Name: Josephine Ahern
Title: CEO & Managing Director
Organisation: Ahern Group
Managing Director of Australian corporate consultancy with CEO and other leadership experience, including board director roles in non-profit, industry, and government in Australia and the European Union. Areas of specialization: change, transition, and transformation at organisation and sector-wide levels. Areas of practice: housing, homelessness, and associated healthcare.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Josephine's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Leading people through change because we all have complex reactions to these situations and it's difficult and challenging for people to adjust to new approaches by an organisation, particularly when they don't have a sense of control over the change.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I always aspired to be a leader. I started my career in higher education and then moved to government roles where I worked with senior bureaucrats and then took on CEO roles in non-profit organisations and in industry bodies. As I worked my way through these different sectors I learned so much from the experts, employees, volunteers and clients I was surrounded by and met.
I always made it my business to listen closely to people, because this is how we learn and the information given to CEOs is invaluable in learning about their organisation, business or industry. Working in the socially progressive European Union really opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and I found this invaluable in developing my personal style.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I plan ahead and use yearly, monthly, and daily calendars to manage my time so I know what I need to prioritize. I also leave some time each day for any 'surprises' and try to build in some personal time including a walk with my partner and two dogs to get some 'me' time. This keeps my physical and mental health in good order.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Always remember that human beings are complex creatures and that we will always surprised. A leader has to be able to think on their feet and react appropriately to different points of view. This is an invaluable skill and one that carries weight when people are experiencing ongoing change, which is constant in today's business world.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
'Damned Whores and God's Police' by Anne Summers. This book profoundly changed my understanding of gender politics and how women are perceived in our personal and professional lives. I have carried the information and lessons learned forward and always been a strong advocate for women in the workplace.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
As the American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Life is a journey, not a destination" So too is leadership and it's important that younger people understand that they don't have all the answers and that surrounding themselves with knowledgeable people is a positive. It's also important to be kind and considerate in the workplace. There's no point in being cruel. The impact of this behavior reverberates throughout the organization and impacts workplace culture fundamentally.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
When negotiating change, like company mergers, it's important to listen to people who have a completely different point of view and who may not want to be a part of the change proposed because they often have insights that are gems for leaders in complex scenarios. When merging companies in Ireland I was responsible for communicating and negotiating with employees, unions, boards of directors, clients and peer stakeholders. This was a complex process and one that required good planning, patience and the flexibility to adapt to the bumps in the road.