Claire Hennessy is the author of twelve novels for young people, most recently the YA novels Like Other Girls (2017) and Nothing Tastes As Good (2016), published by Hot Key Books. She is a co-founder and co-director of the Big Smoke Writing Factory, a creative writing school in Dublin, and co-founder and co-editor at Banshee literary journal.
She holds three degrees from Trinity College Dublin and has taught at the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland at DCU since 2005.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I honestly don’t know because I’ve never taken a formal leadership training course or availed of such an opportunity, even though I knew they were available to me. They often don’t feel applicable to those in the arts or in creative fields. But I think it can certainly be learned, from watching others in your field and picking up on what works (and what doesn’t).
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
I think everyone conceptualises them differently. My immediate response to that question is that management is about making sure people carry out tasks, and leadership invites people to suggest their own tasks, but actually, good management is (should be) good leadership and is responsive to everyone you’re working with. Both should respect the opinions and ideas of everyone involved.
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 don’t have a pat answer for this, but I do think that encouraging leadership among unlikely audiences – those interested in the arts, for example, or women full-stop – is important. As a teenager, my idea of a potential ‘leader’ was basically a posh Dublin 4 guy with a debating pedigree. And I’m not saying that we don’t need guys like that – but we need more than that. I think the more the ‘real world’ can engage with secondary school students, the better – the more we can model a variety of options for what it means to be an adult in Ireland today, the better.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
If it is at all possible, take at least a day off. A proper day off where you don’t think about it, or if you do, you remind yourself that you’ve postponed those worries to the following day. Most of us are overworked and overstrained and a bit of breathing space helps so much. We return with a clearer brain. If you can’t take a day off, go cold. Be ice. If you’re in a high-pressure situation where there’s little or no sympathy from work, you need to protect yourself first and foremost. Be ice in work and then mind yourself an awful lot outside of that. Look at other jobs, even if you know you’re not going to apply for them – just to reassure yourself you have options.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
In the creative fields, definitely a sense of control-freak-ness – which manifests in different ways. If you’re working with a team, you can’t control everything – and also, worrying about that overall sense of control can impact really drastically on basic day-to-day functioning. You need to balance your ‘high-falutin’ concerns with getting the basics done.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, people, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Rachel Simmons’s books on girlhood are incredibly useful for women who feel like ‘leadership’ is beyond them. Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ is great on creativity. And I think finding local heroes is really useful – mine include Anna Carey, Tara Flynn, Mia Gallagher, Sarah Maria Griffin – and keeping up with them.