John Hegarty is a former Wexford footballer and hurler who played at intercounty level for 12 years as well as winning the Sigerson Cup (with UCD) and Railway Cup (with Leinster). Despite having no background in politics, he received the highest number of first preference votes recorded in County Wexford in his first local election. Now in his second term, he has served as Chairman of Gorey district on 3 separate occasions. He had responsibility for the implementation of the Gathering in Co Wexford in 2013 which culminated in bringing an eternal flame from the grave of JFK in Arlington Cemetery, Washington to the quayside in New Ross and the subsequent visit of 50 members of the extended Kennedy family to County Wexford.
He is currently Cathaoirleach of Wexford County Council and leads the campaign to have Wexford designated as Ireland’s premier healthy county. He is deputy principal of an all-boys secondary school (650 students) and is a regular speaker on the process of restorative practices in second level education. He is married to Karina and they have four children aged 9, 7, 4 and 4 months old.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
It is important to remember that nobody is a great leader on day one. Everyone has leadership potential within them but they must tune into that part of themselves for it to emerge. While I’m not sure that “learned” or “taught” are the right words for it, leadership can certainly be modelled, moulded, encouraged and refined as long as the person is willing to bring enthusiasm, energy and a willingness to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses on an ongoing basis.
What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
For me, it all comes down to emotional involvement. A good manager will manage situations, events, places or processes. A good leader leads people. They will exude confidence, belief and inspire those around them. This can only happen when you absolutely believe in what you are doing and have an attachment to those you are working with.
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?
Give them opportunities to lead. Great leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. Listen to any elite sports coaches talk about their leadership group among the players or on-field leaders and you will see why this process of encouraging new leaders is so vital for success. Start with clearly defined, achievable leadership opportunities and watch the leaders emerge.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
It’s mostly around control and knowing when is the right time to step back, distribute responsibility and share the leadership load. There are always other ways to get there. Use the input of others, share the leadership load and everyone involved is elevated.
What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?
Before looking at any high-pressure situation, it is imperative that you know and feel comfortable with your internal self, your background, beliefs and approach. Then figure out the ideal outcome you would like in this situation. Then working from there, invest your energy, focus and abilities to the situation in line with this. Give it your very best shot, using the best available information while always remaining true to yourself. This way, you can look at yourself in the mirror and have no regrets regardless of the outcome.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Engage and communicate with the people you meet on a daily basis, especially those who regularly deal with leadership, either as leaders or as those working with leaders. Evaluate their methods against your own style. There is always something to be noted (positive or negative). Similarly, seek out and observe leaders who inspire you and carefully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Only read the work of people who are current and active in their field. E.g. “Win always” by NFL Coach Pete Carroll as opposed to those who are long since finished, as they sometimes write the narrative to suit the outcome. There are also so many really insightful Ted Talks that there is something for all the various types of leaders to be found there.