From a farming background in Co. Waterford, Brendan Dunford has spent the past 20 years living and working in the Burren region. In 2001 he completed his doctorate on the impact of farming on the heritage of the Burren, later published by Teagasc as ‘Farming and the Burren’. He led the award-winning BurrenLIFE Project (2005-2010), its successor, the pioneering ‘Burren Farming for Conservation Programme’ (2010-2015) and currently manages the new ‘Burren Programme’. Along with his late wife Ann O’Connor, Brendan co-founded Burrenbeo Teo and is secretary of its successor, the Burrenbeo Trust, Ireland’s only landscape-based charity which delivers an extensive annual programme of place-based learning initiatives.
Brendan is a former board member of the Heritage Council, a former member of the EPA Advisory Committee and a former Director of the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism. He is an Ashoka Fellow for Ireland.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I’m not expert but I guess leadership requires certain innate skills which, like any skill, can be nurtured through learning and practice. Some of the best leaders don’t recognise themselves as leaders at all – they are just people who are compelled to act and do so with such integrity and raw passion that others gather around them.
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
Personally I think leadership is a more creative, passionate, unpredictable – often reactive – process whereas management is often more about being organised, efficient, planning ahead. That’s not to denigrate either great managers or great leaders – it does take all sorts. But, dare I say it, leadership can be more fun?
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?
I agree, the rate and scale of change is incredible. Speaking from an environmental perspective, I think we need to do more to convince people to take more responsibility for themselves and for their places (environment and community), to not be afraid of taking a chance and perhaps failing, and to know that even taking a small step forward is better than standing still.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
When leaders start to believe the hype – this may include self-identifying as a leader! – they can get alienated from the people around them and distracted from their mission. Most ‘leaders’ are just one part of a team – a team which includes families, friends and work colleagues – without whom effective leadership is much more difficult, so don’t think you can do it alone.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
No easy solution: for me its taking a walk in nature – this give me some perspective about my life and work, reminding me that I’m just passing through. I also find that its better to attack the challenge – thoughtfully, of course – rather than shirking from it.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
There are lots of resources out there. But be careful not to try to follow others too closely, remembering that you and your context are unique, so don’t be afraid to be original in your thoughts and actions.