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There can’t be many speakers who allude to the childhood habits of serial killers in order to make a point, but then, Margaret Heffernan – CEO, coach and mistress of the keynote – is full of interesting ideas.


Margaret Heffernan, CEO, Author, Speaker

Margaret, who has spoken at events around the world, is nothing if not a straight talker. And while the language she uses is beautiful – rich with texture – she doesn’t mince her words.

It’s this directness that audiences connect to; they appreciate the forthrightness, the humour, the authenticity, because if nothing else, they can see that Margaret Heffernan is a woman who walks the talk. In a business world where corporate ‘performance’ can at times mean all style and little substance, this makes her all the more compelling.

Mentor, Author, CEO

Margaret has done a lot in her life and worked with many people across different industries, including being a business coach to a rugby team (the Saracens, no less), authoring books on business and mentorship, and being the CEO of a number of companies. This not only makes her keynotes varied and entertaining, but her insights are all the more useful because her learning has come from so many fields and experiences; she speaks as insightfully about leadership as she does about AI, team building or playing to people’s strengths.

Frances Keane, CEO of Personally Speaking, and Margaret Heffernan, standing together and smiling at the camera in the lobby of the Dublin Convention Centre, ahead of her keynote at the Talent Summit in March 2019

Frances Keane, CEO of Personally Speaking, with Margaret Heffernan

Having heard Margaret speak at many events and seen such a positive response to her, I thought I’d share some of the ideas that have caught my imagination. I would love to know what others think of them. For starters – are we brave enough to bring conflict into the open?

Bring on the Conflict

An amazing statistic, this: some 85% of people have concerns about stuff that goes on at work but don’t mention it. Margaret Heffernan’s advice? Catch and deal with problems early, and make room for tough conversations because change really happens only when that room exists. Irrespective of size, all organisations need to be building the kinds of teams where it is safe to have frank and #openconflict where team members air their differences rather than dwell on them in private.

Which brings us neatly back to that serial killer allusion. Studies show that serial killers’ impulses are first nurtured by killing small animals. If this behaviour isn’t identified early and stopped, it doesn’t, to put it mildly, end well.

Beware of Silence

Margaret’s point, well made, is that in business it doesn’t pay to let things fester. As our grandmothers often said, clean up as you go along. Otherwise, businesses end up with a culture of what she terms ‘Organisational Silence’, where everyone knows something is wrong but nothing is being done about it because no one feels they can say anything. In situations like this – and I think we have all experienced them at one time or another – silence is safer for the individual. But at what cost?

It’s not the Bricks, it’s the Mortar

Margaret is very strong on #socialcapital; what matters most in any organisation is what is happening between individuals. Because we’re human, we judge – we make assumptions. And because in many companies, particularly large ones, people often don’t really know each other well enough, these assumptions are often wrong.

The best teams tend to spend time together outside of work, so one of the best ways to guard against assumptions is to hang out and get to know each other. In Margaret’s time with Saracens, one of the reasons for the team’s success was that they all mucked in together on jobs (like sweeping the changing room floors!) and they also knew each other and their families.

This kind of social ‘glue’ means that people know what is going on for each other, and this sense of ‘having each other’s back’ nurtures social capital. Or as Margaret puts it: “A great team is made up of great individuals who care about each other”.

How good does that sound?

Size Does Matter

And then there is the size of a company. Many of the biggest companies in the world are now unwieldy behemoths, but that can hinder meaningful social interaction as team members can end up feeling a bit lost.

As an example of how optimal size can help build social capital and the bottom line, in her keynote at the Talent Summit in Dublin this year, Margaret pointed to the company Gortex. On principle, Gortex doesn’t allow any of its sites to get bigger than 120 people; that way, it finds, everyone knows each other.

So, keep things small – a radical idea!

Margaret Heffernan is certainly a woman who invites audiences to think differently about things, so if you want to book her to speak at your next event, simply contact us today to discuss your audience, budget, and goals.

#leadership #organisationalculture #teambuilding #teamperformance #success #margaretheffernan #openconflict #socialcapital

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