Mari Cahalane

Mari Cahalane is Head of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and is the national organiser for EUCYS 2018. Now in its 55th year, the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) has been organised by BT for almost 19 years. Mari’s role as head of the project is a year-round round role looking after the development and delivery of all aspects of BTYSTE on an ongoing basis. She has the overall responsibility for the fundraising, project management and event management of the project end to end and is also the direct liaison with partners, judges, board and internally at BT.

Prior to her involvement in BTYSTE Mari held a number of roles in BT including Head of Sponsorship and Events for BT in Ireland and also Head of Events in Europe for BT Ignite. She was also PR & Events Manager, Ocean Communications on her return to Ireland in 1998 from the UK. Mari holds a diploma in Marketing and Sales from Dublin Business School and in December 2015 was named one of 10 bright sparks igniting STEM communities in Ireland in Silicon Republic and in the same publication earlier that year was named one of the Top 100 Irish Women in STEM. In 2018 Mari was named as one of the 33 pipelines protectors by Silicon Republic.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

There are so many leadership programmes and they are very good to ensure that people can focus and learn key attributes of a good leader. But more important in my opinion, is that good leadership comes from hands-on experience and gaining insight and skills throughout your life. We do that by giving young people a platform called the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition which enables students to begin a leadership journey for life. They gain so many essential skills by working on a project like how to collaborate with others, how to think critically, how to work as a project manager and how to communicate their idea to the judges and the general public which helps to boost self-confidence and a can-do attitude – all essential leadership skills!

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

There is quite a bit of crossover between the two and if an organisation is run effectively, leadership and management will exist in tandem. A leader innovates and paves the way for new ideas, while a manager organises work-flow of those ideas and makes sure all goes according to plan. Leaders are followed because of their attitude, personality and behaviour. They need to be able to inspire a team to feel included, to be passionate and believe about what they are working on, whereas managers are followed because they are an authority figure appointed to oversee a process chain and make sure teams are hitting targets.

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?

The pace of change is really unprecedented; in 2016 the World Economic Forum said that we are now in the 4th wave industrial revolution. This fast-paced revolution will see next immediate generations of the workforce be part of lots of different companies and have many varying roles and jobs throughout careers. We are beginning to see lots of new occupations being created, see old roles become obsolete and will see jobs created that do not exist today. The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and initiatives like this need to be part of building capacity for Ireland in the future workforce. High interaction with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), learning through education and hands-on approach is essential for the future of Ireland. We need to work together as a country and as a society to futureproof our future generations of leaders so they are adaptable and agile to meet this task.

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

The main mistakes leaders make is not trusting those people around them and not delegating to those that have more specific skills. Another mistake is that they are not agile in their approach or adaptable so that they miss opportunities.

What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?

Take a deep breath and relax, you will never solve an issue if you are wound up and highly stressed! Look at the task/situation you are faced with and look at it as a series of tasks and not as one big issue. By looking at an issue in this way, you can quickly see what is working and what is not and you are able to solve the problem in a much quicker and more successful way. Personally for me, trusting your gut, yourself and the skills that you honed over your life is essential to deal with high-pressure situations. One important and maybe the most underutilised leadership skill and one that can be seen as a weakness is how and when to ask for help, it is amazing how a little help can make you see with more clarity and focus.

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

Life experience is the best resource a person can have and talking and interacting with leaders will only hone your skills. As regards, people that I have been most impressed with lately these include Barack Obama, Richard Branson and our own Julie Sinnamon from Enterprise Ireland.