Fleishman Hillard CEO John Saunders discusses what it takes to be a good leader in business

Last week we had the honour of tapping into Fleishman Hillard CEO John Saunders’ expertise on leadership and business at a special event in the Helix, organised in conjunction with DCU Educational Trust, DCU Leadership and Talent Institute and Irish Times Executive Jobs. Dublin native John talked us through his hilarious ventures into publicity as a teenager, early broadcasting career at RTÉ and what led him to his current position at Fleishman Hillard, one of the world’s leading PR companies. Answering questions from Irish Times Business journalist Ciarán Hancock and the crowd, John also shared his wealth of knowledge on what it takes to be a successful business leader…

Be authentic

Being authentic in business can sometimes be difficult with many leaders feeling that they should act and sound a certain way. You’ll connect much more with your team and command more respect if you remain true to yourself throughout your career and let your values shine through. As John said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”. This will also motivate your team and help you reach greater success together.

Always have a Plan B

Business is volatile and, no matter how prepared you are, sometimes things just don’t work out. Having a Plan B up your sleeve will help you deal with any crises that arise. You should also think about your team’s ability to adapt in times of trouble and look out for this trait in any new hires.

Know your weaknesses

Nobody is perfect and that’s OK. Instead of wasting time and energy trying to overcome your weaknesses, play to the strengths you already have. John used a great example of surrounding himself by people who are brilliant with small details as this is a skill he lacks. It can sometimes be a little uncomfortable facing up to your limitations but this will ultimately serve you well.

Be a sponge

John reiterated this point throughout his talk, acknowledging the many inspirational leaders that helped him get to where he is today. A good leader should always be ready to soak up the expertise of those around them, no matter what where they are in their career. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room – it’s about tapping into the strategic thinking of others and using it in the best way you can.

Learn from bad experiences

Mistakes happen for a reason and help us to grow professionally. When you have a bad experience, take note of what led up to that moment and work hard to ensure it doesn’t happen again. While John payed homage to the many incredible managers he’d had throughout his career, he also acknowledged that sometimes we can learn just as much from bad managers and leaders.

“A real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual selfishness and laziness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.” – David Foster Wallace

John’s talk underlined the fact that good leaders are made, not born, and are often the result of hard work, the people around them and a bit of luck. Are there any other qualities that you think make an excellent leader? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.


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