Anne O’Leary was appointed CEO of Vodafone Ireland in February 2013, having spent five years as Enterprise Director. She joined Vodafone from BT Ireland where she was Managing Director for six years and was previously Regional Director with Esat Telecom. As CEO of Vodafone, Anne has committed to investing in Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure, resulting in Vodafone’s nationwide rollout of 4G. She is also overseeing SIRO, Vodafone’s joint venture with the ESB, who are investing €450m in the rollout of high-speed fibre broadband across Ireland. Additionally, Anne is driving the gigabit society agenda in Ireland– with the explicit goal of access for everyone to 1 gigabit broadband speed. Equality of connectivity will change how everyone in Ireland lives, works and plays.
A Cork native, Anne champions wellbeing and diversity in the workplace and has spearheaded Vodafone securing a position as one of Ireland’s top ten Great Places to Work and achieving the Business Working Responsibly mark. Anne is a keen triathlete who competes regularly.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
People do not talk enough about how important influencing skills are for leaders in all industries – social skills, self-awareness and empathy are all critical. It’s not just about being taught the theory of leadership, it is about creating buy-in. You can’t do that without having the skills to bring people with you.
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
People work for managers but people follow leaders. To earn that following, leaders need to inspire and empower their workforce. Management and leadership both have important roles to play in business but the latter takes greater creativity and commitment. Personally, I like to work collaboratively and actively engage my senior leadership team in day-to-day planning and decision making and I think that helps us all stay motivated. We work as one team, and I value and encourage that. We have such a wealth of experience and diversity and I want to ensure that everyone works to the best of their ability, and importantly, love what they do. It is hugely important to me that our people feel valued, that they feel their roles are meaningful and that their daily work is satisfying.
The world around us is changing faster than at any time in human history and we need more leaders to emerge. How do we make this happen?
One of the most important lessons I have learned in my role as CEO is that diversity delivers. Diversity is a key tool for driving business success and gives an organisation a competitive edge. As leaders, we need to ensure that the culture, behaviours and environment we create in our organisations work to support everyone, no matter what gender, race or sexuality, in reaching their full potential. We need to ensure that everybody feels welcome and included and that their views and values are respected – this is how organisations will encourage more leaders to emerge in the future. Companies also have to think about changing the workplace environment to ensure we are not losing great female talent and to stop women from dropping out due to policies which don’t provide the support systems for flexibility, promotional opportunities and fair pay.
Vodafone are strong believers in diversity in the workplace, with women making up 63% of our senior leadership team. Programmes such as our ground-breaking global maternity policy and our ReConnect initiative, which brings women back into the workforce after a career break, are designed to ensure there is a strong pipeline of women to progress in the business.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
The speed of change and how businesses adapt to it is a major issue facing us all, and the biggest mistake I have noticed leaders making is allowing themselves and their organisations to fall behind. The telecommunications industry has seen more change than most. Vodafone has the challenge of ensuring that we stay at the cutting edge of technological advancements as an organisation, while at the same time adapting to the needs of how our customers will live, work and play in the future. The digital world is changing faster than ever before, so with that in mind, we need to think of ourselves as lifelong students. This enables us to be agile – to learn and adapt to whatever comes next for us.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
I would always advise someone to dedicate time to their own personal well-being during periods of high pressure and stress. I know that I am at my best when I stay on top of my training and fitness. I exercise throughout the week and that helps me to sleep better, eat better and remain calm and objective. We manage by output as opposed to presenteeism, and have fully embraced new ways of working so remote working, part-time hours, flexible hours and holiday trading are available for all employees. We also have an onsite gym, and wellbeing centre facilities enable our employees to access fitness programmes during the working day. We know our employees are high performers. For me, it’s important that they balance this by taking care of themselves, by taking enough holidays and spending time with their families and looking after their own wellbeing.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Someone who is very well respected in many business circles is Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group, and his approach to leadership is incredibly inspiring and he has been a great sponsor of me in the company. Vittorio has always been very aware of the unconscious bias that often exists for women in the workplace and has always sought to correct that imbalance – encouraging women to make their voices heard. It is important to remember that the culture of organisations comes from the top – as a leader, Vittorio’s approach to equality and diversity impacts hugely at both group and country levels.