Assumpta O'Kane
Assumpta O'Kane

Leadership from within

This following article was originally published in The Echo

A new book challenges us to let go of old ways of thinking about ‘leadership’ and to look afresh at this vital influence on all our lives. AISLING MEATH speaks to one of the authors.

Many people involved in business are voracious readers of self-improvement books, and a new title, The Leadership Mind, which was recently launched in Cork, will make a welcome addition to the bookshelves of all those with a thirst for personal development.

The book is co-authored by Dr Assumpta O’Kane, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, along with Professor Connell Fanning of the Keynes Centre at UCC.

Assumpta, who is originally from Longford but is now based in Cork, is an expert in the field of human resources and has worked in the people development space for more than 30 years.

She is a researcher, facilitates transformation in adult development, and is a specialist advisor in organisational development.

This experience has given her a vast store cupboard of wisdom and insights which are woven together on the loom of her highly qualified academic background in this area.

“I did a general degree in Psychol­ogy, and then followed it up with a Masters in Occupational Psychology from Queens University,” she said.

When I first qualified some three decades ago, this sphere of work was in its infancy. I went to work in the City of London where there were development centres for consultants. and I worked for Pricewaterhouse­Coopers, travelling all round Europe, and also to the continent of Africa working with various companies and enterprises in many countries there.

This gave me a real insight into what businesses were looking for in terms of personnel, and what kinds of people suited what kinds of projects, all the while taking into account different cultural perspec­tives.

When I came back to Ireland, I worked in Ringaskiddy, Cork, for Pfizer for around 12 years as Head of Human Resources and organisa­tional development.

“Good communication is key in business and also in personal relationships. How we communicate and talk to each other while we are doing our work is essential. People are absolutely everything in a business, no matter how big or small the company.

“Putting together the right teams involving the right people is essential for the success of a company. It is vital that first we have a good relationship with ourselves, so that we can then better relate to other people.”

People, being people, are multi­faceted and also unpredictable, so how does Assumpta work with the complexity that makes up a human being, with all their nuances’?

“One thing is to accept humans all make mistakes and to learn from them. When you think about it, we all have a story to tell, no matter what role in life you have. We often define ourselves by our story, and the heart of the matter is how do we construct that story, how do we think, and how do we develop ourselves so the story we are telling ourselves is a good story? it’s how you think, not what you think which is at the heart of The Leadership Mind.

“Often, between the ages of 35 and 45, adults reach their peak of devel­opment, and after that they begin to plateau, but people can develop their minds way beyond that age and right throughout adulthood.

“Life is constantly changing all around us. Not only in the business and the economic world, but also politics and society are in an ever-increasing state of uncertainty.

“Having multiple standpoints, seeing things from other viewpoints together with enlarged perspectives, will give us the tools to enable us to meet the individual and organisa­tional challenges which we face in all the facets of our lives.

“The work we did looked at what leadership actually is, and we concluded that leadership is not a job title, nor is it an entitlement. It’s not a position, nor is it a set of personal­ity characteristics, in fact it is not anything that anyone can give you from the outside.

“Leadership comes from within, leadership comes from how you develop yourself and your ability to deal with the complexity of the world in which you find yourself.

“We are all born with this inherent ability to make meaning out of our experiences, and we are all born with a capability for leadership.

“There is a great quote by John Maynard Keynes which says: ‘The difficulty lies not so much in develop­ing new ideas, but in escaping from old ones’.”

The Leadership Mind is all about having mental strength and emo­tional resilience, which in businesswill help you get the best from your­self, your work colleagues, and your clients and customers.

Does Assumpta think that it is more challenging for women in Leadership roles?

“The Leadership Mind is a non­gendered concept and a development mentality, I think it’s important that women communicate with each other and get together to discuss specific issues which affect them. As women we can often feel the weight of societal expectations of using different areas of our lives.

“I think that women can support each other by having conversations and dialogue about how to develop themselves. This can be hugely advantageous for women.

“There are choices to be made. The first step is to accept that often, as a woman, you actually put everyone and everything else before yourself. Then, once this is accepted, think ‘Is this the way I want to continue living, or do I want to have an enlarged perspective on life’?

“We can develop ourselves beyond the socialising mind into a management mind where we are really confi­dent in who we are, as we have made ourselves who we are.

“We need to sit down and ask our­selves what are our own expectations of ourselves, rather than trying to mould ourselves into societal expec­tations of who we think we should be.

“And even if we are criticised or knocked down when we have created ourselves from the inside out, then we will have a belief in ourselves be­cause we have made our own ideas and formed our own concepts.”

This article was written by Aisling Meath and was originally published in The Echo. Many thanks to Aisling Meath and The Echo for permission to re-publish here.