Monday, December 20, 2021

The Alignment Between Leadership, People and Culture

Over the last 12 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, leadership, employee experience, and customer experience experts. One of these experts is Siobhan O’Leary from New York. We recently had a discussion about leadership and corporate culture, and highlights follow below Siobhan’s bio.

Siobhan O'Leary is an experienced and highly regarded executive coach, leadership development professional, and people and culture strategist. In 2019, she relaunched Aubergine Partners, LLC. From 2013-2019, she served as Senior Vice President of People and Culture at Convene, an Innovative Workplace Hospitality Company. Under her leadership, Convene was recognized by Smart CEO magazine, receiving the Top Company Culture Award; 2017’s #11 Fortune Magazine Great Places to Work; and in 2018, Inc. Magazine named Convene Best Workplace. Siobhan previously spent over 25 years as a human resource executive, predominantly in the luxury hospitality field and held senior level positions with Hyatt Hotels, Four Season Hotels & Resorts and The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, and Rosewood Hotels and Resorts Corporate. Connect and follow on Twitter (@AubergineCOACH), on LinkedIn (, and on her website at

QUESTION: How do you explain the difference between management and leadership?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: To achieve the high-quality organizational performance that is characteristic of high-performing organizations, it is necessary to master leadership and management simultaneously. Despite potential overlap between these roles in practice, they are different and require different skills and competencies.

Leading involves creating a vision, mobilizing people around that vision, and motivating them to actively contribute to its implementation. Management is about implementing this vision. Management provides a step-by-step approach to strategic planning and decision-making and is usually focused on the short-term. In leadership, the focus is on the long-term development of an organization and its people. It is often more concerned with motivating the organization to accomplish its goals.

The concept of management is concerned with organizing an activity from conception to completion, such as, planning, organizing, directing, etc., whereas, leadership involves a broader concept of people and their motivation to achieve goals. A leader works “in service” to the organization, protecting and driving the long-term direction of the business.

QUESTION: How do you convince your clients about the importance of having an inspiring employer brand?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: To attract and retain talent, employers today must develop compelling employer brands in an increasingly mobile workforce.

You can make a tangible statement about your company's culture and identity with employer branding. It reflects who and what you are as an organization. Candidates' perceptions, behaviors, attitudes, and decisions are affected by the way you brand your employer image.

Prospective employees nowadays research companies and read more than just the annual report/promotional materials. The success of a company is commonly acknowledged to depend heavily on its employees. So, in order to build a talent pipeline for their businesses, employers need to leverage their employer brand as an effective and engaging first touchpoint with candidates. A positive employer brand helps to engage, motivate, and retain employees. With increased engagement and loyalty, companies increase profits. This means a win-win for the organization and employees. As a result, engaging new talent and retaining the best talent require employers to use their employer brand as a competitive advantage.

TWEET THIS: Engaging new talent and retaining the best talent require employers to use their employer brand as a competitive advantage. –@AubergineCOACH #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: Which three leaders inspire you, from business or history, and why?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: Here are my three:

Isadore Sharp, Founder and Chairman, Four Seasons Resorts & Hotels.
Isadore Sharp was an early influence in my career. Four Seasons had only 13 hotels at the time. His constant commitment to the “Internal guest” (employees), as he insisted we were, was unfailing. He started out in Toronto, the son of a modest builder from Poland. He believed in what I call failing forward, listening “between the lines,” and truly proved the significant ROI on employee experience.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice – aka, The Notorious RBG
Clearly, I am not alone in identifying RBG as an inspiration. I suppose the characteristics that inspire me about her are synonymous with those of my mom. Prompted by their own experiences, they began to take on initiatives for the greater good. On a more personal level, the inspiration is truly how she (and my mom) connected with people individually to deeply understand, acted with humility, and never compromised doing what was right. Beyond those traits that are the obvious, is the respectful, calm approach with which she communicated, with tenacity and yet never offensive. Her ability to bring people together regardless of differences and disarm uncomfortable moments to be productive or enjoyable is something that creates more productive and empathetic conversations. Not to mention the incredible sense of humor which my mother taught me is truly a gift that creates success.

Chris Johnson, CEO Rackson Restaurants and
Chris Kelly, Co-founder and former President, Convene

These are two incredible leaders I currently work with and have worked with in the recent past, respectively. I mention them together mainly because of the commonality in their passion for building companies on a strong people philosophy; having the insight and commitment to recognize values are the cornerstone for a successful and sustainable organization; of course, providing the pallet to create a people platform, build into this philosophy and more importantly live the philosophy (bringing it to life). As with most things in life, there are no accidents.

My fantastic chapter with Chris Kelly led me to Chris Johnson. Chris Kelly insisted that our team members are the “CEO” of their households, and transparency with our business and commitment to our values will create true engagement and a sense of ownership.

Chris Johnson, similarly, leads Rackson Restaurants in service to our store managers. He believes our general managers are operating as entrepreneurs of their piece of the business and through common values and tools we create opportunities for THEIR success, ultimately, OUR success. Chris Johnson inspires me daily, reminding me that we are building a company to be part of the communities where we operate and create opportunities for people to learn and grow. Whether they continue with Rackson or move on, we (Rackson Restaurants) are a part of the learning journey.

A little clarity: I currently work at Rackson Restaurants as Chief People Officer. Therefore, I refer to Rackson Restaurants' store managers when I use the term "our store managers." By "we (Rackson Restaurants) are a part of the learning journey," I mean Rackson Restaurants remains a part of our store managers' learning journeys through their time with us regardless of whether they stay with us or not.

QUESTION: When President Obama introduced Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve Chair in October 2013, he said, "Janet Yellen is a proven leader who knows how to build consensus, the kind of person who makes everybody around her better." Certainly, President Biden remembered this when nominating her as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury. What three characteristics do you think are necessary to create a consensus-builder?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: Habitual good judgement, ability to listen intuitively, and ability to admit failure and learn.

QUESTION: You shared a quote from Sheryl Sandberg on Twitter: "Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence." What does that quote mean to you?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: Being a good leader comes from not just being powerful, but from creating significant, productive spaces for others to grow. Leadership can mean different things to different people, but at its core, it rests on one simple principle: Influence. It's about connecting with others, building strong relationships, and inspiring people to do their very best work. Effective leaders know that every word, action, or decision has a profound effect on those in their sphere of influence. These leaders use this awareness, along with key insights, on establishing values-based environments to drive behavior toward high performance. To me, Sheryl's quote underscores the importance of being aware of oneself and others. Creating a positive impact triggers a domino effect that drives everyone to success.

TWEET THIS: Leadership is about connecting with others, building strong relationships, and inspiring people to do their very best work. –@AubergineCOACH #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): “Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: My understanding of that quote means that the goal of leadership is to understand the nuances of each person's job, making way to create a clearer path to success for them. There will be times when you have to work with people who lack the aptitude to do the job themselves. Leadership demands that you step in and support them.

To lead, one must not simply be the smartest person in the room per se; it’s also about being on the frontlines with your team: supporting, coaching, holding them accountable, and making sure that they feel supported. Good leaders help get others to the finish line. They create trust and team spirit. Every day, they strive to help those around them succeed.

TWEET THIS: Good leaders help get others to the finish line. –@AubergineCOACH #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

TWEET THIS: Every day, leaders strive to help those around them succeed. –@AubergineCOACH #EmployerBranding #LeadershipTip #DebbieLaskeysBlog

My thanks to Siobhan for sharing her business insights and for appearing here on my Blog. Also, a shout-out to Sherry Lawal for her much appreciated assistance.

Image Credit: Jonathan Chng via Wordswag app.

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