Eamon Stack, a native of Tralee, Co. Kerry is currently CEO of Enclude. He has been inspired by his late father, Austin Stack, the former Kerry County Secretary and Acting County Manager. Austin demonstrated his leadership by taking brave housing initiatives and being the founding father of Kerry Airport. Eamon has inherited his father’s default perspective of seeing the whole picture and acting in the interest of society over self.
After studying Computer Engineering at TCD, Eamon joined the Jesuits in 1983. He has held leadership roles during his 21 years in the Jesuits and since moving on in 2004 Eamon co-founded the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, Sli Eile [youth development project], Make Poverty History [Irish Campaign] 2005 and founded Enclude, Europe’s biggest technology charity, in 2006. Enclude currently has 23 staff.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
Everyone’s leadership potential can be nourished and developed through mentoring by other leaders and by challenging circumstances. Peter McVerry SJ, among others, inspired me in the Jesuits. His determination to champion the lot of homeless young men while retaining a deep rootedness in a spiritual reflective ground inspired me greatly. Paddy McGuinness, former Deputy CEO of Concern, mentored me to take on the transparency issue for charities by leading an ICT capacity building initiative.
Leadership can also be triggered by circumstance. I found myself working as a community development worker on the Garvaghy Road in 2004 when the conflict over the Drumcree Orange parade came to a head. I was sorely tempted to flee or to take a “mediator” role. However, due to the absence of a leader from the moderate nationalist side of the house, I chose to accept a leadership role as my community needed a leader. As the Drumcree crisis developed, this leadership role came with massive pressure. Ten people died, directly or indirectly, related to Drumcree crisis, including local neighbours of mine, our solicitor Rosemary Nelson, police officers, and three young children. Keeping myself rooted in value and vision in this crisis grew my leadership potential. Enduring leader’s skills, tested in fire, are strong and flexible.
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
Management is a daunting and complex role. It requires wide-ranging interdisciplinary skills: HR, finance, H&S, law, ICT, planning, strategy and leadership. You can manage without leadership, but effective leadership requires attention to the mundane matters of management. Leadership also requires vision, and disciplined attention and space to nourish that vision. Management tasks can persistently undermine attention to and nourishment of vision. Great leaders are rooted in vision.
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?
Leaders will emerge – they always do. However, the quality of leaders is our challenge. The failure of society to nourish and allow the leadership of women is one of society’s greatest failures and society suffers as a result. The institutional Catholic church gives a terrible example to society. I was a leader in that institution and this failure was one of the reasons I moved on. I believe a degree of social engineering is required to establish the required context for female leaders to emerge and claim their right place over weaker and less able leaders. I strongly support quotas in all management roles and political positions, for the next several decades, until a balance emerges.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
The grave mistake is the one and the oldest: to seek or hold on to a leadership position out of self-interest. The three great temptations of self-interest are power, wealth and prestige [ego]. At the core of Ignatian [Jesuit] spirituality is the struggle with this grave mistake. What Ignatian spirituality proposed is to aspire to the opposite to these temptations, to seek powerlessness, poverty and humility. When leadership is called for, you accept the role, but never out of self-interest. The virtue fostered in every Jesuit is a personal “indifference” to the leadership role. Peter McVerry SJ personifies this indifference. He has no personal wealth, he has no position of power and no one could say he champions the plight of homeless people out of self-interest. Every great leader needs to learn to resist the temptation to hold a leadership position out of self-interest. Every leader needs to learn the very hard lesson of indifference.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
Seek advice from trusted advisor or advisors. One of the great lessons I learned is to know that everything does not depend on me. I can make a great contribution to a situation as a leader, but ultimately there are multiple factors that contribute to success or failure and I cannot take responsibility for these factors out of my control. The same virtue of personal indifference can help to reduce tension “I can relax knowing it’s not all about me!”
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
If you do not have formal management training, you need to study. This would ideally be a masters in management or a combination of formal and informal management and leadership training. A manager does not need to be an expert in everything but does need to be on top of everything. I thoroughly enjoyed my management studies, and have delivered courses on Management Information Systems for an MA in Management in the Non-profit sector for several years. Never say, “I am not into IT” or “I am not a tech person”. No manager and leader in our contemporary world is worthy of the role without understanding the profound impact of digital information.
What leaders need is the ability to stop and reflect. Modern society has discovered psychology. Leveraging sound psychological support is vital for a leader. A good mentor, supervisor and even a psychotherapist enables the leader to stay focused on vision and manage the many distractions. Good therapy can nourish indifference and help us adjust when we fall to temptation. After 10 years at the helm of Enclude, I took a six month sabbatical. Other than watching, live and in person, a SpaceX rocket launch and land seven minutes later, I did few things. However, I attended regular psychotherapy sessions. A few weeks ago I received an email from another leader saying, “you are the best advertisement for a sabbatical”. This is because, since my return, I have rediscovered the leader in me, with enough vision to serve me for the next 5-10 years. Leaders mature with age and it is vital we do not burn-out too early and not give of our best.