Dermot Daly is a founder of Tapadoo, a leading app development agency in Dublin. He holds a BSc. From Dublin City University and has worked in software development roles in a number of companies, everything from startups to large corporates. In 2009, Dermot decided it was time to try and run his own company, so he started initially freelancing, offering development on the newly available iPhone SDK. Early in 2010, he hired his first employee, and the company has continued to grow since. In the intervening years, Tapadoo has developed some of Ireland’s most used apps including apps for Done Deal and Parking Tag and worked on medical device technology, fintech and telecommunications apps. Tapadoo has customers in Ireland, Europe, The Caribbean and USA.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
Fundamentally, I think leadership tends to be a personality trait. Leaders tend to gravitate towards leadership in a natural way. They have a tendency to let themselves be known to you. When I look at the team I lead now, I can see leaders emerge, and in many different ways. Leadership is a process of gaining the respect of your peers through action, rather than demanding it. It has a sense of ‘give respect get respect’ about it. When I mention that leadership emerges in different ways, I’m referring to the fact that a leader isn’t always just the person who stands apart because of their work. I regularly get a nice surprise to see this in the team. Someone may take it on board to organise a social event. Whilst they are getting to socialise with their colleagues, they are also encouraging closer bonds within the team; The social event tends to help the team as a whole. Someone else may offer to help when a new person joins, to help them settle in. Yet another may suggest improvements to how we work or introduce new tools or methods of getting our work done. The point I’m making is that leaders can be everywhere. The one key feature of a leader is that they don’t wait to be asked to lead – they assume the role; they take on tasks that aren’t strictly in their job definitions, where they see they can improve things for the larger group.
Can it be taught? I expect it can, although I still believe some people are comfortable being leaders and some are comfortable not being leaders. And this isn’t “one of these is better than the other” – they aren’t; just people are different. If I were trying to teach leadership I’d try to explain it in terms of what I’ve mentioned above. I think some people assume that leaders are aggressive, assertive alpha types, but this is not the case – anyone can be a leader if they want to be.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your career what advice would you give yourself?
Give it a go earlier! I worked in various jobs since graduating college; I learned something in each job; about the kind of places I like working and the kind of places I struggle to thrive in. But at some point in my career, I decided to try to start something myself. I’ve run my business for 9 years now, but I really feel I made the leap quite late (I was in my late 30s). I wish I’d tried to do this in my late 20s/early 30s.
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 think it is about starting early, in terms of education. When I consider school, there was so little emphasis put on what we wanted to be. In my time, I feel schools were very focused on either sports or academia and nothing else. This must be trying for those people who don’t see themselves as athletic or aren’t particularly academic. There’s lots and lots of careers out there that appeal to a wide variety of people; we need to start thinking about each individual getting the best from their own skillsets and interest. And some of these may want to start a business, but it is very unlikely that they know that, and it is rarely presented to them as an option.
Similarly, where I went to university, the focus was that the degree you got gave you a great start for joining the workforce; starting a business didn’t even cross my mind. I think we should be teaching students that gainful employment is one goal, but so too is running your own business. I also think it is interesting that the world is changing faster. If we look at this and consider Ireland for example at a macro level, we’ll see that in the 50s and 60s, Ireland had a lot of manufacturing jobs. These slowly moved to lower cost regions, however, it didn’t lead to mass unemployment. Generally, our workforce started to see more higher-value jobs instead; we have large software companies here, large banks, etc. However, this is continuing to change – software is a great example where we see competition from lower-cost areas, and at some point, Ireland will no longer be a large centre for software development. We would hope that this shift results in even more higher-value jobs being available here, but who knows? It’s up to our governments, universities and so forth to look ahead. And yes, in theory, this means the need for more leaders.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
The obvious one is Tim Cook. Apple remains steadfast in their focus on producing the best products they can. This often means making choices that some people think are incorrect, but Apple sticks to its guns. They’ve decided that by making great, uncompromised products, the profits will come (and they do!).
I also admire Jim Gavin, the Dublin GAA Manager. The Dublin team have enjoyed great success in recent times, however, there are a number of values instilled in the team that appear to come from Jim. Regularly, commentators and journalists point out how grounded and humble the team are. I believe this is something that Jim has instilled, or looked for in his players. This leads to being able to do things like have a 26 man squad, who are all playing to the same goal. They don’t complain about lack of game time; instead, they all take on their roles as part of the greater good of the team. By re-framing some players from “impact subs” or “substitutes” to “finishers” he’s changed the attitude towards those who start on the bench; It means when they come on late in a game, they have a job to do, and an hunger and enthusiasm to do so.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Strangely, I don’t necessarily recommend business books. I think they tend to be bland and full of clichés. And despite my mentioning of Jim Gavin above, I’m not a huge sports fan. However, I do recommend reading sports biographies; here’s why: sportspeople who excel are definitionally leaders; they typically have to ensure their team raise their game when times are tough. Biographies are often written after retirement, so business biographies can be based on a long career, whereas sports careers are short, so the information in them tends to be recent. They will always cover times of adversity and how the person dealt with it. But before you think about reading and learning, think about doing. Look for places where you can help (be that helping your class, your team, your family), If you build habits where you look to benefit those around you, you are building towards being a leader.