Jennifer Kavanagh

Jennifer Kavanagh is a Lecturer in Law in Waterford Institute of Technology. She graduated with a PhD in Law from Trinity College. She is the author of Electoral Law in Ireland published by Bloomsbury Professional and recently published Constitutional Law in Ireland with Clarus Press.

She is a regular media contributor on issues of constitutional law, elections, referendums and general political commentary for Radio, TV and newspapers.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

The only way that leadership is taught is by trusting people to make decisions but mentoring them to give them different perspectives. Everyone has their own personality which makes their leadership style slightly different so there isn’t a rulebook or checklist for being true to yourself and therefore a good leader. However, if you can develop a mentoring relationship with another person who you would consider to be a leader and that knows you as an individual they can give you tips on how to do better and how to deal with problems that you haven’t come across before.

What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?

Management is based on processes but leadership is about inspiring people to be better in themselves. For example, you manage moving house. You get your boxes, you order your delivery vans and you make sure that everything gets to the right place in one piece. But with leadership you want people to be the best that they can be, to have self-confidence and to allow them to trust themselves in the decisions that they make. This can only be done by inspiring people to be the best that they can be.

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?

We make this happen by appreciating that everyone has their own story in life and that these individual stories can help with different perspectives. By gathering all these perspectives and working together we can create more communities and from this, we will have new leaders emerging. If we don’t appreciate individuals, independence and diversity we don’t have leaders we have people that force their views on us and that’s not a leader, it’s a dictator and they rule through fear which suppresses all the good qualities that make communities work for the good of everyone.

What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

Thinking that leadership is the same as knowing everything and not needing to show weakness. A leader isn’t necessarily a person that knows everything and never gets anything wrong. We are all only human and we only know so much so it is a sign of strength to be able to admit that you don’t know something and that you need to check information. It is also a sign of strength to say sorry. We all get things wrong, we all make mistakes. There is too much damage caused by people not owning up to their mistakes. If we can say that we got something wrong, own our mistakes and learn from them we would have better leaders.

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. We don’t know everything and we won’t get everything right the first time. Also if a situation is getting too much, it’s perfectly okay to take some time out. Go get a coffee and just stop thinking. You need to give yourself headspace so you can see the solution. It’s like a tricky jigsaw puzzle. The one piece that you are looking for can jump right out at someone else because they have space. Also, it is really important to look after your mental health. People can take on too much to be seen as strong leaders and they damage themselves by taking on too much stress. You should have a group of people around you that want to support you and you should feel confident to call on them to help.

What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

Personally, I don’t recommend these resources as you can end up copying someone else leadership style and you forget to be you. You can’t be a true leader if you are only copying someone else. However, I would recommend that people follow the news from reputable sources so that they are aware of what is going on in the world. You can also see how the current world leaders are dealing with situations rather than reading an autobiography of someone that is probably well edited to show the best side of an individual rather than all the aspects. Anyone who wants to be a leader should have a good awareness of history. We will never know where we are going if we don’t know where we came from.