“Leading people means helping others to reach set goals. That's the whole secret” - Leadership according to Ragnar Norbäck

Ragnar Norbäck has extensive experience in leadership and, after more than 30 years in various CEO assignments, knows what works. In 2017, after 13 years, Ragnar left the role as CEO of Nobina, the largest public transport operator in the Nordic region with approximately 11,600 employees in four countries. His CEO assignments has given him many insights on how a leader should act, and not act, for the organization to achieve its goals.


Ragnar Norbäck ex CEO Nobina.PNG

It all starts with understanding the owners. An organization is owned by someone. This fact seems to be absent in many social debates and in many organizations. Rather, many opinions appear to be based on what employees, customers or other stakeholders (politicians, government agencies, etc.) think would be best for the organization. But it is the owners who decide this. I presume, of course, that you follow laws and agreements. It is therefore important in all leadership to first give enough time to understand what the owners really want the organization to do. I do not deny that this is easy, goes fast or is especially uplifting, but it is crucial to understand as much as possible of the owners' intentions in order to make a good result. There is nothing worse than doing the wrong job well. In addition, you must regularly check with the owner’s intentions as they change over time! These advices must not be confused with the view that you must not interfere. Of course, this should be done with all force, but that is and remains advice - the decision lies with the owners.


“Leading people means helping others to reach their goals. That’s the whole secret”, says Ragnar. He believes it is important for the group to agree, communicate and follow up on the values that will apply in the workplace. Leadership can be defined according to the quote: “Getting others to achieve agreed goals of their own volition”, Ragnar continues, explaining how he breaks this down into four parts:

“Getting others…” Your leadership is not defined by what you accomplish - it is defined by what you get others to do. The task of a leader is to lead employees, to contribute to the organization's results and administration. Depending on the size of the team, a leader must spend 20-60% of his working time managing his employees.

“… by their own volition…” Every effort an employee makes should be made by his own will, not because the manager gives an order. This means that a workplace should not have satisfied, but motivated employees, which requires that they both feel comfortable and committed. Commitment and motivation are created by the insight and feeling that you contribute with something that gives results for the entire business. Employees who are uninterested in how they contribute to the organization’s goals must either be motivated or work for another employer.

“…To reach…” The feeling of reaching a goal is so strong and so motivating that it can’t be neglected. Unrealistic goals lead to disappointment and the feeling of inability that impedes the next challenge. Too low goals may cause the organization to be skipped by competitors. Setting goals is one of the most underrated skills among leaders - leadership is to make others succeed!

“…Agreed goal” Goals should not, as far as possible, be an order. The sense of responsibility that an employee feels, who agrees that the goals are desirable, is extremely motivating.

It is also important to have the right basic conditions for exercising good leadership according to Ragnar. “Communicate your expectations and make the results immediately accessible at a tangible level; show respect and humbleness - you being the boss does not mean that you are the smartest, just that you have been assigned that role; invite everyone in the business's strategic challenge; expect your employees to take responsibility and lastly, be sure to get everyone along with you on the trip”.


Ragnar believes that personal communication is one of the cornerstones of leading the organization properly. Information needs to come directly from the group's leader and is given personally at meetings and gatherings. Communication should be factual, clear and transparent. Since we humans tend to do things in a certain order, firstly what is fun, secondly what we are good at and, thirdly, what is necessary, the leader also needs to support his employees in their priorities. The result of an employee's choice between what is fun, what he/she is good at or what is necessary, not only influences the employee but on the entire organization's results and thus the owner's result of his investment. “Provide information to each other and discuss decisions, actions and priorities.” Almost all organizations are subject to external change and therefore one needs to keep down the number of own unnecessary changes. Reducing the sources of distraction does a lot for the organization's performance. Meeting discipline is important to work effectively. Meetings start on time, are held when they were called, and begin with the most important issue.

Ragnar believes that setting goals for employees is an often-underestimated task in leadership. An employee should have 5–8 goals for the coming six months. You should follow up regularly, but the goal must be so far ahead that the employee gets the chance to solve the task in his own way.

Being forced to deal with layoffs is what most leaders find difficult. But to dismiss someone is driven by the future, not what has been. The main mistake is that you miss the reason for the dismissal - that the organization performs better if the employee is relocated or dismissed. The argument for what is the best is now and forwards. Now the focus is on helping the employee to the best next possible position.


When it comes to problem solving, Ragnar recommends two models.

Hans G. Karlsson’s Box Model, says that if you have a problem to solve, the first step is to describe what it is like when the problem is solved, when it’s good. Only when the goal is formulated, you can solve it in step two. According to Ragnar, this is an ingenious and simple method that often leads to unexpected solutions.

As a leader you will inevitably face complex problems and a good advice is to use the QLE method. First solve Q = quality. Make sure the product or service is of the desired quality. When the quality is good you solve the L = lead time. Ensure that the task is performed with the desired quality at the desired lead time. Then E = economy is solved. Deliver the desired quality at the desired lead time at the desired cost.