“It exceeded my expectations, I really found it one of the most difficult and yet rewarding things I have ever undertaken,” says Mark McDermott, VP Sales EMEA at TransparentBusiness and recent UCD Diploma in Leadership Development graduate.
Lifelong learner Mark McDermott decided to do the Smurfit Executive Development Diploma in Leadership Development in order to fill a perceived gap in his skillset. “I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a very good and successful career so far, but I’ve always felt there was something missing in my skillset,” he says. “I’m one of those people who always wants to learn. I inherited this growth mindset from my late father Fergus McDermott who completed his MBA, despite being close to retirement. If I find I’m not learning and growing, I get itchy feet and want to move on.”
His career has seen him work in variety of sales and business development roles with major blue-chip technology and communications companies like Microsoft, LinkedIn and BT. “LinkedIn and Microsoft were great places to land for me,” he recalls. “There were oodles of resources to learn and invest in your professional development, and I took every opportunity I could.”
Currently, Mark is continuing his growth working with talented entrepreneurs in the talent solutions, financial services & media company TransparentBusiness, to lead their European sales and business development. That’s when he took the decision to do the Diploma in Leadership Development.
“I had been toying around with the idea of doing the Diploma in Leadership Development for many years and I had enquired about it a long time ago,” he says. “I wanted to explore and develop my natural leadership capability. I was aware there was a gap and I wanted to explore it.”
One of the most important things you learn is that leadership is personal
His choice of programme was influenced by his learning style. “I like to fully immerse myself. I like the idea of getting to know the other participants over a longer course. I wanted to be able to block out full days for it. I had done management training in some of the companies I worked for, but these tended to be shorter more tactical courses where the learnings didn’t last long. You find you’re not fully present.”
He completed the programme in November 2021 and found it both rewarding and challenging. “It exceeded my expectations, I really found it one of the most difficult and yet rewarding things I have ever undertaken. A lot of it is about self-reflection. I didn’t expect it to go as deep as it did. It was very close to the bone at times. It was very experiential. The theory was used to open conversations. When I originally went to college you absorbed the material and then did the exam and came out with a sore hand. It was simply a demonstration that you could absorb and recall information, rather than apply learnings. You need to forget the way you learned in the past. It has been very rewarding in terms of my personal and career development for sure.”
The personal dimension was very important for him. “One of the most important things you learn is that leadership is personal, it’s about being yourself. Most people don’t take the time out to ask themselves who they are, what they stand for, and why they do what they do. As a leader, you have to be deliberative and thoughtful about what you do. In sales, being busy is a sort of a badge of honour. I now want being a lot more thoughtful to be my badge of honour. The big moment for me was looking through how I ended up being the person I am and making a conscious effort to make some small but important changes. It is quite deep.”
And he is already putting that learning into action. “When you look at what’s happening on the world stage and see these autocratic leaders. You get them in business too. I would have had difficulty dealing with autocratic types in the past. I see myself as an empathetic and compassionate leader. If you analyse yourself, you can get the confidence to be much more effective in dealing with difficult personalities. It makes business sense to encourage diversity of thinking in psychologically safe working environments. Those of us that think that way can be confident in this belief, even faced with those who have an allergy to such ways of organizing and conducting ourselves. I’ve worked with some amazing leaders over the years and learnt so much from them, but even poor leaders teach us powerful lessons in terms of how we choose to respond, rather than how we react.
Looking back, he believes the first module on the programme on the personal dimension of leadership impact was among the most powerful. “This was a recurring theme throughout the programme. The module on the systems dimension was also very strong. They are part of what I would describe as the more psychological side of the course. We spoke about ego and how professionals communicate with each other. In the business world, even seasoned professionals can revert to childish behaviour in conversations with each other because they’re busy, had a lousy upbringing and under pressure or whatever. Leaders need to be more adult in their conversations. We came back to that time and again in the course.” Organisations after all, consistent of human beings who all bring their own different sets of experiences, values, history and perspectives.
I can already pick out moments where the course has helped me in my career
That also covered those vitally important critical conversations. “I’ve always regarded myself as good at them, but I have tended to avoid them just the same. But by having them you are doing the right thing by you and the company. You need to have these conversations to address difficult issues in the business and you need to be thoughtful about how you approach these conversations with different personality types. If things are left unsaid, it stores up problems for the future. There is a need for open and transparent conversations. Having those critical conversations is like a muscle, it becomes easier by doing it has the potential to create authentic connective tissue where it didn’t exist before. These are invaluable leadership lessons.”
Much of the learning came from the other class members. “Their willingness to open up and share & provide feedback was hugely important. That was a critical aspect. If there wasn’t that level of participation and openness it wouldn’t have been as successful. Quality of the facilitators and subject matter experts delivering the course was exceptional. The facilitators set up an environment of psychological safety where people felt safe to share with one another, and it worked very well. Lifelong connections have definitely been formed as a result. I would 100 per cent recommend it to others if they truly want to change themselves. Sometimes you see people a little bit taken aback by how personal it gets.”
And just a few months on, the Diploma in Leadership Development is having an impact. “I can already pick out moments where the course has helped me in my career. It’s certainly having an impact and it’s not finished yet. In my opinion, leadership development doesn’t have a finish line which is why I wish I had started this course years ago when I considered this originally.; If I had, I suspect I would have had an even greater impact and career enjoyment. I encourage others to consider how to become the best versions of themselves and how to scale that into a high-performance culture.