Derval O’Rourke

Derval O’Rourke is one of Ireland’s most decorated athletes with 5 major international athletics medals to her name including the title of World Champion. The 36 year old from Douglas, Cork studied in UCD before going on to complete a Master’s in Business Management in Smurfit Business School. Derval has published two bestselling cookery books and is the founder of her company that specialises in various food and fitness projects Derval works in various media roles is a coach on Ireland’s Fittest Family and is an RTE sports analyst. Derval is one of a small group of Irish athletes to have competed at three Olympic Games, representing Ireland in Athens, Beijing and London.

What has sport taught you about leadership?

Sport taught me to be my own leader. It has taught me not to be afraid to take the lead. I never assume that someone else would be better than me. Sport gave me the confidence to be my own leader.

What are the essential components to building a winning team?

You need to trust your team. When I was a professional athlete I felt that my team would always back me. They were always on my side. If you trust your team that is a great start but in return they have to trust you. They need to know that you are being honest and will back them. Trust goes both ways. The next component is responsibility. Within any team you need to know who is responsible for what. When I was a professional athlete I was responsible for the end result in the race but I wasn’t responsible for planning out the training. Knowing what is and is not your job is key to a winning team. The final component is hard work. No matter what you are doing whether that is trying to be world champion or growing your own business, it is bloody hard work. If everyone has a good work ethic then you are sure to have a winning team.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Confidence. It is really essential that you back yourself. When the hard moments come you need to be able to hold your head a half inch higher, put your shoulders back and face the tough times. Be confident in yourself and your abilities because the chances are you are far more capable than you are giving yourself credit for.

If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your sporting career what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself to back myself earlier in my career. It took me time to really believe in my own voice. But eventually I started to trust myself with my career decisions. I started to trust myself to set up the best possible team. I believe in my own decision making process and once I started to trust myself with that I became a much better athlete. Professional sport is ruthless and I wish I had backed myself from the very start.

What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?

I admire lots of Irish women who in my opinion are making their mark. In sport I admire Sarah Keane (CEO, Swim Ireland and President, OCI) I feel she is making Olympic sport in Ireland a better place and that is a very tough job. I dealt with Paula Fitzsimons in “Going for Growth” and I loved her positive attitude, she is making a huge difference to women in business. I admire Kate Hyde who is a female entrepreneur from Cork, she set up her online business from scratch and now employs lots of people and has a thriving company. A few others would be Norah Casey, Marissa Carter and Sonia O’Sullivan.

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

Firstly I would recommend reading a lot. Read the business pages of the newspaper, this might seem a little boring but try to read one article per week from the business pages that you find interesting. I do this each week. I generally buy the Sunday Business Post each week. I listen to a podcast called “How I built this” it’s really interesting to hear how different business leaders built their businesses. I like Gary Vaynerchuk on Instagram and a girl called Jasmine Star is doing a great job of explaining all about social media strategy.