Mary Harney held a number of different ministerial positions in the Irish Government for 18 years, including Environmental Protection, Industry, Trade, Research & Innovation and Health. She was Deputy Prime Minister for 10 years. She retired from politics in 2011 and now acts as a consultant and is involved in several charitable organisations.
She is an independent director of several companies, including Biocon Ltd. (India), Leaseplan Insurance (Dutch, but based in Dublin) and Diona Technology (Ireland), and is chair of the Pharmed Group (Ireland) and of Videodoc (UK/Ireland). Until her appointment as Chancellor of the University of Limerick In January 2018 she was Chair of Amber (Advanced Materials and Bio-engineering Research Centre) in Trinity College Dublin. She also chairs a European-wide initiative on Sustainable Healthcare and is a board member of the Irish Hospice Foundation and of the European Board of Vital Voices.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
This is a frequently asked question and I think that it’s rather complex -some display leadership qualities at a very young age by taking the initiative to make something happen when others are still wondering what to do. The essence of leadership is that someone makes a difference -has an impact. I think that the skills required can be honed and learned from others, particularly if one operates on a team where the leader inspires others to be achievers and to be prepared to overcome the fear of failure.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
I believe that no one is indispensable and therefore every organisation must have people who can rise to the challenge of leadership at short notice -succession planning and mentoring colleagues is essential in today’s world where both the pace and magnitude of change is immense. I believe in a collaborative style of leadership and therefore the challenge is to develop the skills necessary to be able to take charge. My advice would be to have the confidence in your abilities.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
In the various companies that I work with today, I emphasise the importance of having a culture that embraces all the positives that come from diversity. I also ensure that we harness and develop the skills set of our staff to reach their potential and prepare them to be capable of adapting frequently to the changing dynamics.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
I admire people who succeed against the odds -like Barack Obama but also people who are innovative and create successful global enterprises like Martin Naughton (Glen Dimplex) and the Collison brothers (Stripe). A woman I admire greatly is Sr Stanislaus Kennedy who has devoted her life to the poor and underprivileged.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your career what advice would you give yourself?
I don’t have any career regrets but I would advise someone to follow their dreams and only choose and pursue a career that you enjoy. In today’s world, you need to embrace and lead change. Remain calm in a crisis and set goals for yourself.
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 personally enjoy reading autobiographies and biographies of successful people.