Good leadership involves leading by example

Deolitte's Kevin Butler chats to RelateCare CEO Conor O’Byrne about how important his goal-oriented leadership style has been throughout his career in the healthcare sector.


Authenticity is key to leadership’s magic formula

Leadership styles evolve as a career journey progresses, according to Conor O’Byrne, influenced along the way by early mentors, supportive colleagues, and open lines of communication with management teams.

“For me, leadership is about building a culture and a platform for people to achieve their goals. Those aims can be both personal and professional, and in business are spread across different stakeholder groups, be they employees, clients, shareholders, or the board of directors. The magic formula as CEO, in a business like ours, is to find ways to merge these collective goals into a common purpose.” 

For Conor, authenticity is vital in facilitating goals and optimising relationships, particularly in RelateCare’s primary position as a services provider.

“Being authentic means leading by example, getting your hands dirty at times, and being conscious of what people might have going on outside of the work setting.” 

With a shared passion for sport throughout their lives, both Conor and Kevin agree on how lessons learned on the playing field can often apply in the boardroom: “In the same way that you can try to direct 11 or 15 people on a team in the one direction, you need to understand that each individual will have different priorities going on at any given time and have to be managed in the moment”.

Given that the leadership role is constantly evolving, Kevin wondered how it has changed for Conor over the years, and how perhaps the beliefs and certainties of five years ago may not have the same relevance today.

“Maturity in the role informs that you will never get everybody performing at the same level and time in any organisation, so when you set goals or objectives you must accept that not everybody will perform at 100mph. It’s part of the leadership role to nurture people along toward those higher echelons of performance.” 

Conor also points to the pandemic experience as having functioned as an accelerator for viewing the work environment and opening corporate eyes toward diverse ways of doing things. “It has opened my eyes to different ways of continuously striving to build performance and successfully grow. Sustainability is as much about how you’re treating and managing your employees as it is about corporate goals or overall business objectives.” 

Conor recalled bringing in an external coach, who had played to a very high inter-county hurling level, as an additional avenue of employing best practices from that sporting arena into the corporate sphere: “I do remember from my own playing days how important it was to have a collective trust within a team, and the importance of earning that trust. Building that ‘team trust’ factor really helps in a business setting, and we have tried to instil that kind of harmony within the company, developing a culture where each team oy understands their colleagues, their strengths, weaknesses, and their individual unique abilities”.

Trusting mentorship guidance over bumpy runways

By combining excellence in contact centre management and expertise in healthcare delivery, RelateCare has established a unique position providing the highest standard of patient access, tele-health, and outsourcing solutions to healthcare organisations around the world.

Employing a global workforce of over 1,400, RelateCare schedules 20 million appointments annually and is used by four of the top 10 US hospitals. With locations in Ireland and the USA, RelateCare has developed extended client relationships geared to deliver innovative opportunities to address current and future healthcare challenges. In 2019 RelateCare announced a deal with MML Growth Capital Partners Ireland, representing a significant investment in the business alongside Conor as CEO in addition to President and founder, Dr Frank Dolphin.

Since 2019 the investment has been used to support RelateCare’s ambitious plans, including its continued expansion into the North American market and expansion of its services in Ireland. Given Conor’s well established two decades’ experience in management and leadership roles, Kevin posed the question – what has been the biggest challenge encountered so far on his career journey? “I have worked in the business practically since leaving college, and seen it evolve and change in many ways over that 20-year period. I’ve had the benefit of mentorship working under great leaders and entrepreneurs. While the runaway has not always been smooth, it has always been guided. Having worked within and across the business, I learned early on that I needed to empower others and let them take control – not always the easiest thing when you’re used to doing more than what’s in your job description. The bigger you get the harder it is to do things like before, so delegation and communication become absolutely critical.”

Achieving leadership roles brings its own pressure, Conor admits, the implicit demand to do better and out-perform others, especially when you’re younger and lacking a perceived longevity. “Mentorship allowed for an understanding that the pressure was not all on my shoulders. Indeed, mentorship is not always about business and work achievements, it can also come through over a shared cup of coffee or chatting on a long flight to the US. A good mentor, early in someone’s career, can have an enormous impact, and is often useful to bring balance to the inexperience of youth. To succeed in business, you must take risks, and having an experienced mentor can be vital in helping to mitigate and calculate those risks, particularly when the mentor themselves has met similar challenges in their own careers.” 

Playing to your strengths and support of a great team 

RelateCare was amongst the most recent companies awarded Ireland’s Best Managed Companies accolade, led by Deloitte, in association with Bank of Ireland. Now in its 15th year, the awards celebrate the hard work, passion and tenacity of indigenous businesses and their management teams, comprising 136 companies with a combined turnover of €13.9 billion, providing over 51,000 jobs across a range of sectors.

Kevin wondered what ‘best managed’ means to RelateCare in this instance, and the possible benefits that can accrue from such an award? “Deloitte is a renowned global brand with instant recognition regardless of where you are, so obviously the award represents a significant seal of approval for RelateCare. What is particularly important is its recognition of the outstanding work the broader RelateCare team conducts and that it is not just about the senior leadership team. There’s no way we can succeed unless everybody buys into the philosophy and culture of how we do things.” 

The prospect of using the brand collateral also ensures a higher international profile for RelateCare, in addition to a greater corporate conviction that will filter throughout the organisation. “This award should give us confidence to further expand our business and client relationships. Going through the programme has given us a foundational framework to develop a strategy around our culture and values, and to bring more value to our service offering. Essentially what this award comes down to is this – if Deloitte is recognising us, then it is a testament that we’re doing things right.” 

To end the discussion, Kevin asked what Conor’s advice would be to individuals taking on senior leadership roles in the turbulent and exciting business world of 2023? “Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses is important and trying to not put yourself under too much pressure. Small margins can be the difference and being fully aware of your own weaknesses is an obvious area. Make sure to focus on your strengths, what makes you a good leader and concentrate on building a wonderful team. The bigger you get, the more you need to surround yourself with a dedicated team.” 

Ireland’s Best Managed Companies shines a spotlight on private businesses from across the island of Ireland and the exceptional performance that drives them. You can learn more about the programme at