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Leadership: Team Building & Delegation

Laurence Barron
Former Chairman and President at Airbus China

Learning outcomes

  • How to build teams and fill the gaps in your expertise as a leader
  • Why leaders struggle to delegate

Executive Bio

Laurence Barron

Former Chairman and President at Airbus China

Laurence was the President and Chairman of Airbus China from 2004 - 2017 where he led the business to grow from producing 40 to over 160 aircraft per year and grew revenue to over €20bn in China. He joined Airbus in 1982 in aircraft finance where he ran customer finance for 10 years and then asset management for a decade. Laurence spent a total of over 25 years in aircraft financing and leasing before moving to lead Airbus China. Read more

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Interview Transcript

How do you think about leadership? What does leadership mean to you?

Number one, it’s a lot about team building and surrounding yourself with the best possible team you can, given the constraints that you may have. You may have salary restrictions and you may want to employ people who come from another industry, where they have benefits that you can’t offer them. I remember when I was building up customer finance, what I really needed was some young bankers. But banks pay quite well and offer quite a lot of side benefits to their employees, and that’s something we couldn’t do. You had to look for people who were, not necessarily, looking for significant financial benefits, but looking for a different lifestyle, such as moving from the city to live in rural France or in a city in France that was more pocket-sized.

Not an easy thing to do, but whatever position you have, you may have some constraints, in terms of what you can offer. But subject to that, get the strongest candidates you can, get the strongest people you can. I also used to, before I selected somebody, call in my most senior direct reports and get them to interview the candidate too and then we’d sit down afterwards and discuss whether the individual would fit in. If we all agreed, then that would be an easy decision. If there was some significant dissent, then probably, we would pass on that particular candidate, because I didn’t want somebody to come in and be disruptive.

Teambuilding, I think, is one of the most important parts of management. Then, once you have the right people, delegation. Let them do the job; don’t micromanage them. Don’t constantly second guess. Let them get on with things. Thirdly, as I already said, open door. Leave your door open. Make sure that they know that you are always available for exchanging views, discussing problems and do the same thing yourself. When I had a doubt, I would call in some of my most senior people and say, look, we’ve got this, we’ve got that. I’m not sure myself what we should do; what do you all think? Have a debate about it and, often, you’d find that it wasn’t that difficult, once you’d got a few alternative views and the thing could be discussed. That, again, is part of management. Not to isolate yourself and take all the decisions on your own, but to involve the people that you trust. That also creates a degree of loyalty amongst your team.

It’s almost having the humility to go to your team and ask them for answers?

Sure. I was trained as a lawyer, but I was never trained as an engineer. I was never trained in HR or finance, so I needed my specialists around me, to give me the advice on areas in which I was not, myself, trained or experienced. Over the years, of course, you do learn a lot of those issues, but when you have a finance director or you have an HR director, then use their knowledge. Use their knowledge and their own networks and their own departments both, in the case of China, locally, but also they were able to get input from their opposite numbers back in head office, where there were a lot more resources.

So using all the resources available to you, rather than making your own decisions and just imposing them is, I think, for me anyway, a better form of management. It does require you to have confidence in the people you have around you and for them to have confidence in you. Loyalty is a two-way street.

How did you deal with coming into such an engineering, arguably, technical industry and product and market, being a former lawyer?

I came into the company to be a lawyer and then, what I was doing was aircraft financing, so I moved from the legal side of that to the business sided of aircraft financing. I was in an area that I already knew well and, at the time I joined the company, not many other people had that experience, so I was quite confident in my own area of knowledge. When it came to issues or areas that I had no expertise in, such as technical matters, you referred to the right people. You have colleagues that are trained in those areas or experienced in those areas and you turn to them and say, can you explain this to me, because it’s double Dutch; I don’t understand. That’s the advantage of working in a team, in a large company that has specialists in all these different areas.

The worst thing, I think, is to improvise and just plough on ahead, thinking you understand something. When you’ve got colleagues around you that are engineers or are specialists in the area that is being discussed, then let them advise you. It’s common sense, I think.

What do you think is so difficult, for managers, about delegation? You mentioned how delegation was so important in those three factors you mentioned. Why do managers struggle so much to delegate?

Good question. I have noticed that some managers tend to surround themselves with weaker people, maybe because they are not self-confident enough in themselves and they don’t want to be surrounded by people who might challenge them. Of course, if you know you haven’t got a very strong team, you’re not likely to delegate to them. You’re just going to tell them, this is what you have to do; go away and do it.

I think it’s a question of confidence. It’s a question of confidence, firstly, in yourself and then in the people that work for you, that report to you. If you don’t have that confidence, it’s impossible to delegate.

Like you said, it comes from people first.

You need to establish that working relationship with them. As I say, for me, loyalty is a two-way street. As a manager, you’ve got to earn their loyalty and they, as direct reports, have to earn your loyalty. In the working environment, I think relationships between the leader and his team and within the team, amongst the team members, is very important. If there is a lack of respect or a lack of confidence then, clearly, it’s much more difficult to delegate.

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