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Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading

helps you in your leadership.



Jonno White

7 Questions with Paul Marks
7 Questions with Paul Marks

Name: Paul Marks

Current title: CEO & Founder
Current organisation: Healthy Returns

Paul has 18 years in talent strategy, culture creation and organisational health, working with businesses that invest in their people to build happy, healthy and purpose-led cultures. He is the Founder & CEO of Healthy Returns, working with founders and entrepreneurs to build their mental resilience, and the Co-Founder & Chief Wellbeing Officer of Healthy R Communications, a culture strategy agency working with ambitious companies to create workplaces of the future. A TEDx speaker talking about mental and emotional resilience, Paul is active in the mental wellbeing community, and is most likely to be found moderating, speaking and sharing his knowledge at conferences, workshops and on podcasts.

7 Questions with Paul Marks

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?

Founding a startup is an exciting time, and the adventure ahead will hopefully be one of the most enriching learning curves you’ll experience. With that said, it’s also important to be as prepared as possible considering all the risks and challenges that come with it. As a founder, you are entirely responsible for the success of your business and the career of your employees. There are three important challenges faced when scaling up; developing a vision, achieving optimal persistence, and executing through chaos.

As most small business owners will tell you, though, the risks and challenges are usually worth the rewards. It's worth finding solutions to these challenges and ways to handle the risks so you can realise your dream.

I can't say this enough... planning, planning, planning! A startup that thoroughly researches and plans across all aspects of their business will have a much higher chance of commercial success. That means planning finances, your products/services, marketing, people, talent gaps and anything else you can think of. If possible, get business-savvy friends or family to review your plans and discuss with them. They may well spot gaps or have questions that you hadn’t thought of.
Keep learning!

2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I founded Healthy Returns in August 2020 after turning my passion into my profession. In September 2018 I had a breakdown which turned my life upside down and made me evaluate what was important in my life. I became a student of mental health and mental illness, and saw that there was not enough support and care in the start up community to help founders and entrepreneurs with their mental health struggles. They often won’t talk about mental health for fear of being judged by others – partners, investors, customers, employees.

So I decided to dedicate my life to helping others and turned my passion into my profession, founding Healthy Returns, the mental health collective supporting founders and entrepreneurs who are struggling to maintain their mental wellbeing.

We must be more vocal about the importance of sharing mental health struggles, normalising the concept of seeking help when in need and ultimately making mental health a mainstream part of the startup culture rather than the niche.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I have a four year old son, so my alarm call is usually him waking me up all excited for the day ahead around 6.30am. I always have breakfast with him and my wife, before starting my day around 8.30am checking emails then my day is full with a mix of one-to-one coaching and business meetings. We are currently building a first of its kind tech platform for founders, so I am regularly talking with the development team on the MVP, ready for launch in late Spring 2021.

This is a very exciting time for Healthy Returns, so I am always switched on things of new ideas and talking to the team about new initiatives to roll out to help founders with their mental health challenges.
I have been doing a lot of public speaking in the last few months with a TED talk and lots of guest slots on podcasts, as I am trying hard to amplify the conversation and promote a culture of openness about mental health, in order to preserve a founder’s talents as a creator, an innovator, a dreamer and an inspirer to help them overcome their mental health challenges, to optimise their performance and to deliver healthy returns.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

The benefits of self-care and self-awareness! I find that founders and leaders tend to find the concept of caring for yourself to be antithetical to their image of what a strong leader looks like.

For founders, being self-aware forces you to slow down and observe yourself, like an outsider.

When you become self-aware, you become conscious of your problems and emotions, and start to understand who you really are inside.

As founders we get so caught up in our actions, our tasks and our team that we forget to take a step back and dig a little deeper into who we really are.

Despite the well-known benefits, many leaders still remain resistant to the whole idea of self-care. Strong wellbeing, positivity, health and happiness are so important for leaders to be successful in today’s world.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell
the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

It is Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins, which I read in early 2020. Goggins is the only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, he went on to set records in numerous endurance events, inspiring Outside magazine to name him “The Fittest (Real) Man in America.”

In Can't Hurt Me, he shares his astonishing life story and reveals that most of us tap into only 40% of our capabilities. Goggins calls this The 40% Rule, and his story illuminates a path that anyone can follow to push past pain, demolish fear, and reach their full potential.

Goggins is such a powerful individuals, and he talks about striving to be the best of the best and to live a life that truly demonstrates the extent of the human potential.

What I took away from the book is that we should celebrate our victories. However, the very next day we should be right back on the grind, challenging ourselves and learning how we can further expand our minds and bodies.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?

There is a commonality between successful organisations and leadership capacity. Successful organisations understand the importance of harnessing leadership talent and taking the time to develop it internally.

Every human has the capacity to grow, so everyone has the potential to gain from leadership capacity building. We as leaders have to realise that people want to grow and that remaining in the same place for too long can lead to stagnation. When people stagnate, the business they work in will stagnate.

Since the modern economy demands leadership at all levels for companies to remain competitive, it’s no surprise that increasing employees’ mastery of leadership will create a more engaged workforce.

Building leadership capacity typically involves establishing a competency model to describe the skills and behaviours required by the company’s leaders.

Leadership capacity is more than simply skill development; it is about performance, growth, transformation and change.

You need to make sure to engage and inspire your team
to get the best results. You understand the need to create cohesive and collaborative processes that develop the abilities of the next generation of leaders in your organisation. It is so important to have a willingness
to take the necessary steps in identify internal talent and nurture them into the leaders of tomorrow.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?

As the leader of Healthy Returns, I was asked to do a TED talk to share my story and my mission to smash the mental health stigma in entrepreneurship.

At the TED event I was fortunate to meet an incredible lady who was an abuse victim. She has turned her life around and is starting her own social enterprise called 'A Hand to Guide' helping other abuse victims escape their abusers and start a new life.

I have been working with her on the business plan and aspirations, and helping her launch her enterprise as a business mentor and advisor. I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to work on this amazing business using my leadership skills and connections to help launch this.

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