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  • A Tangible Conversation

    It has become an annual phenomenon that I am simultaneously winding down and winding up at this time of year.  Winding down for a Summer holiday with the family and winding up for one of the most stimulating three days of my calendar – the Tangible Ireland Summer School which is taking place once again in the beautiful town of Kilmallock at the welcoming Deebert House Hotel from 18 – 20 August.

    I must declare an interest since I have had the joy of moderating this event for four of the last five years and yet I claim very little credit for the amazing content that has emerged year on year.  It’s a unique event where the audience are the contributors, the “great thinkers” and “keynote speakers” are as likely to be around the table as behind a podium.  As the three days progress, themes, shared passions and connections simply coalesce into a challenging, diverse and yet somehow seamlessly coherent conversation.  I always come away with more energy than I arrived with, feeling stimulated, inspired and generally rearing to go as we face into a new school year!

    This year, as with previous gatherings, our over-arching themes are Leadership, Excellence and Inspiration.  Some of the thoughts in my head as I anticipate the Summer School include:

    Leadership – How do we go back to basics?  We often have the structures but leadership is about purpose so do our structures follow purpose?  How do we stay “on purpose” when the structures and systems start to grow? 

    Excellence – Can we create a framework for excellence using shared language that connects across sectors and allows us to learn more effectively from each other and work more effectively with each other?

    Inspiration - Envisioning the Future.  Facing into a centenary year, do we have the capacity to stretch our horizons and look towards Envisioning 2116? What could we achieve in the next 100 years? What kind of Ireland would we like to create?

    While these questions are the ones uppermost in my head, I am as intrigued to hear what others bring into the room – both their questions and the answers that emerge.

    So I finish with a thought in relation to going back to basics on leadership. Télhere is a timeless piece of wisdom that I first came across over a decade ago and revisit from time to time as it offers some of most practical leadership advice I know and it is this:


    (a guide for Global Leadership)

    All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

    These are the things I learned:

          Share everything.

          Play fair.

          Don't hit people.

          Put things back where you found them.

          Clean up your own mess.

          Don't take things that aren't yours.

          Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

          Wash your hands before you eat.


          Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

          Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

          Take a nap every afternoon.

          When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

          Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

          Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.

          And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

    Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.  

    Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

    And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

    [Source: "ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN" by Robert Fulghum.  See his web site at  ]


    Building on this simple wisdom, I’m looking forward to exploring what a credo of Tangible Leadership Behaviours might look like.  What do we do when we are at our best as leaders? What are the behaviours that let us down?  And let’s not fool ourselves, we can have all the strategy and structures we like but culture trumps strategy every time and culture is all about behaviour – what we do and how we are when we’re too busy to think about it!

    The true value of the Summer School is in making time to think. Join us and help shape the conversation while reaping the benefits for yourself!

    Posted 14 Jul 2015, 14:25 by Carol Conway
  • The Logic of Parenting

    Let me start by saying that parenting and logic are not words that usually occur in the same sentence in my experience.  That said, I have become quite enamoured of Logic Models as a process for project planning in my professional life and, as I cycled the coast path recently with the toddler strapped into his seat and giving a running commentary on all the passing traffic, my mind wandered to the question of what a Logic Model for parenting would look like?  What are the Inputs, Outputs, Outcomes and Impact?  Most importantly, do I stay focused on Outcome and Impact in my family?  

    I am certainly emphatic with the teams and organisations I work with how important it is to have a clear vision and work relentlessly towards achieving Outcomes and Impact rather than just Outputs.  What would happen if I reviewed and restructured my leadership role at home through this lens?

    So, here’s the rough Logic Model that emerged in answer to that question:



















    Weight gain

    Height gain

    Language acquired

    Years of education attained

    Social skills acquired

    Relative familial calm

    Positive thinking skills acquired

    Healthy children

    Articulate children

    Emotionally mature children

    Sustained friendships

    Good family dynamics

    Positive outlook

    Society improves from successive generations of balanced, mature, educated, motivated and positive adults

    On first review, not so earth shattering I suppose. It’s not at the level or standard that would win any funding for this little project, that’s for sure.  However, on second thought, I had a eureka moment as I reviewed the model from left to right and realised that I DO in fact spend my day to day much too focused on the inputs and outputs of my role as parent rather than keeping an eye on the bigger picture impact that my healthy, mature, positive children can have on the world.

    Perhaps if I keep this in mind, it will help me to reduce the amount of micro-management I apply and increase my coaching, trusting, supportive strategies...exactly as I would propose to any client struggling to manage and develop their team effectively.

    This reminds me again how much easier it is to see the answer to issues from which you are one step remove.  While that is the natural condition for me when I am working with another individual or organisation, it is one I need to deliberately create when I am in the trenches of day to day parenting and breaking all my own rules (to be restorative, positive, even just a little bit less nutsy!).  

    This, in the end, is the real value of applying something as alien as a Logic Model to my role as parent - it gives me the tool to step back, see the big picture and be re-inspired. Perspective that is invaluable on a rainy Summer’s morning with all three kids starting week three of the holidays and prone to cabin fever once the clouds break!

    So I don’t promise to be logical today, I do intend to keep in mind the bigger end goal of these precious days spent in close proximity with my lovely offspring and - to borrow a phrase - not sweat the small stuff!
    Posted 13 Jul 2015, 00:36 by Carol Conway
  • Ireland’s Leap over the Generation Gap

    I have come to the conclusion that we  need real compassionate leadership as we create together the Ireland of today which is fit for purpose in an uncertain and fast changing world.  I realise that this conclusion on it’s own comes somewhat starkly out of the blue so I wanted to share some of the thinking that led me here.

    I’ve been thinking about the pace of change a bit lately.  Undoubtedly this has been prompted by the amazing and historic change we voted into our constitution not quite two weeks ago.  I’ve had conversations with people younger than me by a decade or more, reflecting on that fact that within my lifetime, the ban on married women working was lifted and within my memory contraception, divorce and homosexual acts have been legalised.  That’s a whole lot of change in a short space of time.

    Then today, in conversation with a very wise friend, I was recalling another reality.  Almost 48 years ago my parents, who met in Iowa, moved to Dublin.  My father is from a farm in Limerick and my mother is from a small town in Iowa, born a month apart on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

    I grew up in a house full of stories.  The story of how my parents met (which included, rather improbably, a mad Irishman riding his bicycle in the snow), the story of how they married and moved back to Ireland (my father’s studies were complete and he had to return to his secure semi-state job in Dublin).  We also had a stock of favourite stories revolving around my father’s childhood which included him walking barefoot and in short trousers to school nine months of the year, near death scrapes in deep wells and tractors driven by twelve year olds as well as classic comedy incorporating the sacred “front parlour” and visits by the Parish Priest.  When it came to my mother’s side of the family however, it was her father, my grandfather, we turned to for the stories which, in many respects, were very familiar.  You see, my father and his father in law - while a whole generation apart in age - actually shared remarkably similar childhoods.

    Both made their own way to school (on foot or horse respectively), both remembered seeing their first motor car, both helped their parents to electrify their family home.  This is not some spooky coincidence that is unique to my family.  It reflects the reality that, as recently as the late 1960s, Ireland was a full generation behind the US (and quite possibly other countries in the developed world).  

    That, in itself, is perhaps not so remarkable given our geographical remoteness, agrarian economy and traditional religious social norms.  What is remarkable is the speed at which we have grown up!  For all the distance between my mother’s upbringing in middle America and my father’s in Western Ireland, the experience of my siblings here in Dublin and our cousins across the US has been increasingly similar.  The Ireland of 2015 may still feel culturally different to a visiting American, but it is essentially on a par in terms of access to technology, availability of diverse goods and services (even including multiple ethnic food choices), access to high tech employment and opportunities.  In short, we caught up. In fact, by being the first country in the world to legalise marriage equality by popular vote, some might argue we’ve taken a leap ahead in some respects.

    Rather than being intended as self-congratulatory, however, I’ve been reflecting on this by way of being perhaps a little more understanding of those who find themselves resistant to the changes and hanging on for dear life to “how things used to be”.  We know that, as humans, we are not wired for change and the humans on this island have had to adapt to an awful lot of it in a relatively short time!  If we can find compassion for those who are playing catch up, perhaps we can also find the leadership to bring them with us rather than excluding them as “no hopers”.

    Ultimately, that is the insight prompted by various recent conversations, the need for real compassionate leadership as we create together the Ireland of today which is fit for purpose in an uncertain and fast changing world.
    Posted 5 Jun 2015, 07:03 by Carol Conway
  • Some Thoughts on Manic Depression

    Earlier this week I received an unexpected email from my older brother with the most honest, moving and courageous reflection on his experience of Manic Depression.  As I read it (bizarrely in a hairdressers chair while I “improved” the colour of my crowning glory), I laughed, I cried, and I gained a real insight into what it is like to live with this reality.  Having grown up in a family where Manic Depression is the lived reality for both my brother and my father, I’d like to think that I’ve made an effort to be both educated and understanding about it over the years.  I now realise I’ve never really had a clue!

    Moreover, I personally find this account so valuable that I thought it should be more widely shared and my brother has readily agreed (another act of courage as far as I’m concerned).  So it was with a wry smile at the “serendipity” of it, that I realised we are also in the middle of Green Ribbon month, a National initiative to get people talking openly about mental health problems in May 2015 – how apt!

    Without further preamble, and with deep gratitude t my brother, here are his thoughts which I hope may prove useful to others who are living with this either personally or through a loved one:


    Some thoughts on Manic Depression.

    First a pet peeve. I like the term "manic depression", it's apt. "Sometimes manic, sometimes depressed." Yep, that's what I've got. Nowadays the fashionable term is "bipolar disorder". "Two poles in the wrong order." Huh? What? Perhaps "manic depression" sounds harsh and unpleasant. Well it IS harsh and unpleasant. For the people who have it, and those who have to put up with them. But I don't mind if you prefer "bipolar disorder".

    What is manic depression like?

    Imagine there are two compartments in your mind [1]. One deals only with the negative: bad memories, problems that beset you, things that might go wrong. The other deals only with the positive: happy memories, things that are going well, hopes for the future. A healthy mind balances both sides.

    Being depressed shuts down the positive side. Everything is shit. Everything. The times you thought you were happy were a hollow sham, you were a fool to believe life could ever be anything but shit. Anything of value that is left in your life will soon be lost. Nothing you can do will help. It will never get better. There is no way out.  There Is No Way Out.

    Being manic shuts down the negative side. That might sound like fun, and it is! But it is just as dangerous. Why not bet my life savings on that 10 to 1 horse? I'll win a fortune! Why not drive 150kph on the highway? I'll get home quicker! Why not try the dodgy drugs this weirdo I just met is selling?  I'll expand my consciousness!

    [Disclaimer: these are not things I have done. They are hypothetical examples, but not unrealistic. OK, maybe the driving.]

    People rattle on about being positive and not being negative but the truth is you cannot live without both. Losing either cripples your mind.


    What can a manic-depressive person do?

    Drugs help, at least they help me. I'm talking about medication here, not recreation. But it's not that simple. The first problem is that when you are manic you know you don't need them and when you are depressed you know they won't work. So it can take a while and some false starts before you even try.

    If you get past that, the second problem is that going up and down is a constant feature of your life. It's hard to tell if the drugs are making you better or if it’s just the cycle. Often the possible side-effects of the drugs are also possible symptoms of the disease (sleep problems, anxiety etc.)  Different drugs work for different people and there are a LOT of different drugs. It takes time and experimentation to figure out what works.  It took me several years. Then, a good many years later, it stopped working and I had to experiment some more. Now it works again.

    If you get past all that, and you start to feel somewhat normal BEWARE. "Hey I feel perfectly normal. Normal people don't need all these drugs, why don't I just..."  YOU FEEL NORMAL BECAUSE THE DRUGS WORK! Only change meds if you start to feel abnormal.

    People are (wisely) hesitant to use "artificial", "unnatural" drugs, especially to keep their mind functioning. Some meds can have nasty side effects. People say "it's just a crutch". There's no doubt that not needing drugs or crutches is better than needing them. But if you only have one leg, Use The Damn Crutch! It is not perfect, it is not a real leg, it may chafe your armpits, but it is better than dragging yourself across the floor on your belly.

    When people talk about the side effects and long term damage of medication, they often forget to factor in the side effects and long term damage of being insane. Chose what works best. Perfect is not on the menu. Manic depression is serious. I think I made it, but not everyone does. I'd rather risk taking medication for my liver at 60 than be found hanging in my basement at 40.

    Other things may help: exercise, diet, food supplements, meditation, support groups, therapy. Those things are good for you anyway (or at least not bad for you) so there's no harm in trying. I liked group because I could say things I would NEVER say in public, and people would nod and smile instead of looking at me like I was insane. Meditation helped me a lot. Therapy was pleasant but I'm not sure it made much difference. I'm not saying any of these things will or won't help somebody else, I'm saying: Try Everything, Do Whatever Works.

    The trick with these things is that when you are manic you know they will solve all your problems. When you are depressed you know they are a waste of time and you stop doing them. I still don't know for sure: did meditation help me get out of the depression, or did I start meditating again because I was coming out of the depression? In any case, I got to like meditation and I'm convinced it did help me with my attitude to life. I stopped doing it, I don't know why. I may start again.


    What can you do when you are depressed?

    Absolutely Nothing. Sorry if that's a shocker. Yes drugs etc. can help in the long run. They can smooth the ups and downs and even get you to a point where you don't get depressed any more. But you are depressed Right Now, not in the long run. And there is nothing you can do Right Now except live with it.

    I have read, and it fits my experience, that part of the horrible mechanism of depression is that all your attempts to fight it, escape it, or deny it feed new messages of failure and despair to the negative side of your mind. The more you struggle the worse it gets. If you stop struggling, that will NOT make it better. But at least you will not voluntarily be making it worse.

    Accept. Acceptance is not condoning, ignoring or minimizing horrible things. It is recognizing that the horrible thing is already here. It is the reality you must deal with if you are to move on to something less horrible.

    Wait. It WILL pass. You WILL feel better. You DID feel better in the past and you will again. At some point I came to believe that, even while I was depressed. Believing it does NOT make you feel any better. But hopefully it makes you willing to wait it out.

    The flip side of this insight is knowing that when you are happy, that won't last either. You will become depressed again. So what? You're happy NOW! Enjoy it while it lasts! That's not sarcasm, it is an essential strategy for survival and happiness in an uncertain world, whether you are mentally ill or have delusions of sanity. Enjoy It While It Lasts! All of it!

    And now the delicate subject of suicide. I have never made a plan to kill myself. I did reach a point where I knew that if things did not get better I would eventually have to kill myself. I also used to think about suicide "in the abstract" way more than most people do. The doctors call this "suicidal ideation" which I find funny. "Ideation". Silly word.

    Here is what I would say to someone contemplating suicide. It may sound insane to a sane person. It is not hopeful because giving hope to a depressed person is like turning on the light for a blind person. Here goes:


    Don't rush. Wait a bit. See what happens. You can always kill yourself later.

    Your life is worthless, so what does it matter if you waste another worthless day? You are certain it will never get better and there's no way out. You might be wrong. I'm sure you will agree that you've been wrong about a lot of things. Something good might happen someday. Maybe. Maybe not, but give it another day. What have you got to lose? Hahaha. You can always kill yourself later. There's no rush. You don't really care about anything anymore, do you? Not even yourself. So what does it matter if you suffer a little longer?

    Even if you are right, and life never gets better, it is not forever. Nature will kill you soon enough. Suicide is unnecessary.


    I feel a bit "out there" writing that down. I know this is not how people normally think. But suicidal people are not in a normal state of mind. I don't know if I would really say this to a suicidal person. But it works for me. I know now that I will never need to kill myself.


    What can you do when you are manic?

    Depression was a bigger problem for me than mania. I did some stupid manic things but thanks to the intervention of wiser people on some occasions, and dumb luck on others, I never paid a high price for them. The drugs worked on the mania much quicker than the depression.

    Depression and mania are extremes, with lots in between. Maybe somewhere in there is "normal", but I don't think it even matters where. What matters is finding a way to live the life you have.

    There is a point between depression and mania that is just FANTASTIC. My mind is genuinely sharper and faster. My sense of humour is better. I am full of great ideas. I enjoy life! Life IS great, I can SEE that. Really great not delusionally great.

    In the old days I flew past that point at top speed. As I get higher my mind and my speech get faster till people can't understand me. The doctors call that "pressured speech". That probably sounds odd, but I know EXACTLY what it means. I don't sleep much, I have tons of energy and too many ideas to fit in my head. I've never heard the phrase "pressured thought" but I know EXACTLY what that means too. It is exhausting. But it turns out you can be mind-numbingly exhausted and at the same time driven by unstoppable energy and floods of ideas. It's not as much fun as it sounds.

    I try to be calm and patient. It's hard. I try to practice the gentle art of Keeping My Mouth Shut even when I have something devastatingly witty or astoundingly insightful to say. I try to slow down.

    The following strategy may sound familiar: Wait. Don't rush. If it's a brilliant idea now it'll be a brilliant idea later. No harm in re-reading it tomorrow, I can send it then. I'm sure it is essential but no need to buy it right now, I can get it next week. No need to buy a year’s supply, even on special (but it's on SPECIAL!!!). Let’s just get what we need now and come back later.

    The very best strategy I have ever found is Listen To My Wife. It's hard sometimes but she's usually right. When you can't trust your own mind, find people you can trust and listen to them even when you know you are right.

    There is a thing the doctors call a "dysphoric high". I have had that misfortune. All the energy, racing ideas and poor judgement of standard mania but instead of everything being great, everything is irritating. It all just makes me ANGRY. This is the worst. Not for me (I'm insulated by layers of delusional, self-righteous anger) but for my long-suffering wife. I am amazed and forever grateful that she never packed up and left. It would have been justified, perhaps even well-advised. Thanks Denise.

    The only advice I can give for this condition is Keep Your Damn Mouth Shut. Some people say that communication is always best. They are wrong. I agree it is usually best, but right now Shut Up. Go stew in your room. Take a walk. Have long protracted arguments in your head with all the people you think have offended you. You will probably win those arguments. But Do Not Say Them Out Loud. Concerned people will ask, what’s wrong? Do Not Tell Them. DO NOT. Tell them it’s not them it's you. Tell them you'll be fine. Tell them you'll talk about it later. Lie through your teeth. At one point I took to telling my wife "it's that time of the month".

    Wait. There's no rush. If they are out to get you, if you really cannot tolerate their behaviour any more, it will still be true tomorrow or next week. Take your time. You may change your mind. You regularly do, remember?  Maybe there is something that needs sorting out, but sort it out later. You can talk about things that bother you but NOT NOW. The arguments that you won in your head? You WILL NOT WIN in reality. Nobody will. Everybody will lose. You will cause terrible harm that will be hard to repair, if you're lucky enough to be able to repair it. I know. Thanks Denise.


    What can we learn from manic depression?

    One of the things I have learned from manic depression is that I do not control my own mind, and I cannot believe everything it tells me. I suspect this applies to everyone in a subtle way. In my case it is not subtle.  Apparently this is well known in the mind sciences and Buddhism, but it was a bit of a shock to me.

    Of course I still have to trust myself. I still do. My mind isn't trying to deceive me, it is doing the best it can. Sometimes that is great. Sometimes not so much. Urgency and desperation are clues that maybe it isn't great right now. So take a deep breath. Put that aside for later. Talk it over with someone. There's no rush. My mind works, I just have to be patient with it.

    Manic depression has taught me the value of patience. I don't always do it, but at least I know it is a good idea.

    Life is unpredictable. We can't control it, and not everything about it is good. But a lot of it IS good. If we make the best of the good, and try not to be fooled or overwhelmed by the bad, we can be happy. At least some of the time. And so it goes with the mind.

    I have learned to live peacefully with my mind (which includes having learned to take my meds.) It doesn't always behave but nobody's perfect. Nowadays I am happy most of the time. I wish everybody the same.



    [1] The two compartments metaphor is adapted from a lecture by Dr. Patrick McKeon,     you can find it at

    Posted 15 May 2015, 02:11 by Carol Conway
  • Talking Motherhood, Money and Mops...

    Ten years from now, I will still be in my prime.  Ten years from now, I will still be at least a decade away from retirement and I will still have skills, scope and passion for interesting, meaningful and valuable work.

    Ten years from now, I will not have the option to be there when my children get in from school, the opportunity to sit with them as they practice their music, supervise as they bake and decorate fairy cakes or even simply sit and watch Spiderman with them as they discover the cast of Marvel  characters for the very first time at the tender age of two and nine months!

    I have always encouraged people in a decision crisis to consider the choice that keeps the most options open to them, rather than committing to the course that closes them off.

    Ten years from now, I will have adult and teenage children who will hopefully still want some of my time, company, wisdom and possibly cooking.  They will no longer need me to help with homework or ferry them to Brownies, ballet and GAA.  I will therefore have my “working” hours available to “work”.

    So, if I were coaching me, I would recommend that I focus my daytime hours now on those things which will no longer be an option in only a very short time.  I would recommend giving priority focus and truly mindful attention to those moments which will accumulate to create memories of genuinely great parenting in my children’s minds.  I would recommend forgoing some income, some really interesting and challenging projects and probably even some housework in order to make this priority a reality in practice.

    These recommendations are so clear and so easy to write, it is almost baffling to understand how they can be so hard to live.  Perhaps it’s in part due to the fact that, being self-employed, it’s impossible to be both stern with my boss and positive with my self-talk!

    Please don’t misunderstand the intent of this blog.  There is no right answer to the question of balancing work and parenting for professional working mothers (or fathers).  There is no universal formula that works for everyone.  It is a case by case decision that we all need to muddle through.

    There are however some societal pressures that make it hard to even have the honest, reflective conversations that might help us steer our own courses more confidently. While we pay lip service, as a society, to the value of good parenting, we still moan about the cost of childcare suggesting its only valuable work when we’re doing it ourselves!  It is totally acceptable, normal in fact, to outsource the care of our children if both parents are working.  It’s not so clear that it’s normal, acceptable or even reasonable for working parents to outsource their housework! So the options for achieving the delicate balancing act are impeded at times by the mores of society and our own baggage and hang ups.

    Then the differences in views, values, situations and opinions between mothers who choose to also work, those who choose to stay home with their children and those who have no choice but are forced into either situation by dint of circumstance are so deep seated that it becomes almost too risky to discuss it - even among friends.

    And yet my biggest learning over the last few weeks has been how valuable it is to open those conversations. How helpful it is to gently share and listen and therefore to learn that we none of us have the answer and all have the same struggle.

    Ten years from now I will certainly be older, I will hopefully be wiser, and I undoubtedly still will be muddling through.  I hope that I will still be having open, honest and helpful conversations with all the wonderful women I know and those I have yet to encounter and maybe, just maybe, we will all be steering our courses a little more confidently as a result.
    Posted 18 Feb 2015, 14:07 by Carol Conway
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