The Leadership Question! #24 #cong21


We need to think about what kind of leaders and leadership we need for the times we live in. Here are some of my reflections.

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Key Takeaways:

And To borrow from Bruce Van Horn on Leadership

  1. Our challenges and opportunities now are both complex and systemic and changes will impact our daily lives in ways that we may resist
  2. Does leadership mean influencing the community to follow the leaders vision? Or does leadership mean influencing the community to face its problems?
  3. We need leaders who bring questions rather than answers – who open us up rather than closing us down.
  4. Invest in our own Adult Mental DevelopmentWe’ve all got it in us to step up but we must do the work

• Get our foundations right – our values, our leadership intention
• Learn to ask powerful positively focused questions, listen and truly hear

About Betty O'Callaghan

 Betty is an executive coach and mentor who also develops and facilitates leadership development programmes and co-facilitates the Leadership Framework Module of the MBA in the Cork University Business School (CUBS) UCC.

She is a partner in Mojo For Leaders who are passionate about helping leaders fully own their space at the leadership table, thrive in their role as a leader, and discover their Leadership Mojo, helping leaders and their organisations thrive.

Betty has a special interest in helping already successful female leaders fulfil their true potential. She has researched, co-developed and facilitates a leadership programme specifically focused on taking female leaders on an inward journey of reflection and looking deeper through to stepping out, stepping up and standing out with courage and confidence in their own original style, connected with their personal power and intent as a leader.

Betty believes passionately that coaching is a catalyst for action and self-accountability – it ignites enthusiasm, creativity, energy, and focus. She is inspired by the insights, courage, and capacity of clients as they connect with their inner confidence and initiate actions to achieve their dreams.

She spent her ‘first’ career working in retail banking where she reinvented herself numerous times ending up as Head of Human Resources and was a member of the Retail Network Management Team.

Completing the MSc in Personal & Management Coaching in 2015 was a catalyst for career change and personal development – she found that academic study and reflection enriched and illuminated her experiential learning.

Contacting Betty O'Callaghan:

You can connect with Betty on LinkedIn, see her work with Mojo for Leaders or email her

By Betty O’Callaghan

Our major challenges today are beyond complicated – they are complex, with no certainty as to the impact that any given action will have.  Open heart surgery is complicated – rearing a child is complex – what works in one way with one child can have the opposite impact on another!

Many of our challenges and opportunities now are both complex and systemic, impacting right through society, locally, nationally, and beyond. The changes we need to make, the solutions we need to find, will impact our daily lives in so many ways.  Some of the changes will be technical in nature – we had no problem adapting to remote control access for our cars or the absence of free plastic bags for our shopping. Some of the changes that are on the way though may cut to the heart of our values and maybe even our identity – there’s a sense of going backwards, of taking away – e.g. the open fire that’s been the centre of our homes for millennia, impacts on farming, travel, on where and how we live, socialise, what we eat. We’re likely to resist these changes for both known and subconscious reasons.

So, what kind of leadership do we need now – Does leadership mean influencing the community to follow the leaders vision? Or does leadership mean influencing the community to face its problems?

Do we need leaders who decide what we must do, rally us behind them and we follow them to Nirvana or over the cliff as the case may be? Leaders we can blame if it all goes pear-shaped and who will triumph if it goes well?

Or do we need leaders who help us to see our problems, who help us to explore what’s going on, create a space where we can bear to look deeply and creatively at what needs to be addressed, where we can feel the tensions, the contradictions, the possibilities, the choices between good and good and between bad and bad, the trade-offs?

It’s pretty obvious I’ve got a point of view here!!

Betty O'Callaghan The Leadership Question! 1 Complex, systemic change requires us all to enter the fray – to be invited, to learn and experiment – we’re part of it anyway – each of us adapts in our own unpredictable ways to each new change we encounter – that’s how complex adaptive systems work.  Let us be invested in the change and we’re going to be part of the solution – adapting positively rather than maladaptively.

We need leaders who ignite the spark, the creativity, the courage within us so that we understand the complexity, adaptively come up with, experiment with and activating solutions, dreams, and ways forward. We need leaders who help us re-frame our situation, our challenges, so we create our own adventure and journey, in business, in community and individually, into this exciting, scary changing world we have the privilege of living in right now.  We need leaders who help us explore the highest possibilities that we hold for ourselves.

In my view, we need leaders who bring questions rather than answers – who open us up rather than closing us down. Leaders strong and grounded in themselves, comfortable not knowing and curious about possibilities, curious about how we tick, about what matters to us, curious about how change really happens – Leaders who allow us also to feel strong and grounded and able even while we’re exploring for answers.   We need leaders who are capable of recognising the easy, quick-fix answers and going deeper for more insight and more meaning. We need leaders who seek out and truly hear diverse views, who help us to love hearing perspectives different to our own, including those that are ‘controversial’, ‘negative’, or’ dreamy’!

Where are we going to find these leadership gurus?

I believe, we’ve all got it in us to step up, whether we call ourselves leaders or not, no perfection required.  But we must do the work.

So what’s the work?

  1. Invest in our own Adult Mental Development – consciously work not just on increasing our intake of skills and information (horizontal development) but also on developing or upgrading our internal operating systems (vertical development) – we know from neuroscience that our brains are constantly growing, shrinking, changing, making new connections, snipping off connections that we’re not using.  So, with focus, we can shift our levels of thinking from fitting in, conforming, contributing, going with the flow, to consciously deciding who we are, authoring ourselves – working out what we stand for, what the unique difference we want to make in the world is, problem-solving at a whole new more holistic level.

We can travel, at our own pace, into the land of creativity where we can ask questions like ‘How else can this be understood?’ ‘What else could be?’ ‘What would Mother Nature say now?’ ‘What’s the question that if we had the answer to that we’d have the answer we need?’- And other perhaps seemingly daft questions that could be the key to recognising interdependencies, holding multiple perspectives at the same time, and creating ‘both and’rather than ‘either or’ possibilities.

  1. Get our foundations right – It’s incumbent on leaders to explore our own values, what we hold dear, what we believe to be true and important – and how that is serving us and those we lead in the context of the changing world we live in – do we need to reframe some of our values – do they belong to a younger version of ourselves – are they lighting the way for us now? Are we being true to them?
  2. Learn to ask powerful positively focused questions and listen to truly hear – listen for understanding. This is a skill we can all learn. With a little practice we begin to bring out the magic in others.

Most of us are going to live into our 90s – Maureen Gaffney talks about this in her new book ‘Your One Wild and Precious Life’ and she observes that in ‘real old age’ (80 onwards these days!) you get to see ‘the bigger picture’.  More of us need to get at that ‘bigger picture’ sooner – Robert Kegan who lead much of the research on vertical and horizontal development suggests that we are living longer as an adaptation so that we have time to develop mentally and come up with solutions for the complex challenges around us now.

I’ll end with a leadership question: If leadership had a voice, what advice would s/he give us now?

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