So many challenges we see in business are down to ineffective leadership throughout the company. But how to be an effective leader without mental health issues and burnout? I talk to Phil Kelly, Managing Director & Head of Human Performance at Pro-Noctis Limited, an award-winning Human Performance specialist company that works with clients and organisations who are striving to create the most productive and engaged working environment possible. Phil shares his thoughts on effective leadership, tips for modern business and challenges for CEOs and Directors.

Phil, can you tell us a bit about your background to introduce yourself?

For sure, I’m one big fat failure, to be honest. I was originally destined to be a professional footballer but at the age of 19, my whole world was turned upside down when my contract wasn’t renewed. My whole identity was shaken, and I had to rebuild myself very quickly and find a new purpose. A few years later I joined the Royal Air Force as a Training Instructor and that ignited my passion for training and education. Following 12 years serving all over the world I took the big step to leave a safe job and enter the world of business. Fast forward 7 years later, and here we are!

You founded Pro-Noctis, an award-winning Human Performance 
specialist company – how did you come up with this idea?

It was based on my experiences of buying in training when I was in the RAF. It never really achieved what we had requested or required, and it cost a lot of money to make very little difference. I’m sure that will resonate with those in a similar position right now. Added to that, I had been headhunted whilst serving to head up some external projects in industries such as the Oil and Gas sector and Aviation. The positive feedback we received blew me away, I guess we just joined the dots of supply and demand, so we went for it with a scrap piece of paper as our initial business plan!

What is your unique approach to working with people?

We always put our clients’ needs first. We walk in their shoes to fully understand their challenges, co-create, and jointly agree a strategy and then we design and deliver a programme to match their needs. Our plan remains flexible as the landscape and priorities of a business are always changing and that allows us to build strong relationships with our clients, as we are right there with them. Helping to drive that change, deliver the transformation or enhance performance to achieve the strategic goals. That way it is measurable and tangible and therefore we are accountable, and we really like that. It models what most organisations require right now, alongside working with credible, professional, and reliable partners.

How do you think leadership has changed since the pandemic?

It’s all down to the individual so for some it has and for some it hasn’t. Those Leaders that have spent the time ahead of the pandemic getting to know their team members, build trust, transparency and accountability before the pandemic would have undoubtedly hit the ground running as those strong relationships are already there. Those Leaders that were a bit more stand offish would have found this year increasingly difficult as so many of us were forced to work from home and those foundations of a positive working relationship were not there. The funny by product of the pandemic is that is has really forced some issues. Working from home was encouraged by some organisations and out right dismissed by others, normally due to a lack of trust of their workforce. Ironically, the organisations that have survived this difficult year are struggling to see themselves reverting to “normal” as there are so many benefits to flexible working. The key is effective leadership and management through setting goals and deadlines, accountability, clarity of purpose and good old effective communication across the teams. Those will help build the trust in one another.

As a business owner, why do you think effective leadership is important nowadays?

As well as the points above, quite simply, it makes or breaks an organisations culture. So many challenges we see across organisations are down to ineffective leadership throughout the company. That’s not to say that the leaders are bad people in any way, although there’s a handful of them too. It’s because most Leaders and Managers out there are trying their best, they really are, they just don’t know any different. So, it’s the responsibility of the organisation to build their leadership capability by providing highly effective support and training to upskill their staff. Supporting their developmental journey with Coaching and peer-based workshops to share learning for example. 

What do you recommend for other CEOs and directors during this crisis time in terms of leadership?

Some time-out. Our lives were too busy before COVID hit with mental health issues and burnout on the rise. The important thing is to recharge by doing something that you know or think might work for you. Like walking? Go for a lunchtime walk! Thought about getting a coach? Get one! Always dreamed about going on a retreat to fully recharge? Go do it! Sometimes as leaders we must put ourselves first. If we burnout we are no use to anyone. The amazing effect of being transparent and vulnerable as a leader is immeasurable. Letting your team know you need some time-out sends such a big message to them that it’s ok to look after yourself, take a break and come back fully charged to perform even better and enhance productivity.

In your opinion, what is the secret to being a successful leader?

Clarity, Clarity, Clarity.

Some key questions to use and revisit: What are we trying to achieve and why? What is my role in this? Who do I need to collaborate with to achieve this goal? What is the deadline? How will I know when I have achieved it? What feedback will I receive to ensure progress and development?

I’d encourage any leader to check the level of clarity on their key objectives amongst their direct reports. Once you have that nailed down, how often are you revisiting and repeating the goal to ensure alignment throughout the organisation? Stating your objective or goal once is never enough. reinforce the clarity by revisiting your goal frequently.

Can you please share some Pro-Noctis achievements?

In 2016 we were in the top 3 “New Businesses” category at the UK Business awards and were also in the Top 3 best Ex Forces led businesses in 2018 which led us to be selected for the “SAGE Top Power 50” global Ex Forces led businesses We have won 3 Lotus awards in a row for positively influencing an organisations culture on separate projects. However, our biggest achievement for me is being recommended and referred to other departments within an organisation as that is the best kind of validation for the work the team deliver.

How can our readers contact you and follow on social media?

We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube just search Pro-Noctis and we even have our own Pro-Noctis Performance Podcast, just search “The P3 Podcast” whenever you listen to your podcasts (Spotify, iTunes, Google etc). Our YouTube channel is growing well so do come and subscribe to be the first to be notified of any new content. As for Old Skool contact just drop us an email to [email protected] and we’ll be in touch ASAP.

Finally, can you please share your motto and your favourite quote?

We have a few:

Dare to be different! – In memory of a good friend we lost a few years back.

Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.

It’s all about you, not us.