Noelle O’Connell

Noelle O’Connell was appointed Executive Director of European Movement Ireland in April 2011. Prior to leading European Movement Ireland, Noelle provided business development training, education and public affairs consultancy to a wide variety of both private and public sector clients. She held management consultancy positions in Accenture, headed up the Training, Education and Development function of the Construction Industry Federation, and was formerly a Director on the Board of Skillnets.

Noelle also has significant experience in the co-operative and third-level sectors and holds an MSc in International & European Politics from the University of Edinburgh and a BA Hons in European Studies and Languages from UCC. She is a Fellow of the Irish Institute of Training and Development, a member of the CIPD and the Institute of Directors of Ireland, and is also a member of the Board of Alliance Française Ireland.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

Leadership can be taught. Or at least, some of the crucial skills that underpin effective leadership can be. But as with anything, there is a certain amount of on-the-job learning. Many of our best leaders have excelled through experience. For me, it’s a long process of honing your skills, learning from experience and taking guidance from others. It’s important to always continually seek to improve and learn from others; sometimes you learn from observing those that are not as good leaders as others.

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

It’s a truism, but leaders lead, while managers manage. Management is effectively a function of planning and delivery, while leadership moves beyond that to inspire and bring people along with you. But I do believe that leadership and management go hand-in-hand. For any organisation to be successful those two functions must work in harmony.

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?

Mentoring is crucial. While embedding leadership skills – clear communication, strategic planning, organisational skills – into our education system is incredibly valuable, using our own experience to foster growth and ambition in future leaders is the most powerful tool we have. Also creating a supportive culture and ‘paying it forward,’ is vital.

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

A failing that I come across more than others is an inability to listen and engage with critical feedback. An important part of our work in European Movement Ireland is engaging with the public about Europe in a constructively critical way. We deal with all sectors of society, from school children to industry leaders. For us, this is as much of a listening exercise as an opportunity to provide guidance and leadership on Irish and European affairs. If you close the door to feedback, both positive and negative, you are also closing the door on potential growth and opportunities for your organisation to evolve.

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

The greatest advice I can give is to not be afraid to seek help or guidance from others. I’m fortunate enough to work with a team that I trust and I’m lucky enough to have a strong support network of family and friends. I always encourage people to not be hesitant when approaching others for help. It should not be perceived as a potential sign of weakness, but rather a signal that you are strong enough to recognise the value in the experience and perspective of others.

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 love the Women in Leadership podcast, run by Irish journalist Angie Mezzetti. It’s really inspirational and makes me feel incredibly optimistic about how many cracks we’re making in the glass ceiling. The IMI leadership podcast – some of the TED Talks as well. I’m a big fan of podcasts. I also try and read the Harvard Business Review, as its approach to leadership and strategy is accessible and engaging. But, as I mentioned before, learning from your peers is as important as anything else. I advise people to go to as many networking events as possible and build out their address book with people they can bounce ideas off. Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way.