Mary O’Connor is CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport. She is a native of Cork and has worked in sport all her professional life and is an avid sports fan. In 2016 Mary graduated from University College Cork with a Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management. Before joining the Federation of Irish Sport, Mary worked with the Camogie Association as Director of Technical Development and Participation. She excelled in this role and led the association into an unprecedented era of growth. Under her direction as Acting CEO of the Camogie Association in 2013, she successfully guided the association through change in the form of the new affiliation model for individual members, which saw camogie ensure a more equitable membership structure for all clubs.
Mary has represented her native Cork in both Camogie and Ladies Football amassing a total of 12 Senior All Ireland medals over a 16-year dual intercounty career. She has won All-Stars in both codes, national leagues and provincial titles and more recently was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate from University College Cork in recognition of her amazing contribution to sport in Ireland.
What has sport taught you about leadership?
Sport has thought me hardwork, resilience, decision making, planning, listening, teamwork, negotiation, commitment, risk and empathy. I believe these are traits of leadership and experiences in different sporting scenarios can be applied in work and in life as well. In sport, people must deliver on their words by performing and in life and work, I firmly believe that to perform well you must believe in what you are doing, and lead by setting example.
What are the essential components to building a winning team?
The culture of a winning team is about having an identity, believing in it, setting standards, taking responsibility and being consistent. Everyone has a role to play and each person must be aware of their role and how our role impacts the team. I believe that creating the opportunity for people to learn from each other as well as each person being valued and recognised has a consequence for performance and when teams perform they get results.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
For me, its empathy, every leader has a vision but for that vision to be achieved you need to understand people who are working with you.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your sporting career what advice would you give yourself?
Believe in yourself and take a risk to move out of your comfort zone
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
Billie Jean King and Alex Ferguson
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 Goal Getter” by Gerry Duffy, “Lead to win” by Michael Hyatt (PODCAST) and “Sacred Hoops” by Phil Jackson