September 2012
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TD Magazine

A Self-Aware Leader

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dan Gallagher leads by building trust, remaining self-aware, and listening well.

Dan Gallagher

Vice President of Learning and Development, Comcast and Founder, Gallagher Leadership LLC

Dan Gallagher has 15 years of experience in leadership and organizational development with organizations such as Comcast, Commerce Bank, Hay Group, Cahners Publishing, and Saint Joseph's University. He serves on a national advisory board for City Year, has taught at several universities, and in 2006 co-founded Generous Generations, a not-for-profit organization that connects families with service opportunities. In 2010 he founded Gallagher Leadership LLC, and this year ASTD published his latest book, The Self-Aware Leader: A Proven Model for Reinventing Yourself, with all proceeds going to City Year.

Q: What sparked your initial interest in the learning and development profession?

My mom was a school teacher. Growing up, we always had things to do that were fun and helped us to learn. Later in life, my master's program (in training and organization development) transformed that spark into a light. It became clear that my passion was about helping others learn—the way my mom taught me. Once I landed in corporate training, it all fell into place. I discovered the fulfillment I wanted out of my work in the environment in which I wanted to work.

Q: What personal strengths have you relied on to grow in your career?

Three things come to mind: a constant focus on building and maintaining the trust of others; the ability and agility to both execute and strategize; and a focus on being self-aware of who I am, how I am perceived, and what proactively I need to do to grow. Part of that self-awareness stems from the humility of knowing that everything has a shelf-life, and thus, as leaders, we all need to continuously grow through professional reinvention.

Q: Who has influenced you most in your career?

I've been really lucky to have several strong managers and mentors who have taught me a great deal throughout my career, but without question the person who positively influences me the most is my wife. I am a better person, leader, citizen, father, and employee because of her.

Q: You are passionate about leadership. What valuable lessons have you learned about who you are as a leader by developing other leaders?

Part of leadership is learning how to find your voice and manage it. High-potential leaders often have voices in their heads that speak quicker and louder than the people with whom they work. These voices may be right, and they may even be right first, but they are speaking over leaders' teams and colleagues.


As a leader, you must learn how and when to quiet that voice, so you can listen without losing momentum. By giving others a voice, you create much stronger followership and less dependency on your presence to drive progress.

Q: What are you most excited about in the learning and development profession today?

Better than ever before, the industry recognizes that training and learning are siblings, but not the same child. There will always be a space for traditional training, but we need to think more seriously about how we drive organic learning. With new, creative modalities being piloted, we're seeing approaches that meet the learners where they are today. If today's employees have limited attention spans and competing priorities, then today's trainings need to be succinct and linked to productivity.

Q: What advice would you give to those who want to become effective leaders in the profession?

Think like a general manager and ask yourself, "Would I pay for my services?" Link all that you do (and don't do) to the customer experience and profitability. Prioritize training needs based on what drives your business the most. Assess your investment by calculating cost-per-completion, knowing that the number doesn't always have to be low—it just has to be an intentionally smart number. Facilitate cross-functional projects that work across silos. Give to others—ideas, information, opportunity, and support. And lastly, as you lead, balance your leadership of the work with your leadership of the people.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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