Stephen Cluskey is an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDx and public speaker, disability advocate and everything in between. Having suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury at the tender age of just 18, which left Stephen paralysed from the neck down, he has since gone on to achieve, in a short time, more than most would in a lifetime. Stephen has graduated with an honours business degree, co-founded his current company Mobility Mojo, started 2 other award-winning businesses and 1 social enterprise, advocated on behalf of disabled people, spoken in front of large crowds, been appointed to a government body by the Irish Prime Minister, changed regulations at the top level, helped secure more than €3 million to put more wheelchair taxis on Irish roads, designed an IFTA nominated nationally broadcasted TV show, travelled the world and much more. The great Sir Richard Branson even wrote an article about Stephen and how he has inspired him.
He offers a very unique, positive perspective on life, challenging individuals to realise that almost anything is possible with the right will and determination. Stephen is the recipient of multiple business and social entrepreneurship awards.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I think so. I don’t think it’s easy and I think personality type has a lot to do with it, but if you surround yourself with the right people then there’s a good chance you could pick up many of the required traits. I’m a big sports fan and if you look at someone like Sir Alex Ferguson, who led 3 generations of teams over nearly 30 years, quite a number of those players have since gone into management. An unusually high amount compared to ex-players from other teams. I’ve read that leadership is the ability to make dreams a reality at the grassroots level, and I think Sir Alex epitomises this. Some are born with leadership, and others develop it over time I believe. I’m learning lots about this at the moment. A study was done into the most successful people in the world and all of them are constantly learning and upskilling. They call it the five-hour rule – dedicating a minimum of five hours per week to reading. There are so many great resources out there in the area of leadership. TED talks, conferences likely Pendulum Summit recently in Dublin, and people like Simon Sinek who has written a couple of great books on the subject. That’s what I mean about personality type – if people are motivated to look, all the resources are there.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
Don’t lose sight of the vision. Our vision is to be the beacon for what an accessible world could be and we want to open up travel experiences for everyone. More than 50% of people with disabilities won’t travel for fear of something going wrong and we want to change that. This is the driving force behind everything we do. It’s easy to get consumed with day-to-day tasks but remembering why you are doing what you are doing is so important. I would ask them to work hard and to keep moving towards fulfilling this vision.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
We are innovating constantly. Mobility Mojo has changed a huge amount of things in only the last three or four months, and we’re very excited about where things are going. We always have an eye to the future, particularly because the travel industry is changing so quickly, with technology playing a key role. Regulations regarding accessibility are moving forward as well which is very positive. We have plans in place for the next three years and a big part of that is using technology, some of which is available today but not mainstream enough to be viable at the moment. We can see the bigger picture with this (I think anyway!). Very difficult to imagine how things will be in 10 years’ time so by being flexible and adaptable now hopefully we will still be relevant in 10 years time.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
I was fortunate enough to spend time with the great Richard Branson recently, who for me, is one of the greatest leaders in the world. We had about an hour together and it was such a privilege just to be in his presence. He spoke about changing the way people travel with the Hyperloop, and about his ambitions for space, and that’s an indication as to why I have such admiration for him. His vision for improving humanity, his ambition, and his unwillingness to settle for average. What he has achieved to date in his life is almost beyond compare, and to hear him speak so passionately about still trying to change the world is what a great leader is about. I’m also hugely inspired by Barack Obama. The obstacles he had to overcome at almost every stage of his life, and then to go on to become the first African-American president of the US, just incredible. His grace, his demeanour, his ability to shape a message and speak so eloquently about things. The way he handled his critics. It’s hard not to have huge admiration for the man. His achievements are even more astonishing considering what’s happening in the US today with the divisiveness and new ‘leadership’ (I use that term very loosely). The best US president of my lifetime by a long way and an incredible leader.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your career what advice would you give yourself?
Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise! Both professionally and privately. So much time can be wasted on things which actually don’t add a huge amount of value to what you are doing, and with the business, we’ve found that by having very specific priorities, this really helps with making progress. You can prioritise daily tasks, larger weekly tasks, monthly and even yearly tasks. I’ve used this on a personal level also. For the past three years, I’ve set personal goals each year which are ranked in priority of importance. The other bit of advice, which we’re still learning, is that it’s just as important to say no as to say yes. This relates to prioritising. We are starting to get asked to do a lot of different things – give talks, interviews, attend business events, workshops, and to be honest if we said yes to everything we’d have no time to do anything with the business! It’s difficult to say no but I think in the end, you will be respected the same, if not more, for saying no.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Like I mentioned before, Simon Sinek has a couple of fantastic books in this area. “Leaders eat Last” is a particular favourite. TED talks are brilliant for this and youtube it is the way to find these. Branson’s book “Like a Virgin” and “The Virgin Way” are two other great resources. There is also a fantastic book called “Influence” by Robert Cialdini which has more of a psychology angle but superb nonetheless.
So many to choose from!