You think you haven’t got what it takes to lead and prosper? Think again. In fact, do more than that. Believe.
Leaders and would-be leaders gathered this week for the annual leadership Pendulum summit in Dublin’s Convention Centre. The title for 2023 was ‘Fuelling Peak Performance & Holistic Wellbeing’.
The summit is mega. It has grown exponentially since first appearing in 2014, just as the country was coming out of a deep recession. This is the place to be if you want to hear the secrets to success, particularly in business, but there’s plenty of wellness thrown in too.
More than 4,000 people attended this year, down a little from pre-pandemic levels, but with the world in an awful state of chassis right now, that’s not bad going. A ticket for the two-day event will set you back €980, but if you can’t make it to the second day, it’s transferable to a friend or colleague.
For €1,095 you can bump up to Platinum, which includes better seating in front of the stage from where the series of speakers will dispense their wisdom.
If you’re really in the mood there is the Diamond-level ticket which retails at €2,815 a skull. For that, you get to eat your dinner with “speakers and special guests”.
Crucially, you will also get “access to the Diamond networking room”. That could be worth a few bob in the long run because networking is a crucial aspect of the summit.
On Wednesday morning a grey drizzle hangs like a tatty curtain over the docks in Dublin where sits the convention centre. But once inside, everything brightens up. In the lobby there is a little screen on a stand, flashing messages just to get you into the mood.
Upstairs, the place is hopping. Outside the huge Liffey Hall is a scattering of circular tall tables — except they’re not tables but ‘Networking Hubs’.
Little cards on each table advertise them thus, with numbers attached. Inside the hall, the attendees are on a coffee break. Musician Robbie Doyle is sitting on a high stool, playing guitar through an excellent PA speaker. He sounds great, but it’s hard to hear him above the hum of networking.
Joe Coyle sticks out a hand, bright as a button. Joe, who travelled from Mountcharles in Donegal, is a huge fan of the summit.
“The first thing into my calendar every year,” he says.
Joe’s sunny demeanour is in tune with the general buzz around the place. Optimism is a valued virtue in business.
Cocooned away from dirty reality for a few days, those gathered get in tune with their better selves, ensuring they’re primed to receive the leadership and living tips that will be dispensed from the stage.
The best speaker Joe Coyle has ever seen at the summit was Paul O’Connell, no question about it.
“He was inspirational,” Joe says. Sport is a big theme at Pendulum. The summit was founded by former Munster and Ireland rugby player Frankie Sheehan. Most people can relate to success in sport and the stories of triumph over adversity that are personified in sporting heroes.
The big draw this year is former US Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson.
Mairtin Kelly is also from Donegal and loves Pendulum. He has two businesses in Letterkenny, employing 83 people, and he has brought two of his senior staff with him to the summit. “You will get one or two things from most speakers,” he says.
“Brian Cody, he was something else the time he spoke here. No presentation, no notes, he just spoke off the cuff, really serious stuff about setting standards and a culture. Brilliant."
An old-fashioned bell clangs out above the sound of networking in the hall. A uniformed man in a waistcoat is walking among the gathering, ringing his bell, summoning everybody to wisdom. Time for the next speaker.
In the auditorium, there is another man with a guitar on stage. He is singing 'Folsom Prison Blues' and his name is Sam Clifford (no relation). Then the MC, Mandy Hickson, a former RAF fighter pilot, introduces Susie Wolff, a former professional motorsport driver and founder of an organisation to increase the participation of women in motorsport.
Ms Wolff, a Scot with a delightful accent, relates her rise to the top in a male-dominated sport. She is quite obviously highly talented. At the end of her narrative, she scatters a few nuggets. “If I fail, I can accept failure because I brought my best self to the table,” she says.
She says she has learned that a blame culture is no good. “See it, say it, fix it,” she says. Her speech goes down well.
Later, the Liffey Hall fills up again for lunch, which is dispensed in recyclable cartons. Everybody sits at long benches while Sam Clifford sings away, competing with the networking. Those who have Premium tickets get to eat their dinner in a smaller room with round tables.
There is a large rectangular tent set up against one of the walls in the hall. This is a stall of sorts for an outfit called Lakeshore Wellness Centre. Inside the tent there is a small Buddha and two massage tables. “We all need some wellness,” says the woman sitting outside. She is very pleasant and looks very well.
Another stall is advertising ‘wellness journals’. These are notebooks with wellness features where you can record how well or unwell you are, day by day. There is also a stall displaying electric scooters, the favoured mode of transport by an increasing constituency of people in these troubled times. Then there is the stall that is really a large jacuzzi, in front of which, sitting on a tall table, are the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy cups.
If the hall thinned out it would have been possible to scoot right around it brandishing Liam MacCarthy in one hand, complete the journey with a massage in the Lakeshore Wellness Centre while communing with Buddha, and record the whole event in a wellness journal. This wouldn’t work out with Sam Maguire as the cup would be too big to hold in one hand while trying to navigate the scooter.
Emily Ahern has travelled from Cork for the day but she has done both days in the past. “I’m a repeat offender,” she says, as if confessing to a guilty pleasure. “It’s good that it’s on in January, a great time to get motivated.”
What’s the attraction? “Depends on what you’re looking for. I’m looking for motivation, inspiration, tips for work.”
Emily is in the “learning” sector, as is her colleague Edel Clancy. It’s Edel’s first visit and she is impressed with two of the speakers so far. “I’d heard a lot of good things about it. I’m looking for tips too, market trends, that sort of thing,” she says.
Back in the auditorium there is a new feature, an hour of four speakers on stage for 15 minutes each, quick hits, like shots of strong coffee. Gerry Duffy is first up. He is a motivational speaker of some repute. On the screen he has an arrangement of matchsticks that make up a number. The trick is to rearrange them to make a bigger number, which is a metaphor for upping your performance.
He says he has found 15 resources to which we all have access, such as being open-minded and a vision for what success looks like. At one point he asks everybody to be upstanding. He wants a show of hands about something — there’s a lot of putting up hands throughout the day — and then he tells everybody to put their arms out in front of them with closed fists. On it goes.
Gerry mentions that he will be taking part in a two-day ‘Peak Performance Workshop for Leaders’ being run by Pendulum at the end of March. Flyers for the event mention that it will cost €1,495 “today”, which is a reduction of €500 on the full price.
Next up is Joy Neville, former Irish rugby international and now a senior referee in the game. She relates the narrative of her life and how she broke into male-dominated refereeing. She comes across really well, and her main success mantra is “work hard, be kind”.
Hearing the experiences of Ms Neville, and Ms Wollf before her, can be inspiring. They both broke through against the odds. Both were also armed with oodles of talent, but today there is a school of thought that, equipped with the right psychological tools and strategies, we can all overcome all obstacles, even a dearth of talent, if we just believe.
Acquiring that belief is big business. More than 20 years ago, businessman Bill Cullen posited one of his own secrets of his success.
“I get up every morning, look in the mirror and say ‘You are terrific’.” He was much lampooned at the time, but quite obviously he was doing something right. Today it would appear that an awful lot of people require to be told these things in many different forms and words in order to propel them to go out and make a splash in their chosen field.
It must work on some level because they keep coming back to the well, although they also want a good helping of wellness on the side these days. In that respect, Pendulum fits the bill.
One of the international figures to make it to Pendulum this year was American “performance guru” Dr Joe Vitale. Dr Joe was introduced by Mandy the RAF fighter pilot as having written 75 books. Early on in his performance he corrects her. He’s written 85. He can’t believe he is in Ireland but his tips for life know no borders. Once Dr Joe was homeless, destitute, and now he is king.
He tells of how it was for him. “I was so shy growing up I could not talk to other people. If you were considered slow you were put in a slow room. I was that guy and now I’ve written 85 books and was in 20 movies. Personality isn’t everything. You can change. I have a TV show called.”
Then Dr Joe decides to shake things up a bit. “I want you all to stand up, stand up even if you don’t believe it. I want you to shout with all your strength ‘I am an Irish badass’.”
The crowd comply but they’re not going full throttle. “Once more time with feeling,” Dr Joe cajoles. Now they’re sucking diesel, chanting loud and proud that each and every one of them is an Irish badass. Believe, and you too can be an Irish badass.