Daire Keogh is a Professor of History and Deputy President of Dublin City University. He served as President of St Patrick’s College Drumcondra (2012-16). Daire is a founding member of the European Quality Assurance Register Committee, the body charged by EU Governments with monitoring quality assurance in higher education across the continent. He is a Chartered Director and is a member of the following Boards: Women for Election; Edmund Rice Schools Trust; and Dublin City University’s Governing Authority. He is Chair of the Board of Marley Grange National School in Rathfarnham and a member of the Board of Management of Clongowes Wood College. Daire is also a member of the Irish Association of the Order of Malta and he recently completed a term as a Council member of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
Are leaders born or made? Ultimately, it is a combination of both. Leadership requires ‘character’ or personality traits, but there are many who ‘have what it takes’ but who never step up. Equally, there are those who are unlikely leaders, but who rise when circumstances are right.
History is full of excellent examples. Churchill’s career had been characterized by misjudgments and mistakes until 1940, but in the context of war, he epitomised strong leadership. If leadership depends upon this combination of character and context, you can certainly ‘teach’ leadership by nurturing and supporting ‘leadership’ potential. Equally, by studying leaders, whether personal mentors or role-models, or formally in biographies, case studies, and the like we can teach the exercise of leadership.
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
Leadership is the higher-order skill, but without management ability, it counts for little. The two go hand in hand, but it is useful to reflect on the distinction between them. There are some nice soundbites which articulate the differences – Peter Drucker, famously claimed that ‘Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things’. Personally, I see leadership in terms of imagination, inspiration, and motivation, while management is about execution.
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?
As a historian, I am always wary of claims that our age is ‘exceptional’, but it is true that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate. We must foster leadership – we need to develop the human potential of our young by providing them with educational opportunities which allow them to flourish. But it is critical that we cultivate in them a sense of responsibility, by providing opportunities to serve and practice leadership wherever they find themselves.
The worst thing about this notion of ‘unprecedented change’ is a sense of desperation – in the face of this we need to cling to optimism and the belief that all of us can make a difference.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
It seems very obvious, but too many leaders focus on their own ability, energy, or intuition. In reality, all effective leadership is about teamwork and many leaders would be more successful if they focused on marshalling the collective resources and insights of the team.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
Never be afraid to ask for help – simple as that, but it reflects, too, the wisdom of surrounding yourself with good people.
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?
I exploit every opportunity for professional development and I am very fortunate that Dublin City University calls out staff learning among our strategic priorities. I enjoy reading about strategy, listening to podcasts etc, but I get a lot of wisdom from the Harvard Business Review’s ‘Management Tip of the Day’ which, in a few lines, offers insights on a host of issues including leadership, but I find the advice on personnel matters and ‘wellness’ particularly helpful.