Thursday 14 December 2017

What I wish I’d known before I started: John Kelly

General manager of IndEx Partners

EXECUTIVE HEADHUNTER: ‘You’ve got to learn to listen’ — Kelly
EXECUTIVE HEADHUNTER: ‘You’ve got to learn to listen’ — Kelly

John Kelly

'Everything' is the simple answer to what I wish I knew before I started. However, there are four things which stand out above all the others, and I'm happy to share them with you.

Learn to listen

A skill that everyone in business - whether CEO or entry-level - should learn is the art of listening. Thankfully I learned that rule early on and it has proven crucial not only in my own personal development but also in the development of IndEx Partners.

As an executive headhunter, we are a business that is built on the bedrock of listening. In basic terms, if you need a high calibre executive or an independent expert with a proven track record in your sector, then we search for and find that person for you. This means we must really listen to what our client is trying to achieve in their business.

So listen well and listen often to clients, your team and the markets you serve.


During the recession, many of our clients were moving away from retaining traditional consultants and looking for 'hands-on' practitioners. We saw that they were intent on moving early to get themselves ready for the upturn.

They had a clear vision of where they wanted to be but they needed to retain experienced, independent talent to help achieve that. We listened (that skill again) to these clients and used their 'intent' as the catalyst to change our own business.

Develop insight

Without an insight into what opportunity you are trying to crack, what problem you are solving or what gap you are filling, then you might as well be looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.


Our interims must have the capacity to galvanise people around change. Winning the 'hearts and minds' of people across the organisation is critical.

People have to at a personal level embrace the possibility of change. This is where leadership comes in.


Leaders must have the capacity to articulate a vision, create a compelling case for change and to inspire people with a sense of urgency.

To really inspire, you need to really listen. You need to have a clear strategic intent. You need to base your decisions on insight.

The combination of these things is what I wish I knew before I started.

  • John Kelly, general manager of IndEx Partners, in conversation with Louise McBride

Sunday Indo Business

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