To be a great leader

Business leaders often have boundless energy and enthusiasm that reflects their role as entrepreneurs. However some leaders, and senior managers, have a habit of moving forward too fast and end up leaving their management teams behind. To be a great leader you need to get the balance right between your desire for success and your team’s need for a clear system of communication. John Raftery explains why self-awareness is a vital factor in this process.

John what are the most common problems you encounter with management teams?

The big difficulty managers have is a lack of self-awareness. The more self-aware they are the more they can control their environment. There’s a phrase that goes “what I’m aware of I can control, what I’m unaware of controls me.” The biggest fault I find with entrepreneurs or senior executives is that they move too fast, way ahead of everyone else. They are hungry to achieve more and they see further ahead than everyone else in the organisation.

But the people around them may not be able to see that far ahead and so frustration often builds up. Where you have frustration you can get continuously changing priorities and then confusion, and people start getting get angry or impatient. Short tempers and moodiness can start to surface in the organisation purely because the business owner or senior manager is forging ahead quicker than the team can handle.

This frustration is due to a lack of self-awareness?

Well they may be aware of what they’re doing, but their desire to succeed can be greater than their ability to control what’s going on around them. The team may get left behind. It’s difficult for some to get the balance right. It requires systems and processes in place to overcome a lot of that. Like proper communication systems, clarity regarding expectations, measurement of results, milestones to be reached by certain times, clear time management schedules – they all help to overcome these issues.

To be a great leader you need to get the balance right

‘Communication must be clear and consistent’

Communication is important but the communication must be clear and consistent. Some people confuse communication with engagement. There can be lots of team meetings where people feel obliged to contribute by constantly changing priorities, targets or schedules, but this more often results in confusion. Outwardly it appears to be a system of regular communication, but it’s more a system of constant confusion. Team leaders need to distil the information down to a clear message and format, and be consistent with it.

The ‘No Frills’ Approach

Take Ryanair for example. Regardless of how you feel about Ryanair they are a great example of what I’m talking about. They successfully distilled their entire philosophy down to just two words – ‘no frills.’ Both their customers and Ryanair staff understood that simple message, and that’s what the organisation stood for. Everything they did was about reducing bureaucracy and costs, and keeping things as simple as possible.

Recently that ‘no frills’ philosophy has changed again. Now it’s three words instead of two; the ‘always getting better’ programme. Now they’re making people aware that they are trying to improve customer service, and it seems to be working as passenger numbers are increasing. Running an airline can’t be easy, it’s a complex business. But Michael O’Leary keeps the business model simple, he keeps the message simple so everyone knows what they have to achieve. That’s your challenge as a manager.


Interview by Des Kirby.

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