Who’s Driving the Bus?!  -A Leadership Story and Lessons Learned

Who’s Driving the Bus?!  -A Leadership Story and Lessons Learned

kidsRkids215As a business owner, whether you run a franchise, or you are an independent entrepreneur, there will come a time when your leadership prowess is put to the test. It may come when you least expect it.  Will you be ready? 

Mine was tested early in my ownership days.  Here’s my favorite leadership story:

It was a Friday afternoon late in the Fall of 1998. I opened my Kids R Kids Learning Academy franchise in August and things were going well.  That is, until George walked in.  George was my guy.  My ‘go to’ employee.  I recruited George long before I opened, and he was an integral part of the operation.  He drove the bus, performed maintenance duties and was a team leader for the before and after school program.

George had bad news.  Really bad news.  Friday was his last day.  Today Friday, not two weeks from now so I would have time to find his replacement Friday.  Someone had offered him a job he couldn’t refuse, and he was to report on Monday.  I never saw it coming.

I went to my Director and told her what had happened.  Panic immediately swept through the front office.  Deer in the headlights panic. Who was going to drive the bus on Monday morning?  A driver for any early childhood program has to be screened and properly documented per industry regulations.  This was not a ‘just hire a bus driver off of Craig’s List’ type of solution.

I had to act quickly.  I had planned to get my Commercial Drivers License (CDL for short) for emergencies. But over the weekend?  This process normally takes at least two weeks.  I grabbed my oversized working-mom purse and flew out the door.  It was 2:00.  The DMV closed at 5:00.  This much I knew, and I would figure out the full plan on the way there. My first hurdle was obvious – could I take the written CDL test and obtain a Learner’s permit – within the next 3 hours? I’d never even looked at the book. 

All I knew at that moment was that on Monday, Miss Christy was going to be adding Bus Driver to her job description.  It was he beginning of a very long weekend.

Leadership Lesson #1 – Never ask anyone to give less than two weeks notice.  It draws down your leadership capital.  However, be prepared by having a deep bench when it comes to key positions.  After this experience, I immediately identified and trained current staff who were excellent substitute drivers, received a wage increase and enjoyed performing their additional (driving) job when needed.

Leadership Lesson #2 – Leaders are calm and decisive in a crisis.  I had many opportunities to display this trait over the next 15 years.  This experience showed staff and parents that they could count on me in any given situation.  In retrospect, it strengthened the operation in many ways and allowed us to grow without further issues pertaining to drivers.

Leadership Lesson #3 – Leaders know that at any given time, they should be willing and able to do any job within the organization.  The reality show, Undercover Boss, shows how difficult and rewarding it can be.   Your clients and staff enjoy seeing you performing various jobs within your company.  It shows your character and your passion for your organization.   You are also able to manage risk at a higher level by implementing processes and procedures with first-hand information.

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Christy Wilson Delk was Kids R Kids Learning Academy franchise owner from 1998-2012. She now teaches Business Entrepreneurism at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and speaks, writes and designs workshops for the franchise industry. She is a proud IFA Supplier Member.

Christy Wilson Delk