Orla O’Brien

Orla O’Brien joined LauraLynn Children’s Hospice in April 2018, having spent almost 30 years working in children’s healthcare. Orla qualified as a Registered Children’s and General Nurse in 1989 and subsequently as a paediatric intensive care nurse before taking on management and leadership roles. Orla was previously Chief Operations Officer in the Children’s Hospital Group, Deputy Director of Nursing in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital and Project Manager in the Department of Health. Orla holds both a BSc in Nursing Management (Hons) and a Higher Diploma in Healthcare Risk Management (Hons) from UCD; a Diploma in Human Resource Management from the NCI; a Diploma in Physics and Chemistry from the RCSI; and most recently an MSc in Leadership and Management (Hons) from the RCSI Institute of Leadership.

Orla is a keen runner and golfer. Originally from Mitchelstown in Co. Cork, she lives in Booterstown with her husband Conor and their three daughters. She maintains a link with academia by supervising dissertation students in the second year of their Masters Programme with the RCSI Institute of Leadership.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

As a Masters in Leadership graduate, I really believe taught leadership has a role, but it alone won’t make you a good leader. You must also have a varied and resourceful toolkit – you must be authentic, have strong emotional intelligence, self-awareness, be a strong influencer, be able to communicate a vision that everyone can buy into and believe in. You are not a leader if you have no followers on the journey with you!

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

To me this is simple – leaders have people who follow them while managers have people who work for them. However they’re not mutually exclusive, they’re complimentary – to be really successful, you must be good at both! Being a good leader means setting a direction that people are compelled to follow while being a good manager means directing people to ensure you get there! Personally I find qualities such as integrity, honesty, authenticity, vision, strong communication skills and respectful challenge are really important but to get the job done the ability to break down a vision into an achievable roadmap, keep operations moving, following the systems, processes and procedures are equally important qualities to seeing it through – simply put you must still mind the business, mind the money and mind the staff!

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?

In my view, I think there probably are an ample number of leaders out there – the key is for us to recognise that leaders exist at all levels – we can be leaders in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our clubs – we need to educate our young people what leadership really is and that it exists all around us, we just don’t always call it by its name. We need to give people the confidence to feel and acknowledge that they are leaders in their own right –that leadership isn’t all about having an official title. Empowering people to be leaders will help our future leaders emerge. There is a strong history of empowering leaders in LauraLynn Children’s Hospice, dating back to our 1920’s origins and the famous Dr Ella Webb and of course Jane and Brendan McKenna, who dreamed of building a children’s hospice dedicated to the memory of their daughters Laura and Lynn. Vision and bravery in our decision-making through changing and challenging times, has enabled us to remain relevant. Today LauraLynn is the largest provider of children’s hospice and palliative care services and our ambition is that every child who needs it should be within two hours of a children’s palliative care service. Thankfully, I have a team filled with leaders to help me realise this ambitious goal!

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

I would probably have to say micromanaging – trying to control every detail, getting into the weeds and losing the helicopter view. In my view, it’s important to surround yourself with people with skill sets that complement yours and trust and empower them to do their job!

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

The best advice I got that I have never forgotten, is when you are in a high-pressure situation or time think leadership not ownership. My coach used to say to me to always ask yourself “So what?” as only rarely is an issue as big or as insurmountable as you may think it is. That said pressure and stress are very prevalent features of modern day life so following the general advice of telling someone how you’re feeling and finding the time for exercise, family and relaxation cannot be overstated.

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

I love listening to Podcasts so a few good ones to check out are:

A few good reads:

  • “Playing to Win (How Strategy Really Works)” – A.G. Lafley & Roger L. Martin
  • “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” – Richard Rumelt
  • “Lean In, Plan B” – Sheryl Sandberg
  • “When Breath Becomes Air” (fabulous read for anyone in healthcare) – Dr Paul Kalanathi
  • “Being Mortal” – Dr Atul Gawande

And finally, there is an abundance of academic courses on leadership out there, which I would always recommend. If you are up to taking on a Masters – you won’t regret it!