Leadership: empowering people through training and development support
Along with crucial financial investment, FDI companies also invest in their staff, encouraging them to develop their skills, progress up the career ladder, and become leaders
Catherine Duffy, general manager at Northern Trust, Limerick. Photograph: Don Moloney
When we think of foreign direct investment, it’s the financial investment we think of. But the concomitant investment in people arguably has a deeper impact. Certainly, a significant part of what FDI has brought to these shores has been well-run organisations, interested in developing their people, inspired by good leadership.
Catherine Duffy has benefited from this first hand. She has worked with Northern Trust in Limerick since 1999, rising through the ranks to her current role as general manager. The Chicago-based fund management company employs 16,500 people worldwide, 1,100 of them under her in Limerick.
What struck her on joining was the lengths to which senior managers, who had flown in from the US and UK, went to explain Northern Trust’s culture.
For Duffy, it was a revelation. “No matter what office of Northern Trust you are in, or who you talk to, you get that same culture which is based on the company philosophy of service, expertise and integrity. It’s literally written on our walls, from Singapore to Chicago,” she says.
A central part of that is openness. “It’s part of our culture to be open. If something goes wrong, we will put our hand up and say so. It’s a very transparent organisation. Over the years we’ve had a number of takeovers, including BIAM and part of Barings, and people have come in and remarked how different it is here to what they were used to, how their old CEO was two floors up and they never saw them. That’s not the way we do things here.”
At Northern Trust, an important part of leadership is that it is both visible and accessible. “We had a very senior person in from Chicago recently and I left her for a minute to get something from my office, and when I came back I couldn’t find her. She was off out on the floor meeting people, chatting to staff. Leadership here is about openness, access, getting to know you.”
In her own role, just two things bug her. “One is when people come to see me and say, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re really busy’. I say don’t be sorry, this is my job. I’m here to help. The other is when people say ‘I haven’t seen you for ages’. That really bugs me because talking to staff is so important to me.”
She schedules 90 minutes each Friday afternoon to do just that. “Whether it’s asking John about his new baby or finding out how that payment issue went for Mary, I love to hear from them. It’s both in my nature to want to get to know people, and in the company’s culture.”
It’s all about making things better and being open and receptive to ideas
Northern Trust has expanded enormously in recent years and with each new intake, Duffy will meet everyone to welcome them, and will follow up six weeks later to find out how they are getting on.
“I’ll be asking what could we have done better in our induction process and what good ideas can they give us, maybe from their previous workplace. It’s all about making things better and being open and receptive to ideas. Not all suggestions will suit, but where they do, we want people’s ideas to be actionable too, whether work-related or social.”
It’s not a leadership style that works with a big ego. “Ego could get in the way – as a leader you can’t let that happen,” she says.
Equally, as a firm believer in the importance of coaching and mentoring for staff, she practises what she preaches, having both an external and an internal mentor with whom she meets regularly.
“When you get to a certain level in an organisation, the risk is that you feel ‘I’ve done it, I’ve made it, and I know everything’. It’s important to realise that you absolutely don’t. I need to keep learning, to expand my network and be challenged. The last thing I need is to be surrounded by nodding dogs. You need someone to say ‘Why did you do that instead of this, and how did it go for you?’ It can get uncomfortable as you realise that you didn’t even think about an alternative course of action, but it’s what you need to keep learning.”
The same goes throughout the organisation, with its strong emphasis on training and development. “It’s about supporting a learning environment by organising training, paying for it and giving people time off for it. The soft skills training is amazing here, whether it’s time management or excelling at performance reviews or learning how to have tough conversations. Everybody benefits from that, including the organisation.”
One of the biggest and most trusted brands in the world, Johnson & Johnson employs about 126,500 people in more than 60 countries. The US Group’s family of companies has been operating in Ireland for 80 years, employing more than 2,850 people in three sectors: consumer, medical devices and diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals.
Leisha Daly is country director of Janssen, the pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson, a position she assumed in 2008.
She started her 19-year career at Janssen as head of Medical Affairs, and went on to take up lead roles in several senior positions across medical, sales and marketing management. “What’s interesting about a corporation as big as J&J is that you can change roles throughout your career,” she says. Having such a breadth of experience is helpful in any leadership role.
“J&J puts a huge emphasis on empowering you to take on as much as you are willing to take on, and provides you with the supports and mentoring to help you do it. That ethos has helped me get to the point where I am now and as a result it’s the way I now work with my teams, empowering them to take on new roles,” says Daly.
That mix of the opportunity to develop, with the supports required to help you do it, can be transformational both from a personal and a career-development perspective. “I’ve been told that anything is possible as long as you believe in your ability, but that self-belief is key. I’ve had it nurtured in me over the years here and it’s what I try and nurture in my teams,” she says.
Prior to coming here 19 years ago, I sometimes felt that my voice wasn’t always heard
Daly has a particular interest in the empowerment of women, which comes from personal experience. “I have never felt disadvantaged by being a woman but, prior to coming here 19 years ago, I sometimes felt that my voice wasn’t always heard. I remember sitting around tables with men in senior positions where I found it hard to ensure I was heard. I have had that experience where a woman says something and no one says anything in response and then the man next to her says the same thing and everyone says ‘isn’t he great?’.”
Ensuring they are heard is something women can be trained and supported to do. “It’s not just women either; it’s about ensuring every voice in the organisation is heard. It’s about empowering and encouraging everyone, including men who are quieter, to get more involved and to speak up.”
This emphasis on empowering staff, and commitment to providing the training and development to support it, runs through the entire J&J group, from front line to leadership, she says. “It really is a fantastic organisation for that.”
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