As a well-known communications expert in Ireland and overseas, Orlaith’s day job is working with leaders in the world’s top companies delivering executive training programmes, and preparing leadership teams for frontline communications. As a keynote speaker she has addressed Ireland’s most influential business people, networks and political groups, and has also presented at conferences in the USA, UAE, Canada and throughout Europe. She is the author of the recent bestselling book, Perform As a Leader.
Following a career as a broadcast journalist with RTÉ, Orlaith became a serial entrepreneur, and is the Managing Director of Gavin Duffy & Associates, which specializes in communications training and leadership development. She is a director of a number of SMEs in media, recruitment and education, and she served on the board of RTÉ from 2010 to 2015. She is a founder member of the Irish Chapter of EO, the worldwide Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, and was President 2014/15. She was recently appointed Chair of the Board of HCCI. Orlaith has an MA from DCU and also studied Journalism at DIT. She is a Fellow of the Irish Institute of Training and Development and a Certified Management Consultant.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
Some people discover a leadership ability early in life – they find themselves at the head of the class or team, realise they enjoy that position, and go on to achieve other leadership milestones as their life and career progresses. They are often achievers and doers, the kind of people you expect to see leading a business or running for public office. Others come to leadership later, often because circumstances force them to take action. So they are not looking to lead, per se, they are looking to make a difference, to right a wrong, to effect change. Their conviction and purpose inspires others and often it is this impulse that creates the greatest leaders the world has seen. So is leadership a muscle or a gene? Personally, I think it is a muscle, and one that has to be flexed in order for it to develop.
When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?
I work with a lot of senior executives who are looking to develop ‘executive presence’ or gravitas, that certain something that sets some people apart; a set of noticeable qualities and attitudes that make others think they should be fast-tracked, or put on the management path. You get a chance to show what you are made of at certain points in the working day, and this is long before you ever get to the interview board for the promotion! How you contribute to those meetings you attend every day says something about you, and is noted by people around you. Do you chair a meeting effectively? Make a presentation that people really enjoy and understand? Conduct a negotiation that brings results? Pitch for and win new business? Coach your team effectively? Contribute positively to the organisation beyond the job description? These are the areas where real leadership potential is demonstrated clearly for all to see.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
Never to sell ‘at’ clients, but to constantly ask them how they are getting on, what they are trying to achieve, and how we can help. We are in the business of supporting people, teams and companies to be the best they can be, so I expect that of my own team.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
We are adapting and changing all the time as the needs of the organisations we work with change. We recently rebranded and pivoted our training and developing offering to meet those needs. The work we are doing today is in some ways very similar to what we were doing twenty years ago, but the people we are working with and the landscape in which they work has changed dramatically. Therefore we have to keep looking, learning, and listening to what they tell us.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
A leader I admired immensely was Tom Suddes, who sadly passed away recently. He ran an organisation called For Impact, and he taught thousands of people in the area of Social Entrepreneurship to run their businesses in a more dynamic way, resulting in billions of dollars being raised for philantrophic work. He was a prolific writer, and was so generous with his material, always publishing his ideas on his website for anyone to help themselves to. He made a lasting impression on everyone who met him.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Well I have to recommend my own book and courses, don’t I? 🙂
Perform as A Leader (Ballpoint Press) is a very accessible read and is very instructional if you want to improve your own skills in public speaking, dealing with the media, pitching, negotiating and so on. These areas are where the performance of leadership is showcased, and indeed judged, and well worth working on. Our website is www.