One of the most important attributes of a leader is the ability to take decisive action, according to Alasdair Murdoch, chief executive of Burger King UK.

Speaking at MCA’s 2019 Restaurant Conference last Wednesday (18 September), Murdoch said that as a leader you need to know exactly who you are and what you stand for.

“You have got to have a clear view on the business you are leading.You have got to earn the respect of the team and people that you work with and build up that trust both ways with your stakeholders,” he said. Adding that it was as important to be able to talk to your owners and shareholders as a delivery driver on a wet Saturday night.

“Above all, you need to take action. And that doesn’t mean taking action for the sake for it, it means taking action with purpose – no one likes a ditherer,” he said.

While there are hundreds of theories out there around leadership, and plenty of people on LinkedIn happy to share their views – not all of which he agrees with – many of them do serve a purpose, noted Murdoch. But he stressed that it was important to use tools that are right for your organisation.

He shared with delegates that he has taken learnings from all his previous bosses, which he said have been really important, and that it is always best to look for the positives that you can take forward.

“One of the best things I like doing, and I don’t do nearly enough, is go out for the afternoon with someone running a different business and see the way they do things. It doesn’t mean they are right or you are wrong, but I find you can learn stuff and also share things, as leadership can be quite lonely. You can share some of your concerns or your vulnerabilities that you perhaps can’t share with the rest of your organisation,” he explained.

The importance of purpose

Murdoch also spoke about the importance of creating a purpose for the business, from your first day in the role. “I think it’s underrated. And out of purpose can come your five-year plan, next year’s budget, your recruitment of people and how you measure them against competencies, for example,” he said.

“It needs to come from something that has meaning and means something to everything in the organisation – it gives you the why,” he explained. “It also needs to be able to be distilled down so that everyone in the organisation can enjoy it and it has relevance and are not just some words stuck up on the wall.”

He added: “You can’t build your business on a house of straw, you have to invest in your people and your brand relentlessly. You have to do that, I think, above almost all the other attributes you have out there. If you have a solid brand and business then it will persevere. You are always going to have to make some difficult decisions but if you have that strength of brand that will come through.”

Patience

For any business leaders building their businesses or restaurant brands, Murdoch said that patience and longevity is really importance. “If you look at some of the great restaurant brands that have endured over the years, it’s because they have been loved and invested in for a very long time. You really have to give yourself some time,” he said.

Just because you are doing something you feel is the right thing, don’t stop doing it if you don’t get the immediate reaction you want, as it often takes a lot longer to get results, such as a change in consumer behaviour or understanding, than you expect, he noted.

That said you have to be able to marry patience with the ability to act fast. You have got to be patient for the long-term results, but you have to do lots of things quickly, he said. “You need to keep trying stuff that ladders up to your purpose.”

From a leadership point of view, visibility is very important, he added. You have got to say well done to people, you have to celebrate small wins. “It sounds obvious, but your small wins need to add up to the longer-term wins and your purpose. Don’t neglect long-term investments. Start working on them early even though it’s difficult and you may not have the money or the resources, get the thinking done now.”

Murdoch said that one of the biggest challenges he has at Burger King at the moment is the fact they have c.500 restaurants, and a lot, from a brand point of view, are not where they would like them to be. “How do you manage, motivate or incentivise your franchisees to move to that? It might not necessarily be as easy as one might think or want,” he said. “We are trying to drive the standards up across all of our restaurants, the look and the feel, the hospitality that is being given and that at times perhaps isn’t what we would like,” explained Murdoch, adding that this was a five-year plan, rather than a one-year play.

“I feel my job is to ask the right questions. I don’t always get it right, but I know that my teams are working on what I perceive to be the important stuff,” he said.