‘Potentialife has been ground-breaking for me . . . ’

A different kind of workplace leadership course has come to an end after nine months. Here’s how four fared with Be Your Best

The Irish Times/Potentialife Be Your Best programme has come to an end after nine months. Potentialife saw a diverse group of Irish Times readers and others, including Rob Kearney, Donal Skehan and Hugo MacNeill, take part in the leadership course designed to bring out the best in people inside and outside of their workplaces.

Developed by renowned Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar and former McKinsey executive Angus Ridgway, Potentialife aims "to revolutionise how organisations inspire and engage their employees".

Dubliner Daniel Philbin-Bowman of Potentialife was responsible for this particular project in a programme that hinges on research showing that happiness and wellbeing breed success, rather than the other way around.

The course included a “lifemapping” app, weekly instructional video,s and homework assignments to encourage participants to focus on building their strengths rather than expending too much energy on their weaknesses.

The graduates of the programme came together one last time in The Irish Times' Dublin office last week. They shared stories of how their lives were improved by the course and were shown the positive impact of the course on the group as a whole through figures from the Potentialife App.

Measurements across all of the domain areas of leadership were up by an average of 12 per cent – including participants increasing the amount of time they were fully engaged in their work and practicing their strengths. Participants also doubled the amount of time they were physically active.

“Running Potentialife for the Be Your Best group has been a privilege both professionally and personally for all of us at Potentialife,” said Ben-Shahar. “It was a new challenge when Daniel proposed we bring together such a diverse group.

“I have come to know the innate kindness and authenticity of the Irish – incidentally, two factors which matter when it comes to great leadership.”

“It’s fantastic to see the quantitative impact has been so positive and to hear the stories of personal change behind the numbers.”

How they got on

Donal Skehan, TV chef and author

I’d reached a point of exhaustion last year. Work had gone a bit mad. I needed to take a step back, and the course came along at exactly the right time.

A lot of things have completely changed in the past nine months. What really struck a chord with me is the importance of creating long-term positive habits and routines, which is something I had struggled with before. I’ve also found it very useful in terms of taking negative situations and events that might have brought me down in the past and reframing them in a more positive way.

It’s also helped to me to look at my goals in a different way, to see if they were actually serving me. I work with a very small team, and my involvement in the course has injected even more positivity into how we do things.

My best new habit is . . . the biggest ones are going to bed earlier and getting up an hour and half earlier than usual every morning. In that time I do yoga (I’ve discovered a great app called Yoogai), practice mindfulness or just read a book. These habits have actually stuck which is the best thing for me.

David McHugh, sport’s agent

I wanted to expand my knowledge on positive leadership and become a better leader. What I achieved was far greater as a journey of self-discovery and so much better awareness around myself, my practice, and my focus.

It has just built up my awareness and appreciation of the now and the small things that we do or don’t do in our lives, and how they impact on our productivity and, ultimately, our happiness. I also really related to the idea that to be a good leader you need to be a good listener.

My best new habit is . . . reading all the notes from the course and making sure I keep all I’ve learned fresh in my mind.

Lucy Downes, fashion designer

I signed up because the concept was really interesting and the originators had great backgrounds. I didn’t have specific goals, but knew that stepping away from the minutiae of my business is always beneficial.

Potentialife has been ground-breaking for me in a most unusual and unexpected manner. I adopted the habit of keeping a gratitude book, attributed to Oprah Winfrey. In addition I jot down three things that I am looking forward to the following day. It makes me look forward to the day ahead.

When under pressure, I write lists, work in 90-minute bursts and take breaks (without feeling guilty), which is less stressful. The importance of “recovery” was an important part of the course. One of my strengths is liking to make beautiful things, so I cut flowers from home and put a little arrangement beside my keyboard and those who work for me.

My best new habit is . . . taking a walk at lunch and really unwinding for half an hour. It really helps to reduce stress. Focusing entirely on the present, whether enjoying food, walking, working.

Mark Cunningham, managing director of business banking, Bank of Ireland

I started the course because I felt it was a good opportunity to stand back and reflect on my career and on life. I saw it as an investment in myself and a chance for further learning.

Over the nine months, the learning from the course has brought me greater focus on key issues, a better balance in life, deeper clarity and it has helped with forward planning.

One of the biggest results for me is that, hopefully, my colleagues are better led with clearer direction. On the homefront, I am now more relaxed.

My best new habit is . . . far less sweating and getting emotional about the “small stuff”.

Michelle Noonan, digital marketing manager

My goals in life were fuzzy, I needed help making them clear – and making them happen.

From the beginning, it became swiftly and pleasantly apparent that this course was based around further improving my key strengths and passions rather than concentrating on my development areas. This was a relief from the customary way we tend to view leadership programs.

I have found a new confidence around my core capabilities. This has definitely changed how I lead myself and how I interact with others.

I now know and feel comfortable with my authentic self. I also know how important it is for a good leader to know this. I’ve also learned how to listen properly. I am one of those people who when involved in a conversation, I’m half listening and thinking about what I am going to jump in with and say next.

A true leader listens to what their colleagues are saying and listens to what their needs are. I’m happy I have discovered this about myself and can strive to improve this aspect of my character.

My best new habit is . . . being in the present moment. My husband was bemused when I stuck a one-word document on the fridge. It just says “NOW” and reminds me that I am living in the present – not the past and not the future. The sections on mindfulness were really helpful. Read more about the Be Your Best programme at Irishtimes.com/business

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