Leadership is not about power, it is about the togetherness of your people

Businesses need a challenge up and support down kind of culture.

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Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being a (return) guest speaker for the Management & Leadership Network’s 20th anniversary conference in Belfast.

When I arrived in the hotel lobby, waiting to check in, I spent a moment taking in the scene around me. The lobby was full of accents from across the globe: a real cosmopolitan, international mix of clientele. A very different lobby than 20 years ago when I spoke at their first event.

This week has marked 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence and opened new opportunities for reconciliation and cooperation.

My trip to Belfast coinciding with this historic milestone has given me space to reflect on the scale of the changes in Northern Ireland over the past 2 decades, and how society and a new generation have become empowered to lead the progress.

The sectarian divide had long been a deeply entrenched aspect of Northern Irish society, with religion and politics often inextricably linked. Catholic children had catholic friends, and protestant children protestant friends. The two were not to mix, kept separate by community boundaries, sectarian schools, and the societal expectation placed upon them.

Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a new generation of children has grown up; a more open, embracing, global generation which has seen past sectarian division.

This generation, growing impatient of stagnation in Stormont and an unwillingness of some politicians to move forward, has begun pushing for a society which reflects their values.

This new generation of leadership is not about religion; it is about common values, aspirations, and a shared vision for the future.

This is reflected in the political landscape. The non-sectarian Alliance party won the third highest number of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2022, 4.5% more of the vote than they gained in 2017, and double the number of seats.

Older voters tend to stick with the DUP and Sinn Fein, while more young people are switching to Alliance. They want change, and a more open future, and they know where they will be listened to.

I can’t help but draw parallels between the changes in Northern Irish society and the shifting landscape of modern businesses.

Just as Northern Ireland has undergone a transformation, businesses too must embrace change and adapt to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced world.

To thrive, businesses must foster a culture that encourages innovation and welcomes new ideas from all levels.

Employees should be empowered to “challenge up and support down,” allowing for the flow of ideas to be bidirectional. This culture will enable companies to capitalise on the pace and power of change that new ideas can bring, resulting in better performance and morale.

In contrast, businesses that spend too much time debating over changes and sitting in stalemates, like the Northern Ireland Assembly, risk losing their best people to other businesses that are more adaptable and forward-thinking.

The new generation of leaders emerging in Northern Ireland shows us that embracing change and creating an environment where everyone’s voice is heard is the key to success. Businesses that do the same will be better equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow and stay ahead of the curve.

Thought for the week:

Nobody knows the real power of inclusion until they’ve been excluded.

Tips for being an A player:

  • Ensure every voice is heard.
  • Stand up for the marginalised.
  • Take the time to meet someone different from you.
  • Don’t buy into stereotypes.
  • Nothing beats welcoming a stranger.

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