Stephanie O’Malley

Stephanie O’Malley is Founder, CEO and Educational Psychologist of Education DESTY® Limited a multi-award winning social enterprise aimed at growing children’s emotional resilience by providing training and practical tools to strengthen their relationships with key supportive adults in their lives such as parents, carers and educators. She has lectured and delivered workshops in colleges and universities across the world including University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), Hampshire Foster Carer Network and University of Colorado.

In the past year, Stephanie has trained over 300 DESTY Mentors to deliver the DESTY Emotional Resilience Programme in Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, Dubai, New Zealand and Canada.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

I think leadership is inspired in others as opposed to taught to them. The process of becoming a leader involves self-awareness, courage, openness to change, self-discipline and living from principles and true values among many other things. All of these elements can be taught but the will to learn them and to become a true leader requires inspiration and mentorship from the great leaders of the world who may be living or dead.

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

I believe leadership involves management and the primary form of management is self-management. As mentioned above, living by principles, the courage and openness to change, learning from others and developing self-awareness and self-discipline are key to developing leadership skills.

The best leaders are those who lead by example and bring out leadership qualities in every member of their team or organisation regardless of their role. When leadership is encouraged and inspired in others it leads them to self-manage and if the vision and mission of the company are clear then this can lead to less of a need to ‘manage’ people and more of a need to empower and encourage members of the team to reach that vision and achieve the mission.

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?

Each and every one of us has the responsibility to acknowledge and own our ability to lead and to live a life that inspires others to find the leader in their lives. We all need to be brave, to step out of our comfort zone, to spend time clarifying our values and living them. We need to show that anyone from anywhere can be a leader and inspire others. This is a critical time and the duty belongs to everyone to show that in every action and interaction we can live a life that is true to our principles even if others don’t always agree. Mentoring and supporting others to know themselves and to be true to themselves is what is needed but, again, I believe this is taught largely by example.

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

I think sometimes leadership is confused with the idea of controlling others which, in my opinion, is the exact opposite of leadership. True leaders listen deeply to understand others so they know how to bring out the best in them. In times of stress, in particular, I think leaders default to controlling and directing more than listening and collaborating which often leads to team members feeling isolated and disempowered. This can lead to the loss of a company’s most valuable assets which are the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and contributions of team members.

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

There are many tools to employ when dealing with high-pressure situations. I use mindfulness and meditation on a regular basis as proactive and preventative measures to increase my capacity to respond rather than react to pressure at home and work. When dealing directly with a challenging situation or person I pause and bring to mind some of the wisest people I know and at that moment I ask ‘What would a wise person do here?’ This question has helped me respond rather than react to so many situations as it draws out an inner wisdom that comes from far beyond me. It is simple, easy to do and a priceless tool! I also love Stephen Covey’s model of the circle of concern and circle of influence. The circle of concern are things that bother me but which I have no control or influence over. The circle of influence relates to the things that impact on me but where I can do something about these things. When faced with a difficult situation that is draining my energy I ask myself whether this is in my circle of concern or influence. If it is in my circle of concern I name it as that and try to let it go. If I recognise that this is something I can do something about, so it lies within my circle of influence, then I work out what I can do and try to act on that. I think this is a wonderful model that is very simple and effective but not always easy to do!

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 have been heavily influenced by the work of Stephen Covey (7 habits and the 8th habit). I believe he truly understood what it took to inspire and take care of others, to be of service and to lead by example. His work is challenging to implement but it provides an excellent framework and guide for the leadership journey. I also read the work of John O’Donohue, poet and mystic, on a regular basis. In particular, his poem from the book ”Benedictus” called ”For a Leader” inspires and challenges me on a daily basis.