Jack Kavanagh

In 2012, everything changed for Jack Kavanagh. Having just completed his first year in Trinity College, Jack was holidaying in Portugal. A windsurfer of some repute, Jack’s familiarity with the water did not protect him from what was to come. Diving into an oncoming wave, Jack collided with a hidden sandbank and was instantly paralysed.

In the years that have since passed, Jack has shown extraordinary courage in overcoming adversity. Despite his difficulties he has shown that limitations are only perceived and in so doing has inspired thousands of people who have heard his story. In 2014 Jack began his speaking career with the acclaimed TEDx Fearless Like A Child. 2016 marked the year that Breaking Boundaries was released, a documentary following Jack and friends on an American road trip, which went on to be broadcast internationally and to win several awards. Jack qualified from Trinity College in 2017 with a degree in Pharmacy and the following year graduated with a Masters of Pharmacy from RCSI. Jack continues to speak to wide-ranging audiences from schools to companies, seminars to conventions on topics including resilience, personal leadership and personal growth. He is currently working with Johnson and Johnson Innovation and sits on the board of the National Disability Authority. His interest in fitness, mindfulness and learning continue to drive him forward and give balance to his pursuit to fully actualise himself.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

I truly believe that before we lead others we must lead ourselves. Once an individual is willing to take accountability for their life they can be taught or learn to be a leader. For me leadership comes from within, each person has the ability and all the potential they need to be the leader of their own life. It is by developing real clarity about the values and beliefs they want to live by and then taking consistent action to live in alignment with those values then any person can lead themselves. That idea of being and acting congruently with your beliefs and values comes across as authenticity to the outside world. It is when people see you have done what is necessary to lead yourself and that you are showing up authentically in the world that others will naturally gravitate to you as a leader.

What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?

Management is directive, prescriptive, task or goal oriented.
Leadership involves inspiring or compelling people based on thoughts, words, beliefs, actions or a shared vision.

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?

Now more than ever people are distracted by endless bombardment with media telling them how and who they should be. Unfortunately, people don’t take the time to have space to understand themselves, their triggers, their likes and dislikes, their core beliefs and values and the way that they can best show up as themselves in and for the world. This is basic self-awareness that is becoming harder and harder to understand because of the mass distraction we live with. In my opinion, the way to take back individual power and to allow people develop into more effective leaders in their own lives is to first give them the tools and strategies to develop more self-awareness and in doing so they can show up more as themselves. Acting more from an aligned place we are all more powerful leaders in and for the world. It is all about laying the foundations right and then the individual has a better chance to flourish.

What has adversity taught you about leadership?

Personally, I am grateful for the challenges and adversities I have faced because it has forced me to honestly look at myself and to ask myself some important questions, to learn to dance with the edges of my comfort zone time and time again and to learn to step over the line despite my fears. I found myself in a situation where I could easily have fallen into a victim mentality but instead I chose to use adversity as a platform, as an opportunity to learn, to grow and really learn to see challenge as a learning opportunity.

If you were winding back the clock what advice would you give yourself?

I would say you are enough exactly as you are, you don’t have to measure yourself against anyone but who you were yesterday. Not every day is a good day and that is ok. With time you will evolve, it will be your greatest struggles that will help you with that process the most. Your days make up your life so be intentional about laying good habits, be with people you love and who challenge you to be your best and to keep learning and taking action even when you are scared. Above all enjoy the ride.

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

Pen and paper have been my biggest resource. Just sit down and start asking yourself questions to get to know yourself better. I ask myself “how was today?”, “why am I stressed?”, “who are my role models and why?”, “what would a perfect day/week look like?”, “what values are most important to me?” etc.

Some resources I have found useful: The Green Platform by Declan Coyle, Fear by Tich Nath Hahn, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. The Tim Ferris Podcast, The Pat Divilly Podcast. Seth Godin’s blog.