Donal O’Shea qualified from University College Dublin in 1989 and then moved to Hammersmith Hospital in London. He completed research with Professor Stephen Bloom on how the brain controls appetite. Donal then moved to his current position establishing the first hospital-based multidisciplinary treatment unit for the management of adult obesity in the country. He is a member of the Department of Health policy group on obesity established in 2011 and chaired a group carrying out a health impact assessment on the potential benefits and harms of a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. He has presented to the EU Ministers for Health and the Director General of the WHO on the importance of prevention of childhood obesity. Donal’s specific research interests are in gender issues as well as obesity and he has published over 200 research papers. A regular on Operation Transformation, he recently took up his role as National lead for management of obesity in Ireland with the HSE.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I think leadership can be learned not taught. You can teach ABOUT leadership, but that’s like a subject. To actually lead you must have an appetite for the goal you are involved in the pursuit of. Then you need to accept doing what you can to achieve that – for many that will involve leading in some shape or form. It is only then that you start to look at different types of leaders and learn from them what might work for you.
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
They are complementary. Management is about organising the personalities, structures and processes to allow a goal to be realised. Leadership is about having the vision of what that goal is and communicating it effectively so that everyone is aiming for the same thing. You need both to achieve and maintain the best outcome.
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?
More leaders are not necessarily the answer. We need alternative views of what matters in the world we live in – clearly and consistently articulated. This has the potential to impact on the rate of change in the world around us. How do we make this happen? – We get people to focus on what it means to be alive on our wonderful planet. That will soon have the antics of much of politics and most of industry seen for the distractions they are. Then we can start to slow down.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Gradually falling into the trap that it is as much about themselves as it is about the area they are leading in. That’s the point at which a leader should step back.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
The body’s response to high pressure is primitive – stress hormone production. There are pressure points in every aspect of one’s life – personal, professional and private. It is essential to prioritise – many people can cope with work pressures once things at home are good. It is important to know that you will always have a dominant stress – and the body’s response doesn’t differentiate between its origin. You are coping all the time – just keep doing 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?
I loved “Plato at the Googleplex – Why Philosophy won’t go away” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, “The Little Book of Philosophy”- Andre Comte-Sponville and “Planet Earth – The David Attenborough Series” is amazing for learning the lessons of leadership from nature.