Paul Hughes is a multi-award winning, multi-lingual and multi-talented entrepreneur.
A former RAF crewman, United Nations Weapons Inspector and Interpreter, his experience and knowledge is vast, underpinned by his commitment to being what he calls a ‘Disciple of Elite Performance’.
Paul’s impressive 23-year military career commenced in 1989 – a vocation that focused on operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, as well as a high profile secondment with the United Nations Special Commission to Iraq during the era of Saddam Hussein.
A specialist in a range of fields, holding several Masters’ degrees (with Distinction) and a speaker of four languages, Paul initiated and led the RAF Business Language Champion Youth Engagement Initiative in 2009, which saw his volunteering efforts go on to win national and international awards for the promotion of languages and also inclusivity within inner city schools up and down the UK.
Now, his portfolio of interests in his 8th year as a civilian since leaving the military include being the CEO of pH Interim, a forensic research company that predominantly supports the insurance and legal sectors; a Partner at the Anglo-American company Humanintelligence, which specialises in psychometric testing; the Director of Communications for Mark7 Productions, and of course his highly sought after work as a motivational speaker, in which he draws from his rich array of experiences and expertise to speak to thousands of people all around the world, inspiring them to overcome adversity and drive towards their objectives.
Discover what motivates him to continue improving, and what qualities he believes make a strong leader, by reading this week’s #KnapChat.
KW: How much can you tell us about your life on special operations?
Paul: Well what can I say to that [smiling apologetically]…nothing, sorry!
KW: What do you make of the recent trend for Special Forces (SF) personnel to become celebrities? (There are some SAS TV programmes – Who Dares Wins and all that)?
Paul: [laughing] as the Director of Communications for Mark7 Productions Limited, a media company that includes Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham from the said show on Channel 4, I can unequivocally state that ‘celebrity’ isn’t the word I would use to describe him!
Obviously, Billy has spent many years keeping his Special Forces background deliberately quiet, as you would expect. However, in light of the show’s popularity, his A-list bodyguard credentials since leaving the military and his subsequent ‘sell out’ UK tour, which raises thousands of pounds for a charity that he is an Ambassador for, one cannot avoid the fact that he is now a known face.
That said he is one of the most humble and respectful people I know, with absolutely nothing to prove.
KW: You grew up in Wales with some now well-known rugby players; did you get close to being at their level?
Paul: I think as a teenager I suffered a lot with self-confidence and took some time to grow into this 6ft 4” frame. Moreover, I had no idea of my physical or academic potential.
However, going back to your question, some schoolmates did go on to represent Wales and the British and Irish Lions on multiple tours. Consequently, one cannot help but think that if I knew then what I know now about myself, whether that could have been me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
KW: You describe yourself as a “disciple of elite performance”, what does that mean and what led you to follow that path?
Paul: Having learnt a lot from life thus far and spoken to in excess of 500,000 people from myriad backgrounds and professions, I was fascinated in how only a small percentage became world class in their chosen professions and the majority not!
My own research concluded that myelination of white matter in the brain may have a significant impact on how successful an individual can be from a cognitive processing perspective – by that I mean are they maximising their brain’s potential?
To cut a long story short I’m now a partner in Humantelligence, an Anglo-American psychometric testing company that identifies underlying motivational factors and highlights areas of a person’s being or indeed a corporation’s culture. The results have been staggering! We even provide an app for school age students to use free of charge to ascertain their own psychometric profile.
KW: You speak multiple languages, what’s the key to learning new languages? Do you have any more you’d like to add to your repertoire?
Paul: Quite simply, you need to say words out loud! There’s method in this seemingly mad way of learning, as the visual cortex of our brain identifies the way the word looks, however, without pronouncing the word we simply more often than not just save the word in our short–term memory, which has no real practical use.
Hence, when we say the word, the auditory cortex hears it and the ringmaster of our senses (i.e. the Hippocampus) links the seen word with the heard one… et voila (pardon the pun), the word is saved in the long-term memory instead.
However, some words are trickier than others, that’s when I use flashcards and a mnemonic way of memorising them (i.e. break the word down into syllables and try and find a funny link to another word), Quite often, once you remember the linkage the word comes back like a flash!
KW: Forensic science has seen a boost from TV series and films, how does that make you feel as someone who’s committed time and effort to becoming a specialist?
Paul: Incredibly proud! Time invested in yourself is never lost. Even if you don’t reach the ultimate dream that you were envisaging at the start of your studies, you’ll be a damn sight closer to it than if you did nothing at all! Furthermore, you’ll also find that opportunities arise along the journey.
KW: You’re clearly a strong leader, what are the main attributes of leadership? How can you get people in conflict to follow your instructions?
Paul: This is where culture and a joint ‘team’ vision are so important. If everyone feels they ‘fit’ and contribute to a unified goal then it makes conflict less likely.
Obviously, we’re all different and situations can arise in any walk of life when workplace intervention needs to occur. However, by identifying employees’ psychometric profiles and how we like to feel motivated and rewarded etc. the mediation of a conflict becomes fairly rapid.
From a leadership perspective, I’d say an excellent and yet often-overlooked attribute is listening, as small leaks can sink a battleship! Once you understand the people who work for you and what makes them tick, becoming world class is not hubris but achievable.
KW: How important has it been to build strong relationships in your life?
Paul: Essential. Don’t employ ‘mood Hoovers’ – you know, the ones who always seem to find problems and issues in anything you or the company does. Instead, surround yourself with people who positively contribute and can provide solutions! That’s not to say that you’re left with a room full of yes men and women, but rather people who can justify what they are saying without fear of retribution and offer options. Sometimes playing devil’s advocate is useful! You need to have trust in world-class teams.
KW: Human behaviour clearly interests you, how do people change in a crash/accident scenario?
Paul: One thing takes over: ‘SHOCK!’ People become insular due to their cortisol (the stress hormone) levels being elevated, which will always impair the thinking processes and powers of recall. Hence, to get a clear understanding of what happened you need to get them talking on positive topics (i.e. happy memories etc.) and let the cortisol levels normalise before questioning on incident specific details.
KW: What does it take to motivate people through talks?
Paul: Take them on a journey filled with your emotions and show your vulnerabilities. No one is superhuman all the time and the audiences need to know that! I also never use PowerPoint whilst I’m telling a story! The focus needs to be on the words and the manner in which they are being spoken. It builds gravitas!
KW: You must be pretty adept at knowing when someone is lying, what are the obvious giveaways?
Paul: It’s best to observe someone while you make small talk or ask innocuous questions about their life and then watch to see what their normal reactions are (i.e. a facial tic or a scratch of the nose). Then, if more indicators present themselves when you steer them to the questions you want to know the truth about, the chances are they’re covering up a falsehood. The bottom line is to know the subject matter and trust your gut instinct!
KW: It must be an emotional drain jet setting, how do you keep yourself going?
Paul: I’m a lover of audio books and podcasts, which I always listen to when I’m travelling, as I feel I’m not wasting any time and learning as I go. I also make sure I work out wherever I am and try to maintain a decent diet and of course keep hydrated; even slight dehydration can impair brain function!
KW: What made you want to join the forces? Would you want your children to follow in your footsteps?
Paul: In a nutshell, I wanted to learn a trade, travel the world and push myself mentally and physically! I wouldn’t stop my children from a career in any of the armed forces if that was what they truly had their hearts set on.
KW: How would you define “Elite Performance”?
Paul: Going that bit further than anyone else and never accepting mediocrity. After all Achievement = Skill x Effort.
KW: What separates the best motivational speakers from the rest?
Paul: That’s easy to answer: gaining an affinity with their audience.
KW: What was it like meeting Obama?
Paul: Absolutely life-changing. Both the President of the United States and the First Lady were so interesting to talk to and absorbed in what I had to say! Imposter syndrome no more.
KW: Are all Welsh people good singers?
Paul: Of course boyo! I share the same birthday as Sir Tom Jones! Coincidence? I think not!
Paul’s success has not arrived easily. As a teenager he loathed secondary school, suffered from low confidence and as he pointed out had “no idea of my physical or academic potential”. However, he grew to learn how to maximise his latent potential through the simple equation: “Achievement = Skill x Effort”, and by doing so subsequently achieved a truly remarkable career.
When joining the RAF, Paul’s goal was to “learn a trade, travel the world and push myself mentally and physically”, it’s safe to say, he has outdone himself in all of those objectives.
Such an overachievement is the perfect embodiment of Paul’s character and his drive to succeed. He is someone who no longer accepts mediocrity, someone who is constantly pushing himself to go further than anyone else, who firmly believes in the adage that “time invested in yourself is never lost”. That, in his words, is the true definition of Elite Performance, and in my eyes, is the true definition of an insightful and inspirational leader.