James Nesbitt

james nesbitt

It was great to speak to Mark’s Dad, Jim, about his thoughts and tips on leadership. With a  loyal and dedicated 27 year career with the Royal Navy as a nuclear engineer on submarines it’s easy to admire his achievements and sacrifices, often going away to sea for 3 months at a time. Following that he worked at Rolls Royce writing nuclear safety documentation and commissioning equipment for nuclear submarines before an early retirement allowed him to travel the world with Mark’s Mum, Hazel. Now onto their third motorhome they’ve explored the cultures and geography of most of Europe with many more adventures ahead of them, not least regular trips to Australia to see their Daughter and her family.


What is the book(or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I‘ve read Animal Farm by George Orwell 5 times throughout my life. He was a genius, able to predict the future.

I’m a big fan of autobiographies, my latest favourite is I Love the Bones of You by Christopher Eccelston. 

Ken Follett is my favourite author, check out his books.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

I recently bought a new circular saw as I’m replacing all my windows. As a keen DIY man it’s important to have the right tools for the job. 


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

At the crucial stage of my career in the Royal Navy I had to continue my academic studies at the Naval Engineering College which would result in me going on to qualify as one of the supervisors of a live nuclear reactor onboard a submarine.  I scraped through the hard sums and physics theories to finally progress onto the Nuclear Simulator training portion of the course. This consisted of training in and demonstrating every Standard Operating Procedure and Emergency Operating Procedure that you could possibly be confronted with on a nuclear submarine. This intense six week training package was extremely stressful and culminated in a real time hands on simulator session, which I had to successfully pass to progress my career in the Royal Navy.  

The culture of the instructors at the time in the simulator was one of “lets try and catch these trainees out as much as we can, because we can”. When in fact they should have been demonstrating and coaching us on what we needed to do.  I failed my initial test and subsequently had to go back the following year and complete the whole three month course again.  This made me promise myself, if I was ever in the trainers position, I would work to change the culture and the way the training was conducted.  Years later I did find myself in a trainers position and helped change the culture and was later awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

Treat people as you would like to be treated.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Establishing trusting relationships in the workplace at all levels ensures the best possible outcome of any situation. Without trust, people won’t believe in what I’m saying and that makes it more challenging to get the job done.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I’ve been a keen sailor most of my life and been lucky enough to sail yachts in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Australia, the west coast of Scotland and the Canaries. Just before the pandemic I sailed a Bavaria 47 across the Atlantic with two other people, including you Mark! It took us 28 days, we only saw 6 other vessels, caught 3 fish and eventually hit land in Grenada. Next time I’ll stick to sailing in the Caribbean!       


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

You’re only here once and your time is limited so make the most of it.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

  • Always try to do your best
  • Communication, communication, communication is the key to everything
  • If in doubt ask

Ignore advice suggesting that everyone’s opinions are valid. People have to earn your trust.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

 To climb the professional ladder you need to step over your colleagues. 


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

A lot of the time it’s who you know, not what you know that gets the wrong people promoted. 


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

Make a things to do list.  Prioritise the tasks that you can influence or have control over.  Don’t waste your time worrying about things that you have no influence over.


What does leadership mean to you?

To be a good leader you must demonstrate and maintain the standards that you would require from your team.  You must ensure that your team members know exactly what is required of them and that the organisation maintains the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recordable and with a Time Scale Allocated) working process.  A good leader needs to be available to give guidance where necessary to help team members achieve their goals.  Team members will not always perform efficiently all the time, you must be able to identify these situations and give directions to help the team member.  Good communication is the key to all situations.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

There were three submarine Captains that were exceptional leaders. They inspired me to strive for excellence. 


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

What makes you a good leader?


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

Throughout my career in the Royal Navy I had a significant amount of mentoring and coaching. As I became more experienced I was involved in training up my replacements and supporting younger crew members to learn and develop themselves. Towards the end of my time I was responsible for the welfare, care and professional advancement of many people.

Topic: 50 in 50