‘People who are curious about a job will learn a whole lot more than those who just want to get the job done’
I have worked in the Technology sector for a number of years with companies such as Analog Devices, Siemens and Motorola. In 2007 along with my colleague Colum Horgan we founded Aspira after our multinational employer pulled out of Ireland. At the time it was a ‘now or never’ decision for both of us and we have never looked back. It has been an exciting journey seeing our company grow.
In my early career I was very interested in technology and got a real kick from solving technical problems and writing software that solved real-world problems. As time went on I became more interested in dealing with people and understanding why people behave the way they do. I built up my soft-skills and learned to become an effective project manager, which requires the ability to motivate and influence the team to achieve a shared goal.
In setting up Aspira, I have maintained these skills – which allows Aspira to compete with international IT consultancies to deliver projects, that solve problems for our clients.
When I was making the transition into management, my old boss in Motorola Tom Shirley once said to me “no matter how smart you may be, if you can give clear direction to five other people and have them working to solve your problems, they will solve them faster and better than you ever will”. In other words it is crucially important to surround yourself with great people and to learn to delegate.
That is advice I try to live by – as Aspira has grown and extended its international reach setting up offices in countries such as the Netherlands, UAE, Malaysia and most recently Portugal, the importance of team strength is highlighted. We have made a conscious effort to invest in developing a strong leadership team that will enable further growth and expansion for the long term.
As Aspira has grown and extended its international reach setting up offices in countries such as the Netherlands, UAE, Malaysia and most recently Portugal, the importance of team strength is highlighted. We have made a conscious effort to invest in developing a strong leadership team that will enable further growth and expansion for the long term.
I always encourage people to have and to display intellectual curiosity. People who are curious about a job will learn a whole lot more than those who just want to get the job done. It was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who said he prefers not to surround himself with know-it-all people, but to surround himself with learn-it-all people.
I am not a big fan of workplace politics, as I have seen so much energy wasted inside organisations due to people obsessing over perceived slights or subtle differences in status vs their colleagues, rather than investing that energy to do something productive.
Nevertheless, it is naive to expect that your career journey will never be impacted by political behaviour and so you need to rise above it. I have found that when considering an initiative that may meet political resistance, it helps to consider things from other people’s perspectives and to ask yourself what concerns the other party may have. Then ask if those concerns are justified or not. In many cases, by identifying these possible concerns you can take proactive steps with that third party to ensure they don’t bubble up into real problems.
It’s really important when managing a team of individuals to be aware of the need for diversity. Some people think very logically, while others are intuitive and go with their ‘gut’; some are methodical and plan-driven whereas others like blue-sky-thinking and creativity; some people are natural worriers and see risks while others are full of optimism and excitement about what might be possible. When leading a team you need to give each person the time and space to process things in the way that suits them best. That is how you achieve great results.
In Aspira it’s been our strategy to build a diverse team across markets. Our team includes people from 36 different nationalities and we have diversified the range of sectors we work in. In fact it has been this diversity that enabled us to grow throughout lockdown periods – which has been a big plus for us.
Trust can be difficult to build but easy to demolish. There are 4 factors that are important. The first is credibility – it is important that I don’t pretend to be an expert in something I’m not. If I can demonstrate a degree of knowledge or competence in an area, then it is easier to establish trust. The second is reliability – are my words and my deeds consistent? If I regularly promise things but don’t fulfill my promise, people will simply not trust me when I tell them something. The third is intimacy – taking the time and trouble to understand what is important to someone – what ‘makes them tick’. If someone knows they can trust me enough to tell me what they really think, that can be very powerful. Finally, the fourth factor is a lack of self-interest. If I am suspicious of your true motives, I will find it hard to trust what you say – which you can remember next time you hear an Estate Agent saying now is the perfect time to buy a new house!
In everyday life, if I am meeting a person for the first time, I would always seek to find some common ground. That can be around sport, interests, or someone’s homeplace – like most Irish people I like to establish some sort of connection with a person before getting into business mode.
When Covid restrictions hit, and face-face meetings stopped, you no longer had that same opportunity to make small talk while grabbing a coffee in advance of the meeting. It is much harder to make a strong first impression if you are immediately presenting business information via Zoom. So I have learned to deliberately set aside the first few minutes for a face-face chat via Zoom, and to use that time to build some rapport before launching into a presentation. Like most tech people these days my schedule runs from online meeting to online meeting, so even having a couple of minutes to just chat with someone can set a positive tone for the rest of the relationship.
My parents have always been the main source of my inspiration. They set up a business in the 60s in Ireland and built it very successfully for 40 years. I learned a lot from them on the importance of customer service, maintaining a strong cash flow, and the importance of innovation. They showed me that if you don’t keep pace with the world, you are falling behind your competitors.
Another inspiration of mine is Norman Borlaug – an American biologist who won the Nobel Prize for his work. Through his research into developing varieties of wheat that could grow in previously unviable regions of the world, he has saved the lives of one billion people. For me, he is a brilliant example of how real-world problems can be overcome through the application of knowledge, technology, and some hard work!
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