serve them. The real legacy of wealthy franchisees is their contributions to others. That's how they attract people—and money.

Employer Arrogance

Some franchisees like to flex their muscles with their staff. They like to bark orders and make their team tremble. In Niccolò Machiavelli's 16th-century treatise on power, The Prince, he wrote, "It is far safer to be feared than loved." But Machiavelli never had to work with 21st-century employees. He would've been a terrible franchisee. He certainly wouldn't have been a wealthy one. Feared? Loved? Who cares? It's not about you!

I didn't worry about how my employees felt about me. I wanted them to focus on the customers. I told them they didn't work for me they worked for the people who were coming in and spending money. That's who was funding their paycheck, and that's who they needed to please. If they were ever in a situation with a customer that they weren't sure how to handle, they were trained not to ask what would make Scott happy, but what would make the customer happy. What would it take to ensure this customer returns? As long as those questions guided their decisions, I'd always support them.

When I was a teenager, I worked for a mean boss who intimidated me whenever he came in. Everyone shuddered in his presence. He knew it, and I think he liked it because it made him feel big. But when I became a boss, I didn't like it when my employees got nervous around me. If I intimidated them, I couldn't be helpful. I hoped that when I showed up, their first response was, "Oh good, Scott's here." That way they could ask questions and reach out for what they needed.

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Owning a franchise isn't about being feared, loved, admired, or respected. It's about getting wealthy. If you want to be loved, be lovable. If you want to be respected, be respectable. But if you want to make money, take yourself out of the equation altogether. Lose the ego and let your customers and team be the stars of the show.

Be what management research expert Robert Greenleaf called a "servant-leader" in a famous 1970 essay by focusing on your employees' growth and well-being. Being a servant doesn't mean being subservient. It means actively enhancing the lives of others, which promotes performance and attracts wealth.

There's another practical reason why you shouldn't try to set yourself up as the hero of your business. Your franchise is an asset, and one day you may want to sell it. If you've told the world you're the reason your business is successful, then how much value will it have without you? If you want your payday on the back end, focus on building something much bigger than you.

The Power of Humility

Cool confidence is important for franchisees. Being aware of your abilities increases your motivation and decreases your fear. It makes you stronger when things get tough and inspires those who look to you for leadership. It's an attractive quality that gets people's attention. Overconfidence kills leadership, though. It decreases others' esteem of you and themselves, weakening your influence. Confidence becomes arrogance when your appreciation for yourself diminishes your appreciation for others. When you believe you're better than those around you, it's easy to stop listening and learning. As a result, you fail to acknowledge your mistakes or recognize others' contributions, making you less effective. Humility can regulate your confidence, allowing you to recognize your strengths as well as what others have to offer. When I ask wealthy franchisees why they're successful, by far the most common response is to talk about their team:

  • "My employees do it all."
  • "I have great managers."
  • "We have a great culture."
  • "I couldn't do it without my employees."

They're not self-deprecating or insecure. They don't deny that they've hired and trained and built their team. They just don't focus on themselves. I've never heard a great franchisee attribute their success to their own brilliance or their magic touch. Instead, they see themselves as part of a greater whole. That selfless focus makes a huge difference. Franchise success comes from building something great that's bigger than any one person. It should be so big that it can continue in perpetuity without you. That will make it more valuable when you're ready to exit the business.

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