Mike Feerick

Mike Feerick is CEO & Founder of Alison, the world’s largest free learning platform for basic education and workplace skills. Alison is revolutionizing global access to education and employment opportunity. Founded in 2007, Alison is credited as being the first massive free learning platform worldwide and is inspired by Article 26, UN Human Rights Declaration which states that “education shall be free”.

Mike is an internationally recognised social entrepreneur receiving awards from UNESCO (2010), Ashoka (2011), and WISE (2013) and the World Economic Forum (2016). Based in Ireland, Mike founded and chairs the Irish international Diaspora Programme (Ireland Reaching Out). He holds degrees from the University of Limerick, Ireland, (BBS 89) and Harvard University (MBA 94).

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said: “you cannot create character or courage by frustrating the act of initiative”. Character and courage are essential to leadership. If you do not have character, few will follow you, and if you do not have courage, you will lead no one any distance, so the fostering of taking personal initiative is key. The first step in fostering initiative is to encourage personal leadership, i.e. to encourage people to make decisions for themselves. Only when someone can lead themselves where they want to go, can they ever be capable or successful in leading others. To teach leadership, therefore, is to first foster the taking of initiative.

Initial steps may be small and they almost always are. However, the taking of initiative once leads to the taking of initiative twice and so on. Teaching leadership begins with the giving of freedom to others to take initiative on actions however small. This starts in the classroom, on the field of sport, within family dynamics. Allowing individuals to take decisions, however small, and then encouraging them to be accountable for the decisions made. Leadership can be taught, but it is a process more of bringing the leadership capability to life from within someone’s character rather than ever trying to build it in from the outside.

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

Management is essentially the optimisation of what already exists, whilst leadership is the optimisation of what might 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 education free to everyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere on any subject and every level in every language. If we do that, the leadership of mankind will take care of itself. Only 7% of the world’s population have ever attended college. We need to make this 100% so that ignorance has no place in leading our world.

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

To take a time-out, however brief, to step outside and smell some roses, and realise that no matter how poor the circumstances, good resolutions are possible, that time changes all situations, no matter how inflexible they might appear to be, and that nearly always, we take ourselves, our work, and those around us far too seriously and should laugh at ourselves from time to time. As the famous biblical quote says “It too will pass”.