2 minutes with… Claire O’Connell


Work. Life. Lessons from leaders by Claire O’Connell is a recently published, pocket-sized book bursting with carefully selected tips, hacks and insights to inspire you in both your professional and your personal life. While the contributors have been selected due to how much they have achieved in their careers, it’s fair to say that most of the words of wisdom also carry over into our personal lives. Valuing the people around you, learning to listen more carefully, being pragmatic about reaching goals, or embracing new challenges by stepping outside your comfort zone: these are words from the wise that are as valuable and inspiring in our working lives as they are in our day-to-day lives outside work. The bright and engaging design work featured throughout the book adds greatly to the words contained within; words from lived experience, shared by a whole range of inspirational people. Featured in the book are nuggets of hard-earned wisdom and insights from the likes of Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, MEP Frances Fitzgerald, former politician and current Chancellor of the University of Limerick Mary Harney, Dr Rhona Mahony, and Professor Jane Ohlmeyer.  

On this International Women’s Day 2023, given that almost all the contributions are by women, we are catching up with the book’s author, Dr Claire O’Connell, a scientist-turned-writer who was named Irish Science Writer of the Year 2016, and who has written extensively for Silicon Republic and The Irish Times since 2005.

Can you talk to us about how this book came about?

This little book grew from a series of Masterclasses, where leaders in their field sat down with about 10-15 attendees and talked about their life, their career and what they learned about leadership from their experiences. This Masterclass format is simple and powerful, and it is the brainchild of Pauric Dempsey in the Royal Irish Academy. Accenture Ireland worked with the Royal Irish Academy on a series of Women in Leadership Masterclasses, where many wonderful leaders shared their stories. The speakers were impressive, including university presidents, researchers at the top of their game, women with experience at the pinnacles of the public sector, civil service and diplomatic corps and two former Tánaistí. I had the honour of moderating these classes, introducing the speakers and encouraging a relaxed environment for conversation. Some of the pieces of advice or insights shared at those Masterclasses would pop up in my own mind weeks, months and sometimes even years later, they really hit the mark. Ruth Hegarty, Managing Editor at the RIA, and I wondered how we might distill that wisdom in a format that could be shared widely, so that many more people could benefit. And so the little book of quotes was born.

The cover image is powerful, evoking the idea that by passing on wisdom and planting the seeds in someone’s mind, something bigger and more beautiful can grow from this. Can you talk to us about this concept of the growth and strengthening of wisdom and lived experience as it’s shared with others?

The cover art, by Fidelma Slattery, of flowers emerging from a person’s head, is both striking and beautiful, and it represents exactly that nourishment of potential in readers. In essence, that is what the book is about – helping people to develop their confidence and pick up practical tips for work and life. Those nourishing little drops of wisdom formed from the lived experience of leaders, and through the book they can help others to grow.

An image of a book with bookmark. The book is Work.Life.Lessons from leaders by Dr. Claire O'Connell

I’m sure there were many, but could you tell us about one of the quotes or entries from the book that resonated strongly with you when you were compiling it? Or perhaps one that particularly springs to mind today?

Each one of the quotes in the book is there because of its own special resonance, each one strikes a tone. Of course the impact of each quote will depend on individual readers, and a piece of advice that seems abstract on initial reading may release its tone at another time in a reader’s life, whenever the conditions are right for it to be heard. Or a reader may share it with a friend who will appreciate its frequency now. One piece of advice that particularly resonated with me as I was writing the book is ‘Stop saying you are just lucky; start saying you are good’ from chemist Professor Silvia Giordani, Professor of Nanomaterials at Dublin City University. Silvia is right, we so often tell others and ourselves that our successes are down to being in the right place at the right time, or just happening to have the right set of skills to get something done. Luck can play a role, for sure, but it’s important to recognise that your talent and your hard work are a big part of you getting to where you are, and where you want to go. 


Thank you to Claire for her time in talking to us about this little book that packs a powerful punch. 

Work . Life . Lessons from leaders was published by the Royal Irish Academy, Ireland’s leading body of experts in the sciences and humanities, in January 2023.