RYANAIR – A FINE LEADERSHIP COCK-UP

The purpose of my blog is not to run Ryanair into the ground, though I am sure there are a number of people out there who would willingly do that.  Anyway time will tell?  As my mum always said “All good things come to he who waits!”

I was listening to a well-known radio station a couple of weeks ago when the Ryanair situation was first breaking news.  Various listeners were sharing their experiences and tales of difficulty.  At that point the reason for this situation, according to Ryanair was “incorrect scheduling of pilot holidays”.  Extraordinary?  I am sure that Ryanair has hundreds of pilots.  Could poor scheduling really be the cause of such disruption?  As this point was being discussed, the wife of one of the pilots called in to share her understanding of the situation:  “This is not about poor scheduling, she said, it is about how pilots are treated by Michael O’Leary, who she said has no respect for them or the work they do.”  My leadership bells were already ringing.  According to Justin Bachman and Carol Matlack in their article “The Creative Hiring Habits of Ryanair and Norwegian Air Shuttle” (Bloomberg, February 12, 2015) both Ryanair and Norwegian have found ways to minimize the legal aspects and taxes on pilot contracts in favour of company profitability.   I don’t think there is a company out there who does not look for creative ways to minimise costs and maximize profits. 

What is the cost for Ryanair of this situation?

The evidence of poor leadership in this situation keeps showing its face – why is the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) regulating body reacting so if the leadership is transparent, fair, and above all with integrity.  Not only it appears is the leadership of employees under question, but so too is the honesty and integrity with which Ryanair is communicating with their customers, who also appear to have been cheated.

Mr Haines, Chief Executive (CAA) told the BBC news (28 September 2017) “that he very much doubted the dispute would get as far as the courts, but added it was "unacceptable" that Ryanair was disregarding the law and customers' rights.”

Don’t get me wrong doing the right thing and leading from the front with courage, integrity and transparency both with employees and customers is not always the easy route.  Trying to fool the customer over their legal rights was an act that perhaps Mr O’Leary and his senior management were hoping would make the whole thing die down through showing reassurance to customers that they are being taken care of and that Ryanair will do the “right thing”. This has not worked, in fact it seems to have added fuel to the fire.  Perhaps the fire is going to get bigger, as customers are so riled to the point that it makes them claim every last penny that is their legal right!

In most situations where there is need for courageous and exemplary leadership, there is time for discussion with key members of the management team to formulate the message and to get it out there to change the course of the situation or even halt it before the fire takes hold.  However, if that’s not in your list of values, as a leader, nothing that happens is going to make you change your colours.

Leading others, from my point of view is a privilege.  At times it can be difficult, demanding, even frightening sometimes, as well as exhilarating and joyous.  In each situation core values are what provide stability to make the right decision, that clear direction to stand up and say “I made a cock-up, and I am sorry and I will do everything I can to rectify this quickly, with openness and above all with honesty and integrity.” 

Leadership is not just about how we use our head in making strategic decisions to increase competitiveness and profitability, it is also about using our heart to understand our team members, as well as customers and to balance our “head” thinking and decisions with some human emotion from the heart.

 

 

 

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