Susan HayesCulleton

Susan HayesCulleton, CFA, “The Positive Economist” is Managing Director of the Hayes Culleton Group, with clients across Europe and the USA. The company provides training, speaking and content development services, specialising in the financial markets, economics and entrepreneurship.

Susan is co-author of “Positive Economics”, the market-leading Leaving Cert economics textbook in Ireland, and she is the author of two books published by Penguin, The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom and The Savvy Guide to Making More Money. Susan is co-founder of #SavvyTeenAcademy, co-founder of, co-founder of Savvy Women Online, and an IIBN Ireland board member. Her latest venture, Global Irish BECKSearch is building a next generation, person-to-person knowledge sharing platform. This project is an Innovation Partnership with Dublin City University (DCU) and Enterprise Ireland. Susan holds a Chartered Financial Analyst charter, MSc Executive Leadership, BSc Financial Maths and Economics and a Diploma in Taxation.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

It absolutely can, subject to the condition that that student wants to become the master. Of course, there are natural leaders and yet I believe everybody can build their leadership skills, acumen and competence over time. In my case, I pursued an MSc Executive Leadership (at Ulster University with Irish Times Training and Boston College). Separately, I read a lot, seek insights from those whose leadership ability I admire, proactively ask for feedback all the time on my own leadership and of course, there isn’t any shortcut through experience.

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

Management is the assignment of resources to arrive at an outcome, leadership is positively influencing people to work together, pooling their collective resources to achieve an inspired vision. The latter takes a lot more rounded effort than the former. Management can be formulaic while leadership is contextual.

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?

Build them from the beginning. In my experience, you can’t accelerate the path to leadership with technical resources alone and you certainly can’t progress on it at all without a hungry attitude. Leadership is borne out of time spent across a breadth of experience, exposure to diversity of all kinds and building emotional intelligence at every single opportunity. That said, I don’t think a fast-changing world requires more leaders. We’ve always needed leaders and we always will. However, I believe leaders are more accessible than ever before and there are more channels to articulate feedback. Your perspective, attitude and actions will determine whether that’s an opportunity or challenge.

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

Getting stuck in an echo chamber. It’s easy to fall into a routine of talking, recruiting and selling to people who look the same as we do. One might also be inclined to mostly be in the company of those who agree with them. I believe this can be the death knell of promising leadership. I regularly seek out those who disagree with me and ask them to debate with me. I love listening to the views of our Savvy Teens as they’re immensely interesting and insightful. I travel frequently and immerse myself in the place where I am at that time and try to “live” there, even if for a few hours. I listen to podcasts that haven’t anything to do with our industry and I love watching documentaries. My vision, perspective or contribution on any matter is only that; mine. It’s immensely accessible in today’s world to find an unlimited range of sources to inform that view.

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

  • Accept it’s happening. The antithesis to resilience happens when expectations are above reality. Accept that the situation is happening, that consequences are likely to occur and that this may persist for a substantial time. It’s easier to deal with reality than constantly lose the battle with resilience-draining, unrealistic assumptions.
  • Look to other parts of your life for balance. In your mind’s eye, when you leave the situation (work, for example), put the pressure into a cupboard and place a chair up against it. Acknowledge that it will all fall out of the cupboard again when you go back to it and be present in the other area of your life (family, hobbies, holidays etc) to restore that resilience. Don’t go back to that metaphorical cupboard while you’re away from it as the pressure will spill all over your life.
  • Take time out regularly to recognise what you’re learning from the journey. Finding the meaning in the situation can simultaneously reveal the source of the persistence fuel you need to keep going.

What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

  • My favourite book about leadership is “The Leadership Pipeline” by Charan et al.
  • Political, sport and military documentaries are immensely educational, offer great contextual perspective and can stretch the mind.
  • Observe leadership; good and bad, present and absent, visibly and subtly; all around you. There can be leadership education in your home, in your community, on a flight, in a restaurant, in a school, on a sports field and in the most unlikely scenarios. Great leaders are everywhere; see through their common camouflage and when you recognise them, give them the recognition they deserve for teaching the rest of us.