Justin Hughes, The Speaker Show

Episode 240

Justin Hughes, Renowned presenter on leadership, execution and risk, former Red Arrow & RAF jet fighter pilot

Episode 240

Justin Hughes, Renowned presenter on leadership, execution and risk, former Red Arrow & RAF jet fighter pilot

Justin Hughes – The business of high performance

In this episode of #TheSpeakerShow, Maria Franzoni interviews Justin Hughes.

Justin Hughes works as an adviser to senior leadership teams on strategy, risk and performance.

As a former Red Arrows pilot, management consultant and senior manager in a global corporate during the Covid crisis, he is not a speaker who pontificates from the side lines, but has actually spent significant time on the pitch, in some of the most demanding of high-performance environments.

He has masters’ degrees from Cambridge and London Business School, is the author of The Business of Excellence and is currently engaged in 3 startup projects.

In this fascinating episode, we discuss:

  • High Performance Teams
  • Perceptions of the Military
  • Decision-making under ambiguity
  • Strategy
  • Risk

Episode audio & transcript

Connect with Speakers Associates

Maria Franzoni (00:16): Hello and welcome back to The Speaker Show with me your host Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we are talking about excellence. The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits. My guest this week works as an advisor to senior leadership teams on strategy, risk and performance. As a former red arrows pilot, management consultant and senior manager in a global corporate during the COVID crisis. He is not a speaker who pontificates from the sidelines. He has actually spent significant time on the pitch in some of the most demanding of high performance environments. He has master’s degrees from both Cambridge and London Business School. He’s the author of The Business of Excellence and is currently engaged in three startup projects. Please welcome my guest, Justin Hughes, Justin, how are you? You’re looking very well, indeed.

Justin Hughes (01:14): Thank you. I am good. I’ve been doing a bit of training. I signed up to a, a sprint triathlon recently. So I’ve started training for that. I’ve I’ve not been running for a long time in a rubbish at swimming, and I got a bit caught out with this actually, because I got invited as a fancy lunch for people who speak about high performance stuff and somebody had put a whole group together and it was quite an interesting crowd and I only knew one or two of these people. So I arrived at this thing and I, I got sort of introduced to a couple of people I’d never met before. And somebody said to me straight away now, have you made it in new year’s resolutions? It was just sort of early January. And I said, well, it’s not really a resolution, but you know, I’m doing this sprint triathlon.

Justin Hughes (01:52): It’s quite a big deal. I, I went on about having not run for ages and how rubbish I was at swimming and you know, made it quite a big deal about all the training I was doing and blah, blah, blah. And then I said to these to you guys what’s your background? You know, what’s the context for you being here? The first one looked at me and he said I ran 65 ultramarathons 65 days. Think I know him still went okay. And then I looked at the other guy and I said, what about you? And he said, I was in the swimming final of the Beijing Olympics. I was just like, I get my coat. This isn’t going very well for me.

Maria Franzoni (02:26): Oh my goodness. Well, listen, you’re studying way better than I’m doing. I had so many resolutions at the staff of the year in terms of fitness and this, that, and the other, and they’ve all fallen by the wayside. But anyway, we’ll talk about that separately because I’m gonna get some advice from you as to how to, how to improve my performance. So let’s go back a little bit because you are very interesting. You seem had sort of 15 different careers starting at McDonald’s, which is a very weird place to start. And then to end up in high performance and high being a high demand consultant, how did you get from McDonald’s to where you are now?

Justin Hughes (03:00): So that was a while ago. Well researched. Yes, that was straight after school. I guess I have done lots of things. It probably pulls into sort of three broad broad buckets or something. I was in the military for 12 years and then I’ve had a sort of consulting speaking training business. And then I’ve had a little bit of time in global corporate as well. So the military bit, I was in the army first when I was 18 after McDonald’s, but literally just afterwards. And I had a great time there. And then I saw these people flying over in these planes and they looked super cool and they had nice walk cockpits, and I was sort of digging a hole in the ground or something. And they used to go and stay in a hotel at night. And it may all may, may not be of any relevance that top gun came out about this time.

Justin Hughes (03:43): But I, I changed track to the air force. And I did 12 years in the air force, six years on a jet called tornado with three, a frontline fighter, which is now in the RF museum. And I took my kids so a little while ago, it was quite funny. I’ve got two young daughters and not only a friend, I flown the wall that’s in the museum. And I was saying to, you know, Danny flew this plane and they were, you know, suitably, this is like my best ever audience, but they were like super impressed. And then one of them looked at me and said, well, if you fly it, why is it in the museum? And I sort of thought about it for a minute. It was like, yeah, let’s go now, we’ll go look at something else. So I flew that and then I did my last three years on the, I had about 250 displays where I was the executive officer.

Justin Hughes (04:23): So that was the military bit. And then I set a consulting trainee business, not really with any sort of great vision or strategy or any of the things they teach you. It was more that I didn’t really fancy commercial flying and I needed to do something. And so I set up this business, I around building high performance teams, I was think, well, how can I leverage sort of my previous experience of background and started off doing some fairly straightforward workshops for conferences and management meetings and over time, the breadth and depth of that grew and we ended up working with Microsoft with the United nations and Mercedes F one. And then more recently I had a consulting job that turned into you staying on the payroll for a little while with big global corporate L three Harris, which was interesting for me because I think as a speaker, especially, you’ve done it all for a while as I have done.

Justin Hughes (05:10): It’s quite easy to get into a bit of a sort of groove of you have absolute clarity in what your points are going to be and, you know, high performance, isn’t rocket science, it’s a, B and C, and you just need to do those that things. And I think it was quite interesting for me and a little bit humbling and a learning experience to, to sit on the other side of the fence and realize that, yes, it is probably those things and I’m not too far off. However, when you are in a big global corporate, it’s not quite as easy as that, you know, you’ve got all sorts of conflicting priorities, insufficient resources for all the tasks you’ve got, you’ve got people stuff going on you know, short term stuff, financial budgetary stuff. And so it was a good learning point for me, I think, to to see that perspective on the other side of the fence.

Maria Franzoni (05:54): I think that’s really good. I think every speaker should go and do, you know, six months or a year in a corporate to understand the other, if they haven’t done it before. I think that’s really excellent. And I love the fact that, I mean, I love the top gun story, the brilliant. I remember when top gun came out and I’m looking forward to cause there’s gonna be a sequel. Isn’t that goodness know what Tom cruise is gonna look like now, but Hey, how cool

Justin Hughes (06:15): I may, I may have watch every trailer for it.

Maria Franzoni (06:18): Oh, have you right. Excellent. I shall, I shall catch up. So tell me what the other thing I think is really great about you is that you have actually lived and breathed high performance. So you don’t talk about it. You’ve actually been part of a world class, high performing team. Do you think that helps you with regards to your speaking?

Justin Hughes (06:37): So clearly I’m going to say yes. But I do believe that I think that, you know, I’ve spent a little bit of time doing some study as an adult and a couple of masters. And if, if you talk to academics or even sort of public intellectual types, they would strongly argue that the, the distance from the helps them. So they’ve got a much wider, more strategic perspective and they’re independent and objective. They haven’t been in the thick of it so they can see things for what they are without the biases, maybe of somebody who’s in the thick of it. And so I, I can broadly buy that argument and it makes sense. I think my caveat to it though, is that if you are too talking about leadership and high performance and performance under pressure, these are practices, not theories. I mean, you, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t want to go for an operation and be operated on by a doctor who had only been taught the theory of it.

Justin Hughes (07:34): And I think it’s true of these more sort of abstract concepts like leadership and high perform that you can learn quite a bit in the classroom. And you can learn quite a bit, you know, just from studying however, to, to really get it and, you know, get the, the challenges in sort of making decisions that have high consequences under a lot of pressure or leadership sort of ethical and moral dilemmas. I think you have to have to a certain degree. So for me, you know, I kind of feel I’ve lived some of those things albeit quite a while ago, and then I’ve had the chance to reflect consult, work on them in a different context. So yeah, I would argue that that having a foot in both camps is is a good thing

Maria Franzoni (08:15): That makes total sense to me. I, I like that. That’s great. That’s really good. And I mean the piece I like about your 15 various different careers, I have to be honest, the bit that I love is the red arrows bit. It’s the bit that I get most excited about, and I’m sure you probably find that irritating. Cause I spent all of us wanna hear about red arrows. We all admire them because it’s something so distant from what we can do, but we’ve all seen them. Right. What did you learn from that experience of leading the, the red arrows and how has that influenced your work?

Justin Hughes (08:44): It it’s fully your comment there, or sort of apologizing for asking about that. Cause people do that with me quite a bit. Like, you know, you’ve probably had a million questions, you know, I hope you don’t mind. Whereas actually I see it always the opposite way around. I think I’m very lucky to have had the chance to have done something that quite a lot of people are genuinely interested in. So you know, I can, I can take questions all day long in terms of what I’ve got out for it got out for it or what I learned the, I think there’s a couple of different lenses here that the stuff that I, I clearly must have learned because there’ve been a key part of my work sense that it’s the stuff. So the clients are interested in and then there’s what I actually personally got out of it.

Justin Hughes (09:19): And only what other people are interested in one theme that they latched onto a lot, which has definitely influenced me as well, is this idea of the rares changing three people a year. So you have a team of about a hundred people. The front end of that team is the nine display pilots each year of the nine pilots, the three most experienced pilots leave and the remaining six change their job, change their position of the team. So just think about that, you know, at some level that is the most stupid system and only the military could think of this. It it’s, you know, massively inefficient, clearly there are some good reasons why they do do that to do with air progression, bringing in some fresh blood. There were some operational reasons why it actually works quite well in practice. But the interesting thing I think is the display each year is just about always considered to be world class.

Justin Hughes (10:07): The team’s output, even though it’s a different team. So it doesn’t depend on one or two stars. This has been reproducible for a very long time. It’s almost like it’s being bottled. There’s something in the culture, the behavior, the process, the how we do business round here, that’s reproducible. So I think that’s been a very powerful learning form and it’s, it sort of influences some of the work that I do about how do you embed a way of doing business? And it could be like a safety culture. It could be a highly objective of way of doing business could be a high performance. And I think it always boils down to those things about the right environment kind of means culture the right attitudes of people and individuals, and then the right processes. So that’s been quite powerful for me, lots of ways in terms of what I got out of it, you know, people asked to always say to me know, it must be a dream job.

Justin Hughes (10:55): And clearly it was in many ways of a dream job. But I didn’t really see this at the time because like anything, when you’re doing it, it becomes your job. You know, you, you get in, you get selected. You’re like, oh my God, I can’t believe it. It’s so exciting. And then you start doing it a reality strike and you realize it’s gonna be quite hard if you didn’t know that already. And then after a while, although you still always know that you are lucky and this is a great job it does become your norm. You normalize it, you know, you go to work every day. And it’s only when I look back on it that I kind of reflected on what was it that made that job so rewarding. And I think it boils down to two things as one is, it’s a stretch experience every day.

Justin Hughes (11:34): There’s not many environments. I don’t think where you, you have a stretch experience as opposed to sort of business as usual or multiple pressures. You know, that those things happen in the red arrow as business, as usual and normal meetings. But three times a day in training every day you go flying and that’s always a stretch experience even by your third year, when you can, more or less do it, you know, it will bite you, you still have to be on your game. And then the other side of it is that the, you always get feedback. So we have a debrief right afterwards, you, we might talk about it. And again, that’s, it’s not that easy when you are in the thick of it, especially when your first year when the debrief points generally go to all to the first year pilots who got the most to learn.

Justin Hughes (12:15): But so one now when I reflected, I can see that that stretch experience followed by instant feedback to then go do it again and improve is actually very rewarding. It doesn’t feel like it in the moment, but then a few months down the road you look back and the progress has been amazing. And I think that sort of very short feedback loop in is a very powerful thing. And I gotta admit it’s quite difficult to reproduce in lots of other environments, but I think anything you can do along those lines is very rewarding to people.

Maria Franzoni (12:43): I think that’s really interesting because many of the, the high performers that I’ve interviewed who have been, you know, top athletes, top performers in, in whatever background, talk about this, the importance of this feedback, and, you know, you’re talking about, and that short feedback, that immediate feedback where you review, and I think you’re right, that you then see that progression. It’s really rewarding. I love the fact that you talk about stretch, that you’re being stretched. Cause I think that’s important as well, that you don’t stagnate that you are constantly challenged. And the fact that three people change every year. I mean, incredible. I, I think it’s great in a way, if you’re in that nine, you know, you’re gonna get a chance to be in the top three to change role and to keep moving around. So I think in a way that’s exciting to be in, in that position that, you know, it’s going to change and you’re gonna be stretched and challenged. And I think we need to do more of that in business where we move people around and stretch them and challeng them also. So there’s flexibility.

Justin Hughes (13:38): It is quite commercially inefficient and I get that. And so it’s more difficult to justify in a sort of pure commercial operation. It’s quite rewarding for the individuals, I think, but I saw a nice example with Michael Bloomberg when he became mayor of New York before he actually, he had to. So he had to step aside from Bloomberg and for, he knew a year or more that he was going to be, the mayor had already been voted in. And so for his last year, he rotated all these top execs around the different jobs. So they’d all have a sort of broad cross-functional level of competence across the whole organization. Yeah. And on the debrief one, I, I spoke at a conference once who said co with Lord co and he was talking to me afterwards about, you know, some of his, and he, he had, you know, he had the same view and he said, I can’t understand why people don’t want that feedback. He said, every time I was running, I wanted to know what people thought. He said, the person who had the contrary opinion or the different opinion. That’s the one I was most interested in. Did they know something that can help me improve here?

Maria Franzoni (14:33): Yeah, no. Fantastic. Really valuable. So tell me though with your background in the military, has it ever worked against you?

Justin Hughes (14:42): It can do a little bit. People have preconceptions about the military and you know, they can’t help that it’s whatever influences they’ve been exposed to. And so yes, you sometimes if there’s preconceptions about the negative end, they will tend to be about being very male dominated, macho words like command and control might, might come up. And so people have this image. I think sometimes that, that’s the only thing, you know, and, you know, the, the military is this sort of very narrow and that’s what, you know, and therefore you, you might not be very comfortable in their organization, which is really diverse and flexible. And of course the military has changed massively over, over the years. Some of those things were almost certainly true at some point. But it is, you know, a fast moving organization. There’s difficult, complicated things. And so it also has had to move at the times and yeah, it it’s diversity or more or less or should more or less mirror the population.

Justin Hughes (15:38): It has been a bit of a catch up for them on that front. But I think the idea that yeah, I can only cope or work with sort of, you know, British male people or audience or something, you know, it seems so ridiculous. I’ve got two daughters. I deal, I work with loads of people, very different contexts, you know, I’ve worked with the United nations. So yes, it can be an agenda. Say the other side is also true. Some people have a very positive perspective, which will play to my advantage. But just coming back to the comment there about diversity, it is interesting, obviously that’s very much a theme of the moment. And I think that that’s a very relevant theme, not just sort of for diversity for its own sake, but where it should be most relevant to organizations other than simply doing the right thing is how it drives performance.

Justin Hughes (16:23): And what we’re really talking about there in my mind is cognitive diversity and the military are actually quite good at this. Now you, you know, when you talk about D you can’t change all your workforce and say, we should have a more diverse workforce, therefore we’ll get rid of everybody here and we’ll change to a different workforce, but what you can do is employ certain processes in order to leverage the cognitive diversity of the people. You’ve got a lot more effectively. So that’s become quite a big theme for me. And it’s something that I think the military are pretty good at. And it’s know I’ve done quite a lot of work with in more recent years about how do we get around the intrinsic biases we have in our thinking such that we make better decisions such as we get better performance outcomes. So you came back to your question. It, it it’s had some pros and cons for me, but I think there are some quite powerful tools that you’re able to take from that world that, you know, that informed my thinking of work now very effectively.

Maria Franzoni (17:16): Excellent. And you’re so right. The intrinsic biases are, are so important to tackle and sort of that, that cognitive diversity so important. So that’s really good. I’m, I’m sure you’ll probably get asked to speak about that regularly. So here’s a difficult question, cause I don’t want you to have too easier time. If you had to choose one factor what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to driving high performance?

Justin Hughes (17:41): So I think the easy answer is people, you know, it’s always people and you can’t argue that people leadership, organizational culture, which are all people issues. And I think that, you know, that’s such an easy answer and everyone would give it. So I wouldn’t argue with that, but I almost regard that as a prerequisite, there there’s some people issues that you simply have to address. If we were going to go. So beyond that, I, I think it would be what I like to call a better understanding of reality that what, what I’ve come to realize a lot is, and it comes back to our previous little conversation about diversity is that a lot of the decisions that get made are rubbish. And so the performance outcome can’t be that great if we’re not making the best decision on the best interpretation of the facts.

Justin Hughes (18:24): Now, if you are doing something, that’s got a, you know, you’ve got a perfect data for it’s fairly straightforward would then you should be able to make a good decision about it. But the big new organization is, and the more senior you are, people are often making decisions at the fairly high ambiguity with there is stuff they don’t know. There is stuff they can’t know, they’ve got imperfect information, they haven’t got enough time to rationalize it properly. And so the ability to sort of get this, our best understanding of reality, how do we stress test our assumptions and our knowledge to get the best possible set of knowledge that we can in order to inform this decision and make the most objective decision we can. And then the, the other end of that same process is how do we learn as effective as we can?

Justin Hughes (19:06): So it’s all very well, you know, as we were just talking debriefing, that’s a good idea, get at feedback, get better at this stuff. But actually it’s, it’s, it’s quite easy to debrief and learn nothing or learn the wrong things. And in the same way that when we’re planning and making decisions, we can be faced a lot of ambiguity. Often the learning isn’t blindingly obvious either. But what the right learning is. So it’s the ability to have this sort of truly objective, honest, transparent conversation to, to stress, test the thinking and try and get again, to our best understanding of reality. What do we think really happened there? What do we think the real cause and effect was what do we, you know, what, what should we learn from that for next time? And in terms of, you know, making those things happen.

Justin Hughes (19:47): It’s absolutely back to my first point when we started talking about the environment the, the behaviors, the attitudes and the process, the, the single most important thing here is the right environment. So, you know, people have often said to me, well, I get that. It sounds quite powerful. You know, we don’t normally debrief that, that honest, as honestly, as you are talking, how do we make that happen? And I think the start point for this is, has to be led by example, that it’s all about senior people holding their hand up saying they didn’t get some things, right. And it sets the tone for everybody else. It, it makes it possible to have the real conversation. It illustrates a simple point. The boss can get it wrong. The boss may not know that he or she got it wrong. So other people have to be able to challenge.

Justin Hughes (20:29): And this is a big, I’ve had a few people come back to me on this, you know, senior execs when I presented on it. And I think there’s a very honest piece of feedback. Certainly have once or twice where somebody said, I get that, I understand it. I can see the value, but I’m not quite sure that I, I could do it, that I’m not very comfortable about people critiquing my performance in front of everybody else. And actually, I think you have to respect that, that shows quite high self-awareness to be able to realize that that’s what’s going on in your head and be so honest about it. But the thing I say back to them is what do you think they talk about when you leave the room? Yeah. Everybody knows what happened and if it, you, that made, made the mistake, they already know, and that having that conversation in private, wouldn’t it be better to have it in public and learn from it. And I think there’s sort of fear that it might be a an, a credibility destroying event. It’s the opposite. The act of disclosure is very powerful. It buys you a lot of credibility.

Maria Franzoni (21:25): That’s interesting. Thats really interesting. What are they talking about when you are not there? Yeah. That, that’s very good bit of FOMO there. Yeah. I like that. I dunno.

Justin Hughes (21:34): I’m I mean, my challenge to be on that, Maria is to, if you, if you don’t believe me or you’re remain comfortable, just go and try it, go lead by example, hold your hand up, tell ’em, you know, tell the team it was your fault and you’ll take the hits and see what, you know, write him on LinkedIn. Tell me what sort of reaction you get.

Maria Franzoni (21:50): Interesting. Interesting. Okay, cool. I actually, I often have to say it’s my fault because I make more mistakes than anybody else. So you know, anyway, so let, let’s not talk about that, but it’s interesting. Cause I wasn’t expecting that answer. I thought you were gonna say to me, the most important driver of performance of high performances, you know, Simon XX up with why, you know, what’s our purpose and you didn’t come up with that. So tell me about that.

Justin Hughes (22:14): So sign is clearly successful, bright, very well respected, you know, sort of global reputation as a speaker. So there’s obviously something in what he’s promoting there. And I wouldn’t argue with that, but I don’t agree that it’s the whole story. I think it’s quite a away from being the whole story. So would we like to work for an organization that has great purpose that you really buy into and believe hundred percent? You know, why wouldn’t you, I mean, one of the most impressive organizations I’d seen in this context was when I did a speaking engagement for comic relief and I went out with ’em all that night and the amount of positivity and engagement from the people at the organ, what they do was absolutely inspiring. So yeah, that is clearly a good thing, but I think the reality is that, you know, not everybody gets the opportunities to be in a business that’s saving the world or as, you know, trying to make a meaningful contribution in that sense.

Justin Hughes (23:05): And actually it’s not everybody’s driver. So if I look back to my time flying the raise on debt of the red arrows was something about public relations, recruitment, those sort of things. And so yeah, that, that’s the reason the team was funded and does the job that it does. How important was that? To me, not very, you know, I, I get, I get select for this job. I go to work. I go flying every day. So my sort of logic is I get to do this really cool stretch experience in that I’ve got to get to play with all these amazing toys and you’re gonna pay me for it as well. You know, I’m in and the higher purpose is almost irrelevant to me. And I think that’s quite, I was gonna say, it’s quite common. I don’t think it’s uncommon. So you look at the other thing that I’ve seen Sonic talk about, and I’ve seen this video play a lot of conferences is that some of the most successful businesses in the world are as successful as they are because they have such a strong sense of purpose.

Justin Hughes (24:02): And that’s why customers engage with them. I simply don’t believe that customers like the idea for sure that they would engage with organizations for great purpose, but they engage with lots of organizations that don’t have any obvious, deeper purpose for very different reasons. You know, why do we shop on Amazon? I not sort of pointing Amazon, is that anywhere particular on this scale? But I would argue it’s because utility in price, you know, they can get stuff to me the next day or even the same day at a very competitive price. Do I deeply understand their organizational values? And if I did, would they be a deep sense of purpose? I dunno, but you know, people are still very happy working those organizations. Cuz if you are a techie, you get to play in an that solving big technical challenges with huge resources available to you. And it’s really exciting. So I think it’s important to separate out this issue, the intrinsic motivation, what, you know, the task, what drives me personally and the extrinsic motivation for something that’s a bit bigger. And obviously you’d like to have both, but I just think that so only tells part of the, that the extr motivation can be the most powerful thing for sure. But it’s definitely not the whole story about long way.

Maria Franzoni (25:15): You’re making me think now you’re making me think deeply. Thank you for that. We’ve covered lots of ground. You can clearly speak about so many different topics, not just high performance, but so many different areas. What’s the sweet spot for you? What do you think is the area that you give of the most, most value on?

Justin Hughes (25:30): So actually we need to be careful here shooting myself in the foot. I don’t wanna discount anything. I think, you know, for me, it’s been a journey. I started off doing the high performance teams bit and it sort of developed into more of a high performance organizations and people still asked me to talk about that and effectively to do a case study on the red arrows. So that has remained for me quite a a signature piece for a long time. What has become more of a thing for me in recent years is the stuff we were just talking about by decision making and ambiguity. So I’ve become very interested in that field. I think partly because I looked back, it, it probably was driven by some clients in choir, real request. At some point that I look back on my military experience and think actually we used to make quite good decisions most of the time in the aircraft itself in quite stressful demanding environments.

Justin Hughes (26:22): How did we do that? Cuz we tend to get it, you know, more, you don’t get it exactly right, but you get it more or less. Right? Most of the time, otherwise it wouldn’t work. And it, it led me to reflect quite deeply on that. And then I started doing some other work related to that with a guy called mark Bergman at Imperial college. He’s very good on this. So I would say that’s become quite a thing for me, this area decision making and ambiguity. I I’m really passionate about it. It ties in with a lot of the things we talked about about the right environment to, to, to, to be really objective the quality of debrief, the quality of decision making. And then I guess the other ones that the other one that has become a bit of a theme certainly was for the last 18 months or so was about virtual or hybrid teams.

Justin Hughes (27:03): How do they work? And I think maybe the best insight I got from that was from a client I worked with at Microsoft, just quite senior. He gave me permission to quote him on this. And he was right in the middle of the worst of the COVID stuff. And I asked him how it’s all going for him. And you know, I kind of think you guys meet teams, you know, you must be quite good at this. And he said, yeah, absolutely. He said, you know, we’d like to think we’re quite good at using it. However he said, we’d still, you know, go for face to face meetings with the drop of a hat, jump on a plane or whatever. And he said, what he’d realized is, or what he opinion was that the, the things that drive high performance were broadly unchanged, it just that you had to achieve those things, leaning through a little window on a screen like we’re doing now which is much more difficult.

Justin Hughes (27:47): And certainly for me, I, I do have a bit of a mantra about, you know, performance about clarity, alignment, empowerment as three big drivers of high performance. And I think you can get away with a lot about clarity and alignment. If you are meeting every day, if you’re chatting at the water cooler, if you’re having lunch, you’re, if you, if something’s not completely clear, clear, you’re often just checking in all the time and having these conversations. Whereas if you’re working at home for 80% of the time and you’re only checking in, you know, occasionally you’ll get some much more exposed if you don’t get these things. Right. So, so I was kind of a long answer. I think the high performance teams thing is still my thing. I guess my personal sort of passion is the decision making or ambiguity. The clue that joins pretty much all the work together is this thing about building high performance cultures.

Maria Franzoni (28:35): Yeah. Perfect. Perfect. Thank you. What do you do outside of speaking? Because I know you do other things too. What are you up to?

Justin Hughes (28:43): I have two your kids that’s great time consuming. I I get quite surfing. I’m training for a triathlon. As I mentioned, got embarrassed about I have a, a few entrepreneurial projects and fingers in a few of the pies. And one of the, one of which is we’re fundraising for at the moment a project net zero nitrogen, which in short is about replacing synthetic nitrogen fertilized with a naturally occurring safe bacteria. And this is a big deal six months ago, a year ago. I, I probably didn’t realize that fertilizer was bad for the world. And it broadly is, you know, it only has about 30% efficacy the rest of it or 30 to 50%, the, the rest of it actually goes into the water course as nitrate pollution or into the air as nitrous oxide. It broadly makes carbon docs I’d look like a health fad. And so I’m working with some scientists on a yeah, a naturally occurring replacement for that. So we’re just fundraising at the moment, which that is a whole new experience for me as well. You know, I’ve, I’ve never been out cap in hand before asking funds for money.

Maria Franzoni (29:43): That’s really important. Actually. That’s really important that one, that event, that organization has a huge purpose and actually really isn’t it. So that’s fantastic. Brilliant. So, which

Justin Hughes (29:53): Is ironic. I wanna give what I was saying before, cause actually the purpose that is one of the drivers for me, there’s not many things that your radar, I don’t think that are both you know, have that really strong sense of purpose and actually have sort of a really attractive commercial proposition as well. Yeah. And, and it’s the combination of those things that makes it so powerful and so attractive.

Maria Franzoni (30:14): Brilliant love that. Love that. So finally, I’m gonna let you go, but I have to know you’ve been on what we call, call the speaker circuit in bureau land. You’ve been on the speaker circuit for over 15 years. Obviously you started as a child. What’s been the secret to that longevity. What’s how have you kept going?

Justin Hughes (30:34): So I think it just evolves over time that my, yeah, at one point I was younger, childlike is he’s a, and so, you know, my experience was probably more current then. And you know, I just finished coming out of the military in that sort of environment. But I possibly lacked a bit of Polish and the depth of insight that I would like to think that I have now and the depth of experience. So I think I’ve probably moved cancer a little bit from sort of very current in something and, you know, fresh out of it to not being as current, but having, you know, I think a higher quality inside, maybe there’s definitely a sort of couple of key learnings for me on that journey. And I think the first one I, for me really was about how to be any good at it.

Justin Hughes (31:21): And I’m not saying I’m a by any stretch. Perfect. You know, it’s a constant learning experience, but I engaged a lady called bridge Bryce, who was an actress who worked as a coach for sort of preventing and speaking. And she was very perceptive. And I, I sent her a VHS video, showed you how long ago it was when I was 12. And she looked at it and very minded never met her before the first meeting. And when I first messaged, she said, yeah, I looked at the video. I bet you don’t give much away in relationships. Do you? And I was like who you’ve been talking to, this is a bit weird. But she was very perceptive. What she’d realized is, you know, I was quite clinical in my approach. I was technically quite competent, but lacked that sort of passion in the moment.

Justin Hughes (32:02): And so I think that’s the, the, the war. The one thing that I really got from her is to be in the moment, try and deliver to like a thousand people the same way you deliver to your friend in the pub. And so that that’s a long journey to her. You know, it’s, it’s a bit, it’s about that point about the practice versus the theory. It’s easy to understand. It’s quite difficult to get to that stage. And then the other one from me that, which has been a challenge actually is probably about personal branding. You know, we’ve talked about this before the, the X versus the expert that I think being an expert has better longevity, longevity than being an X and X is only current for quite a while. I think when I first started, I heavily marketed myself as an X cuz that’s what I was. But because I did that, I then sort of through my own work, became positioned as such. And so I’d like to think, I mean, I wouldn’t go around calling myself an expert in anything in particular, but I’d like to, you know, I have a, a far raw, wider breadth of experience now than an X. However, I’m still sort of picking up the pieces, I think from having marketed myself as an extra, quite a long time. But yeah

Maria Franzoni (33:11): No you’re doing, you’re doing fine. And I think anybody who’s listened to this podcast will realize how much expertise you really have and how much value you can bring. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself. I hope it’s been like talking to somebody down the pub for you.

Justin Hughes (33:24): One person. It was easy. Thank you very much. You made it very easy. Thank you

Maria Franzoni (33:27): Super. And thank you everybody for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating on apple podcasts. You can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is speakersassociates.com or your favorite podcast app. And if you would like to invite Justin to speak at your next conference or event, please contact Speakers Associates in plenty of time to book him so that you won’t be disappointed. And I will see you all next week. Thank you for listening.

Live interview

Maria Franzoni

WITH OUR PODCAST HOST

Maria Franzoni

Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

Subscribe to the Source - a free monthly newsletter that's actually worth opening!

We bring you the latest ideas, concepts and strategies from our speakers, business thinkers and thought leaders. Stop relying on the algorithm to show you the content you need; The Source is your curated collection of the latest insights and inspirations from around the globe. 

DISCOVER THE SOURCE