Lessons from 25 years in franchising: Leanne Pilkington

From working as a Sunday receptionist at her father’s agency to chief executive officer and co-owner at Laing+Simmons, Leanne Pilkington knows real estate. Here, she shares the lessons she’s learnt along the way.

After 25 years in franchising, there’s not much, if anything, I haven’t seen in real estate.

I’ve built great relationships, watched those with the wrong attitude experience predictable failures, enjoyed successes, and endured a few hurdles along the way. 

People can be resentful of their age or grateful for their experience, and I prefer to choose the latter.

Remember, 25 years should never be one years’ experience, 25 times over.

These are the lessons I have learnt along the way. 

You’ll never make everyone happy. Make peace with that

This was the first lesson I learnt in franchising.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try; there will always be someone unhappy with a decision you make or a direction you take.

If you know you have genuinely done what’s in the business’s best interests, then worrying about it is a waste.

People need to know their leader cares

In 2000, I was promoted to general manager, and I was worried some franchisees would be disappointed that I had the role.

So I rang each of them and was increasingly surprised at the positive reaction.

It came down to the fact they knew how much I cared about Laing+Simmons and them.

They knew I would be in their corner. The support I would show, they would reciprocate. 

Be smart about how you show care

You genuinely need to care about your business owners and their teams, but you can’t get caught up in every story you hear.

Caring for the business means not losing sight of the forest for the trees, not getting sidetracked with trivialities, and this ultimately equates to better care for your people.

Everyone has a story. Every story deserves respect

Most people don’t share when they experience challenges, so it’s important to remember that you never really know what’s happening in someone’s world.

Give them the benefit of the doubt and while it sounds simple, deal with them with a smile.

The things you do when nobody is looking matter

When Laing+Simmons changed ownership in the nineties, the outgoing owner told the new buyers to keep me on, as I was “the one running the business”.

I had no idea the previous owner knew what I did, let alone valued it, as I rarely saw them. I realised it was the things I did when I didn’t realise anyone was looking that set me on my own leadership path.

Most people want to do the right thing

It’s just that their version of the right thing might differ to yours.

Recognise good intentions and others will recognise them in you.

Take time to consider the perspective of others

Situations are never as clear cut as you first think.

A genuine effort to understand the other side’s perspective means you are much more likely to achieve an outcome that works for everyone.

Choose your battles

Franchising is about interactions, and these interactions aren’t always smooth.

Accept that you are not always going to win and you’ll realise that often, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Only fight for the things that matter, and once people know that about you, there are fewer battles.

Only put into the world the views you are happy to defend

This is an important one.

Many people will declare that they don’t really care about what others think.

But it’s easier said than done.

To achieve this mindset means not simply reacting to things you see and hear and instead thinking about what you put into the world.

If you are happy to defend your view, you won’t worry as much if others see it differently.

Don’t respect the person? Don’t value the feedback

This one sounds harsh, but it’s not about giving yourself a free pass.

Constructive criticism is something every leader should take on board.

But you should dismiss negativity from people you don’t respect without a second thought.

Their goals are your goals

The satisfaction you get from helping others achieve their dreams is perhaps the most rewarding part of franchising.

Ultimately, it’s another step towards achieving your goals too.

You don’t always have to be right

None of us are. It’s fine.

Apologise, move on.

Keep your ego/greed radar switched on

Real estate is a business that attracts both, and neither is attractive.

You can’t stop these qualities manifesting in others, but you must recognise and act when the ego and greed of some people starts to impact others.

After all, we’re here to help consumers achieve their goals, not to make ourselves look good.

Do what you love

We all have simple pleasures that keep us happy.

When asked this question recently and I answered, “sunshine, reading and dancing” straight off the cuff.

If you know what yours are, you can incorporate them into each day, even if only in a small way.

I dance while cleaning my teeth, and my husband gives me weird looks, even though he’s used to me by now.

Employ people who have the strengths you don’t

An admission: I’m not a ‘details’ person.

I’m not an accounts person either.

But details are important, and accounts need to be managed. 

Be clear about the value you bring to the business and employ people that can happily fill the gaps.

It’s the key to a happy and successful business – and life.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.