Women Leaders in Higher Education Network: Leadership in a pandemic

21 Dec, 2020

Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu and Assistant General Secretary of the Department of An Taoiseach Elizabeth Canavan reflected on their unique experience of leadership in a time of pandemic at an event organised by the WLHE (Women Leaders in Higher Education) network at TU Dublin.

Over 80 staff members from across TU Dublin attended the online event on the theme of ‘conscious leadership’ on Wednesday the 16th of December. TU Dublin Staff Development sponsored the event. Participants from academic, administrative and management cadres heard the shared experiences of the speakers and got the chance to reflect on how they can apply conscious leadership in their professional and personal lives. Journalist, broadcaster (and TU Dublin graduate) Alison O’Connor was the event facilitator.  

Being Lord Mayor during Covid-19 and two lockdowns was something that Ms Chu said was challenging, but notwithstanding that also an opportunity to highlight issues such as homelessness and the importance of community. Dealing with racism in her younger years also gave her an understanding of the particular difficulties being faced by minority communities in Dublin.

She advised that as a leader ‘even in times of crisis a – you need to prioritise mental health, your well-being, and then that of those around you.’ Her background in project management had helped her she said, in looking at each task as a project to be managed, i.e. ‘know your objectives and prioritise, understand and mitigate the risks’

Elizabeth Canavan gave her perspective on having a role at the centre of Government during the pandemic and making decisions under pressure as Assistant Secretary to the Department of An Taoiseach. Being a participant in regular televised press briefings was not something that would normally happen in her job, she said. Still, communication was a key part of the State’s Covid-19 response to managing the pandemic. Her guiding principle, she explained, was, ‘authenticity in leadership,  understanding the values you hold true,  being authentic to them, and knowing that you have always done the best you can’. Taking a public health approach to the crisis meant she said, ‘putting people at the centre’. She also stressed the importance of fairness, authenticity, trustworthiness and honesty in leadership.

In later break-out sessions after the main speakers had finished, participants were invited to discuss their own roles as conscious leaders, building on the ‘we’ and not the ‘me’ of leadership.  Feedback from those sessions included the positive aspects of dealing with new ways of working and communication among teams. The importance of ‘trust’ and being conscious of the particular stresses being felt by colleagues was also noted in the feedback sessions, as were the challenges of often working longer hours, and the lack of ad-hoc communication. Many colleagues said that they felt, ‘inspired by the speakers today’ and that the event was a ‘very positive way to end the year.’

For more information on the Women Leaders in Higher Education network at TU Dublin, visit here, or find us on LinkedIn / WLHE.