9 Irish Proverbs on Work and Leadership


If there’s one thing we Irish are good at, it’s stringing a sentence together. Works of literature by James Joyce and lines of poetry by Seamus Heaney might be the first examples that spring to mind. But on the day Irish people around the world are called to celebrate our Irishness (including members of Team Frankli), it’s only right that I include some beautifully-written examples in the Irish language too.

Like many Irish people, my Irish is pretty ropey, despite having studied it for 14 years while at school. But I’m grateful to know enough gaeilge to understand the basics. On St. Patrick’s Day this year, I wanted to highlight some age-old Irish sayings and proverbs on work and success. Known to Irish speakers as seanfhocal, these proverbs are so timeless in their wisdom, they really could have been written yesterday.

Read together as a collection, I think these Irish proverbs make a pretty good set of guiding principles for employees, managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone else trying to level up their working life. 

Irish Sayings and Proverbs on Work and Leadership

1. Más cam nó díreach an ród, 's é an bothar mór an t-aicearra

The translation: The longest road out is the shortest road home

The meaning: Don’t be tempted by short cuts. A thorough approach will help you reach your goals faster than a rushed one.

The application: It can be hard to stay positive when your progress is slow, but try not to get discouraged. Remember that the people who inspire you have all been in the same position. Stay focussed on your goals and you’ll start to see things moving in the right direction.

2. Is fearr lúbadh ná briseadh

The translation: It’s better to bend than to break

The meaning: To succeed, you have to be flexible.

The application: When you have a clear idea of what you want to do, it can be hard to deviate from the plan. Stubbornness can be an asset in business, but it can also be a hindrance. Sometimes, you have to pivot to progress.

3. Níl saoi gan locht

The translation: There’s not a wise man without fault

The meaning: Leaders have flaws, too!

The application: When your job involves leading people, it’s so important to own your mistakes and be transparent about your shortcomings. If you’re honest and up-front with your team, they’ll respect you all the more for it, and are more likely to feel more comfortable doing the same. 

4. Tús maith, leath na hoibre

The translation: A good start is half the work

The meaning: Your initial steps will dictate how well a project is going to go.

The application: When you’re excited about a project, it can be tempting to dive right in. But it’s important to take the time to prepare and carry out relevant research first, so you can make the best possible start. If your first steps go well, the rest of the work should flow nicely from there.

5. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí

The translation: Praise the young and they will flourish

The meaning: Positive reinforcement yields the best results.

The application: It’s so important to give praise where praise is due - of course, this applies to people of all ages! Research by Gallup* shows that employees who are regularly praised are more productive, more engaged, and more likely to stay with the organisation. It’s one reason why Frankli customers love the Give Praise feature, which provides a quick, easy way to show appreciation for your team members.

6. Má chailleann tú uair ar maidin beidh tú á tóraíocht i rith an lae 

The translation: Lose an hour in the morning you'll be looking for it all day

The meaning: How you start your working day will dictate how the remainder goes.

The application: It’s well worth taking the time to develop a daily starting-work routine. This will look different for everyone, but might include setting goals for the day, making a list of tasks to complete, checking in with coworkers, and maybe even a short meditation practice or coffee ritual.

7. Ní dhéanfaidh smaoineamh an treabhadh duit

The translation: You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind

The meaning: There’s rarely a perfect time to do something, so you may as well get started now!

The application: As much as I love to feel prepared before starting a project, there’s a limit to how much research is useful. Sometimes chewing on an idea for too long can actually make it more difficult to tackle. When you feel like you’ve got a good grasp of what you want to achieve, but you're still excited and energised about your project, that’s when it’s time to get moving!

8. Ní neart go cur le chéile

The translation: There is no strength without unity

The meaning: The team that works well together, succeeds.

The application: If you create a culture of teamwork and the results will speak for themselves. There are lots of ways to do this but our favourites include; creating channels for open and honest communication, aligning your team on shared goals, and celebrating your team regularly.

9. Ní thuigeann an sách an seang

The translation: The well-fed does not understand the lean

The meaning: It can be difficult to understand the actions of others until you put yourself in their shoes. 

The application: When conflict arises, or you just can’t understand why work isn’t getting done in the way you expected it to, a change of perspective is needed. Spend some time with the team member in question. Ask them to talk you through their workload and the challenges they’re facing, and you should get a better idea of how to move forward. 

With Frankli, you can align everyone on the team through OKRs, automate catch-ups and reviews, connect people for feedback and coaching, and free up 1000s of hours annually in the process. Click here to learn more.

*https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/12157/power-praise-recognition.aspx

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