Caradh O’Donovan

Caradh O’Donovan is a former World and European Champion Kickboxer and a current Champion Karateka. With a successful athletic career spanning more than two decades; this almost came to an end when Caradh was diagnosed with Crohns Disease in 2014. A debilitating disease for which there is no cure, she managed to successfully overcome the challenges living with this disease brought and regained her multiple World Cup titles. Now switching her focus to Karate, Caradh is training to win the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

After successfully gaining an Honours Degree in Sport and Exercise Management and a Masters Degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology Caradh has worked in High Performance Sport for over ten years to support her athletic career. Her experience as an elite athlete and her journey to successfully overcoming a debilitating disease has fuelled her passion to work as a motivational speaker. Learning the skills to achieve success against the odds have contributed to her ability to inspire those she speaks with at multiple events both in Ireland and abroad. An accomplished TEDx speaker, she combines her speaking events with mentoring as part of the Sport For Schools Programme and is an Ambassador with the Irish Society of Colitis and Crohns (ISCC).

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

Yes, I believe so. Truly inspiring leaders always live by their own words and get results by example. Although there are many types of leaders, I am of the belief that there are a number of key attributes that a great leader holds such as courage, communication, willingness to not ‘follow the herd’, a small ego, live by their own words and above all be passionate about what they do. These can all be taught; a willingness to learn and surrounding yourself with the right mentors will help develop these.

What has sport taught you about leadership?

Elite sport can often be a toxic, ego-driven environment but I’ve learned that when you change your viewpoint, any situation can be made positive. That said, it is also important to make sure you surround yourself with the right team and people. You become like the people you spend most of your time with so if you wish to be an effective leader choose carefully! I also believe that leaders are not always those with the title beside their name, they can be anyone within a group willing to stand up and take responsibility for making positive change take affect.

The world around us is changing faster than at any time in human history and we need more leaders to emerge. How do we make this happen?

I wholeheartedly believe that more female leaders are needed to bring about more equality in both sport and society in general. Giving people more opportunities to learn and grow as leaders is one way but we really need to teach people to have more confidence in their own abilities to challenge dogma and to stand alone if needs be. Taking a leadership role can be a lonely place and the only way to do it longterm is to be steadfast in your self-belief and to be ok with some people not liking you.

What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

Making decisions based on what they believe will make them popular rather than doing what they believe to be the right thing.

What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?

In my twenties, I pushed myself so hard beyond exhaustion to the point where my health completely broke down. I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t burn the candle at both ends and expect a good result. Getting a balance in your life is far more important than any job.

What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

There are some great TED Talks. Read as much as you can; books/blogs from people such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Canfield, John Wooden etc are interesting reads.