John O’Regan is an Irish International ultra runner and has represented Ireland on the national team at World & European level with 10 International appearances to date. He has captained the national team on a few occasions and when not competing he takes on the role of team manager. As well as international competition John has completed some of the most extreme races on every perceivable terrain and environment from arctic to desert and in doing so has completed the highest, lowest, most northern, most southern and the hottest and coldest races in the world including a race at the North Pole. He has run as guide runner with blind adventurer Mark Pollock and in 2017 was guide to blind athlete Sinead Kane when she completed a marathon on each of the seven continents in less than seven days. Outside of competing John is also a running coach and personal trainer and sits on an advisory panel with Athletics Ireland for ultra running. He is also on the communications committee with the Ultra Running World Governing Body (IAU).
What has sport taught you about leadership?
Sport has taught me that leaders can be made and the situation can make them appear as leaders. Competition, in particular, requires quick thinking and there isn’t always time for hesitation or second-guessing. Winning and losing can be determined at any given moment. The leader can be the person that takes charge of the moment and sets the example for others to follow. Through sport, we all have the opportunity to be leaders by setting an example for younger athletes/players that need role models to look up to and inspire them to be the best they can.
What are the essential components to building a winning team?
To build a winning team you need to find the individuals that have been successful in their own right and will put the team ahead of their own ego and personal glory. Many teams are just groups of individuals trying to outshine each other rather than wanting to or being able to do what’s best for the team. Being a team means more than just wearing the same colours and there needs to be an unconditional commitment to each other. Players need to trust each other and the trust needs to be earned but most of all they want the team to win.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
There are many characteristics that I believe every leader should possess but for me, the number one is having emotional intelligence. This being the ability to read a situation and adapt accordingly. Knowing how to handle athlete/coach relationships and to be empathetic even when constructive criticism is needed. Every member of the team is unique and may need an individualised approach to get the best out of them. This might be a reaffirmation of how important their contribution is to the team and instilling a sense of value and self-worth.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your sporting career what advice would you give yourself?
Go for it! Believe in yourself and don’t fear failure. There was a time when fear of failure not only held me back but it actually stopped me. I was lucky that I eventually found something that was motivation enough to force that first step. In hindsight, I wish I had made it earlier as I soon realised that the only thing stopping me was me.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
I’m a fan of the Dublin football team and manager, Jim Gavin. Gavin is a man of confidence and self-belief and this is reflected in how his team perform. The Dublin football team all take personal responsibility through their actions and they demonstrate how personal leadership can win games. And then there’s Shackleton (Sir Ernest Shackleton, Polar Explorer), possibly the greatest leader bar none. From hiring the most competent crew (team) to inspiring them to remain optimistic with limited resources when failure would seem inevitable. He created calm during chaos and managed to save the lives of all his team that were stranded for almost two years on the pack ice off the coast of Antarctica. When his ship The Endurance was trapped in the polar ice and had to be abandoned, Shackleton insisted that the expedition’s banjo be rescued, famously calling out to his men: “We must have that banjo! It is vital mental medicine.”
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
The obvious answer here is podcasts and Ted talks which I do use but personally, I would suggest that you take every opportunity to talk to or at least listen to the man in the arena. I like to attend lectures and conferences to listen to what they have to say. Going back to the Ted Talks and podcasts, sometimes you don’t know what you are looking for until you find it. Don’t be blinkered into searching for only what you think relevant to your own environment. There are opportunities for learning and self-development everywhere. Be open-minded and willing to accept and try new ideas.
“Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing
“Conscious Coaching” – Brett Bartholomew
“Peak Performance” – Brad Stulberg & Steve Magness