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sue cox
Sue Cox is a Learning and Development Consultant and a Tango dancer.  She has worked extensively with the public and not-for-profit sectors as well as the corporate world and has developed and led social inclusion projects across the UK. She is interested in how we develop our own potential and how we connect better with others in order to be more effective in our organisations and relationships. She will be a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference on 8 October 2015 IMI: Based on your current work – if you only had 6 words of advice to give a business - what would they be?

SC: Want better leadership? Develop your followership.

IMI: What does this mean? SC: Many organisations invest heavily in developing and recognising good leadership but give little or no thought to actively cultivating good followership. Leadership is, by definition, a relational process however there is no leadership unless there is a leader/follower dynamic. When we focus only on developing leadership, we give visibility and importance to one aspect only, neglecting the contribution of followership and the untapped potential of the relationship between the two.  How much do we lose by doing so? A powerful illustration of what this looks like in practice can be seen in Argentine Tango. There is a misconception in Tango that the leader is in control and the follower is relatively passive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tango is complex, improvised and co-created in the moment and it depends entirely on the leader/follower dynamic.  Good followership amplifies and strengthens leadership; good leadership maximises the followers’ contribution. The quality of their connection elevates the whole dance to a greater level of performance. Misconceptions about leadership and followership are seen as often in the boardroom as they are in the ballroom. If you want to release potential in your organisation and be resourceful and creative in the way you respond to change and opportunity, the challenge is to develop everybody’s ability as both leader and follower, so that each can play their full part in co-creating the dance. IMI: Where should we look for further information? SC: Visit my website at 


Sue Cox spoke at the IMI National Management Conference on Thursday 8 October. This event has now reached maximum capacity however if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please email your contact details and company name to [post_title] => "Want better leadership? Develop your followership" Six Word Wisdom from Sue Cox [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => want-better-leadership-develop-followership-six-word-wisdom-sue-cox [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:42:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:42:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 22610 [post_author] => 80 [post_date] => 2018-04-05 09:27:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-05 09:27:06 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_22612" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Jack Welch was CEO of GE for 20 years. In a changing world, is he still the model for leadership? Jack Welch was CEO of GE for 20 years. In a changing world, is he still the model for leadership?[/caption]   When discussing the challenges facing business leaders it seems almost de rigeur nowadays to talk about the level of change organisations are facing. The challenge to equip leaders to build the future in these uncertain times is certainly daunting, with seismic geopolitical shifts (in this context the Trump administration seems to be the gift that keeps on giving), disruptive technological change (how many of us even fully understand the implications of bitcoin, blockchain and whatever new technology will be unleashed on us next) and even severe climate and weather events. The very ubiquitous nature of these challenges may however inure us to their real potential as both a threat and an opportunity to affect a true paradigm shift in how we view leadership, a classic case of an issue being undervalued through overuse. . The Concept of Leadership From the perspective of the 21st century the development of our concept of leadership is a little clearer than it may have been in the past.  From this remove we can see how the largely male, heroic models of leadership have greatly influenced the literature and teaching in this field. The business leaders who are most often cited, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs etc. are broadly from a similar mould and the models of leadership, with the exception of Servant Leadership (as a servant leader you put the needs of others, particularly team members, before you even consider your own, but how many executives really model themselves on this type of leadership?) extol an assertive, confident, out-going and mainly extroverted style. In fact, the Myers Briggs type most associated with leadership is the ENTJ (extraversion, intuition, thinking, judgment), which is described as the ‘general’, again exposing the military underpinnings of the leadership canon. We can clearly see this bias in the continuing popularity of books like Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people”, the pseudoscience of NLP and programmes that teach executives how to create the right ‘impression’. Given the genesis of the leadership concept it is understandable that people might misconstrue the notion of leadership presence as the ability to impose oneself (and influence people), but there is real hope that we are about to experience a genuine shift in the paradigm. . Unhappy Influencers [caption id="attachment_22617" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Richard Boyatzis studied how leaders influence those around them Richard Boyatzis studied how leaders influence those around them and how that effected their lives and careers[/caption] . Recent research conducted by Richard Boyatzis and colleagues from Case Western Reserve University examined the relationship between the extent to which people adopted an ‘influencing’ leadership style and their later satisfaction with both their careers and their life in general.  Interestingly they found a very strong negative correlation between these factors, i.e. the more people adopted an influence style the less satisfied they were with their careers and lives. Boyatzis and colleagues did not have an objective measure of career success, so one could still argue that the ‘influencers’ did better in their careers, but Boyatzis’ research does tell us that irrespective on how well an outsider might judge your career progress, the ‘influencers’ are less happy about their situation.  The researchers concluded that those who adopt an influencing style are pushing on their environment and trying to get more from others, e.g. they tend to show a high need to control social situations. The crux of the problem, especially in the context of a VUCA world, is that pushing on or trying to control an environment that is in a constant state of flux, verging on chaos is unlikely to be very effective and will certainly lead to people being highly dissatisfied and unhappy in their work and indeed their lives. Now would be the perfect time for the leadership movement to learn the lessons of evolutionary psychology that success in a changing environment falls to the most adaptable, those who can outlearn their competition.   The Adaptable Generation This will require a cadre of new leaders who are less ego-identified with success and winning, who don’t see problems as opportunities to impose themselves and demonstrate mastery of the environment. Rather we will see the emergence of leaders who can go with the flow, adapt to new realities quickly, work through and with others as either leader or follower and pivot gracefully as cherished paradigms fall away and hard-earned experience proves ineffective as a guide to new problems. There is no doubt that the idea of women in leadership is in the current zeitgeist and may or may not create a fundamental shift in how we see leadership in the future.  I am however hopeful, that as the new model emerges we will see less emphasis on the old machismo of the ability to impose oneself on others and on the environment and more emphasis on the willingness to adapt, change and ‘flow’ with emerging realities. Bruce Lee used to tell his students to ‘be like water’, perhaps that is not a bad metaphor for what leaders will need to become.   imi-colm-foster-810Dr Colm Foster is Director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute. He has acted as a leadership development consultant to organisations in the US, Asia and Ireland, particularly specialising in Emotional Intelligence. The next IMI Diploma in Leadership starts on 2nd May, 2018. [post_title] => 21st Century Leadership: The Shifting River [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 21st-century-leadership-shifting-river [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-09 13:19:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-09 13:19:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 14869 [post_author] => 82 [post_date] => 2016-05-05 15:33:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-05-05 15:33:35 [post_content] =>

Ergo is one of Ireland’s leading IT service providers. In this IMI interview, Ergo CEO John Purdy shares insights into his approach to developing leadership and talent within a fast-changing business.

John Purdy Chief Executive Officer Ergo.

How important is leadership to Ergo’s growth?

It’s everything. If we’re going to require of people that they work hard, then we’ve got to work hard. The other day, I got up at 5.30am to go to London with four colleagues for a meeting, and I pulled into my driveway at 10pm that night. I don’t expect other people to do that and me not to. We’ve got to bring all of the team with us. It’s certainly not a style within Ergo where the pressure is passed down. There’s more pressure on my management team than on anybody else in the business.

When you think about talent, what stands out most for you?

In our canteen, there’s a chart tracking the changes since we started 23 years ago, with the milestones of big customer wins, technology shifts or acquisitions. We never settle on our laurels. So, the people we hire have to be used to constant change. Although you hire for domain expertise, I would prefer someone joining the business with aligned DNA than being the best expert in their domain. We refreshed our values 18 months ago and developed the idea of One Ergo, where there are no heroes and no villains. If we’re going after a piece of work, we all go together. I describe it as five of us jumping out of an aeroplane but we only have one parachute.

What prompted you to work on leadership development throughout Ergo?

In 2007, Enterprise Ireland approached me to go on the Leadership 4 Growth programme at Stanford. That was a defining programme for us. It gave us the confidence we needed to be a scaled organisation, and gave us some of the toolsets we needed. I saw the benefits. Our CFO then went on the programme and we started to bring principle that right down throughout the organisation.

What are the challenges in developing leadership in the business?

In our next layer of leadership, we want to take people who are very good in a specific domain and give them skills in other domains. For example, we might have someone in the finance department and take them to running customer operations. When we identify that we don’t have those skills in-house, we might look to recruit someone, but the first port of call is always to look internally.

What other programmes have you worked on, and what impact have they had?

Last year, we created a programme called the Ergo Academy in conjunction with the academic staff of the Irish Management Institute and our senior team. We take 13 high-potential people to see are they the next layer of leaders within the organisation. They’re given three projects where they have to deliver a proposition on by the end of the programme. These aren’t just academic exercises. One of the projects involved our original print business, which is still a substantial percentage of our overall revenue. For a very long time, we spent a considerable amount on management training and with good benefit, but we felt if we diverted some of that training into aligning with our business objectives, that we might get a better result.

What advice would you give to businesses looking to develop their leadership talent and pipeline?

There are lots of examples where companies think they own the market and three years later, they’re gone. We’ve always got to refresh our proposition and the value we bring to our customers, and the skillsets that we apply to our people; there has to be a very detailed training plan and career path for people. Large companies like CRH or Kerry tend to have programmes like this, but an owner-managed business of our size probably doesn’t have a model like that. Smaller organisations tend to be quite informal about it, but getting the right level of formality is important. It’s also important to bring people on a journey and understand what their requirements are from a skillset and career progression perspective. The thing that gives me most satisfaction is where I see people who have taken an opportunity, and deliver on it.

How do you gauge that this investment in leadership is paying off?

My successor is already in the building. _____________________________________ John Purdy is the CEO of Ergo. Having co-founded Ergo 23 years ago, John has made Ergo one of Ireland’s most successful IT companies, transitioning the firm from focusing on the sale of IT commodities to a cloud and IT managed service provider to multinational customers. The IMI Tailored Solutions team have worked with Ergo on creating their Ergo Academy which is focused on developing the next layer of leaders within Ergo. [post_title] => CEO Series 2016: Leader of the pack... [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => leader-pack [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:07:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:07:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Fiona Buckley

Fiona Buckley

30th Apr 2018

Fiona Buckley is an IMI associate and expert in the fields of work behaviour, leadership, coaching and mentoring.

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"Want better leadership? Develop your followership" Six Word Wisdom from Sue Cox
21st Century Leadership: The Shifting River
CEO Series 2016: Leader of the pack...

What’s Happening in Leadership?

Leadership as a Collective

Organisational redesigns are placing much more emphasis on the need for different leadership skills. These re-designs can involve flatter organisational structures, broader spans of control, decentralised authority, reduced layers of management, intergenerational workforces and remote and flexible working arrangements. New type of team-focused leaders is now required to support these new ways of working.

These teamwork-driven organisations cannot function with leaders who solely focus on their own organisational area, they need a collaborative leader with cross-functional thinking and knowledge. This whole concept of “collective leadership” is a newer form of leadership that match’s the requirements posed by new working environments, where challenges need to be tackled by groups not individuals.

Becoming more of a team player at senior level is key for career survival. This is ultimately where leadership is heading and it’s time for leaders to look beyond their own function and department and focus on their organisation holistically.

Generational Leadership Transformation

There is a major generational transformation about to take place in the leadership sector with the arrival of millennials on the global leadership scene. While many millennials are currently in management roles they largely feel there is a lack of career development surrounding the skills they need to succeed as leaders.

Millennials need proactive leadership development as part of their career and development plans. Acceleration of their professional development is key as they represent our future leaders. Oversights now will hurt organisations later with insufficient succession planning.

Once millennials secure executive leadership positions this aforementioned collective leadership style will flourish. Millennials are high achievers by nature and technological innovation, many based on collaborative networks, is their natural world. All of this and more can be expected to impact their leadership styles.

Continual Skills Development

The Skills Gap (Picture source)

.Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2017 study showed that CEO’s still perceive leadership skills as the number one skill gap and are worried that leaders aren’t ready to lead their organizations toward growth.

With job roles and required skills now constantly changing due to advances in, and the proliferation of, technology, it is incumbent on leaders to regularly upskill. This can often simply mean learning about what their teams are using to drive the business forward so the leader can manage them effectively.

Without this upskilling leaders risk becoming seen as dinosaurs within their own organisation and it can often be the difference between one person getting ahead and another person remaining stagnant in their career.

The Rise of Soft Skills

Leadership skills transcend all roles, organisations and sectors and are skills that are in large demand in work. Sadly, these types of skills are still too often referred to as “soft skills” when in reality they can be exceptionally hard skills to master. These soft skills are often given a backseat in place of more technical and/or financial skills.

However, leadership as a skillset needs to become a key focus for leaders looking to progress and become better leaders and we need to move beyond this perception of viewing leadership through a soft skills lens.

There is an undeniable movement towards recognising, measuring and using these ‘’soft skills’’ of a leader within an organisation. Leaders that don’t develop this part of their toolkit and instead accentuate what has made them successful in the past to compensate will be left behind, or simply overlooked.


Fiona Buckley is an executive coach, corporate trainer, lecturer and keynote speaker in the area of leadership, work behaviour and interpersonal skills. Fiona is also associate faculty on the IMI Diploma in Leadership.