Lessons in Self Honesty from Flying with Ryanair

Lessons in Self Honesty from Flying with Ryanair

May 24, 2023

They are never far from the headlines and the last month has been no exception for Michael O’Leary and his team. These are very testing times for the aviation industry and Ryanair has taken an almighty hit. Like many others I am in a long queue for a refund, but that is not the focus of my attention today. I am going to look at customer experiences with the company and how it can reveal quite a bit about our mind-set.

I will start by saying that I think Ryanair are one of the best businesses ever to come out of Ireland. I have gotten to fly to so many countries that would have been off-limits previously. They have made the world more accessible and cultural experiences readily available to all. Their prices are low, they are usually punctual (cue crappy trumpet tune), their App is really user friendly and their procedures you need to abide by, are really simple. This is where the fun starts. So when things go wrong we are often left with 2 choices. Look out the window for someone to blame, or else look in the mirror. Looking in the mirror and admitting you were wrong is hard and affronting to our ego, so hell let’s look for someone to blame as that is a lot easier to digest.

I have flown with Ryanair a lot over the past decade. I have been pissed off by them a lot also. Almost every one of these times upon reflection has been my fault. Turning up late at the gate. Not having my boarding card printed off. Bringing a 22kg bag to weigh in when the booking explicitly said 15kg. Having two carry on bags at check-in when the ticket clearly stated, one carry on bag per person, or you will need to pay an additional fee. I could go on, but you are getting a sense of things now. At the time I was furious and so hard done by. How could Michael O’Leary do this to ME. Why is this member of cabin crew being such an ass, or my favourite…I’ll never fly with these clowns again! In. My. Life! The window was easier to look out than have a good long look in the mirror.

This is an example of ownership and how many of us default to blame when things go wrong. Ryanair is one easy example, but they show up everywhere in our work and life. The medium for eliciting the blame state differs, but the underlying emotions and reactions are similar. I see this regularly in teams and organisations I work with. Something goes wrong and immediately we look for someone to pin it on. It is a very lazy mind-set and one that massively hampers performance and creativity. It gets people to tighten up and become risk averse. It also leads to a lot of un-necessary email chains as people are just “covering their ass.” Where there is an open and trusting environment situations like this provide you with great learning opportunities. It does not mean that you cannot hold people accountable and have high standards you operate to. It does mean however your starting point is taking a step back and asking yourself first, “What part have I played in creating this current situation?”

Self-honesty and ownership of your actions is one of the key principals for success in any walk of life. It is a challenge however and can be very un-settling because it shines a light on our imperfect decision making, communication and overall standards. It can trigger an internal dialogue of, “They’ll think I’m stupid if they know I did that.” “I will definitely get thrown off the team if I take the blame for that howler” or, “Maybe I am out of my depth here. I’ll just double down on this crap to save my ass” Being right all of the time is a heavy burden to carry. Mother Theresa captured this far more eloquently than I ever could by saying,

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”

One of the pearls or pitfalls of my job is that I need to spend a lot of time reflecting and developing. Through plenty of cognitive dissonance and arm wrestles with my ego I have gotten to a place where I am a lot better with this. It is not comfortable, but owning your actions, or inaction, is a huge starting point in your development as a person or a leader. Anyone can start a witch hunt, but it takes a greater level of awareness to step back and look at the role you played in creating this, or how you can go about solving it. If you are unsure how to unpack this then a good coach will pull a few threads for you to get things moving.

I look forward to hearing those Ryanair trumpets again!