Hello and welcome to the knowing self knowing others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that explores self awareness, leader effectiveness and leadership at all levels. Join me your host, NIA Thomas, as we talk to today’s knowing self knowing others guest
I’m really pleased to be joined today by Sile Walsh. And some of you may have already seen Sile on LinkedIn because she posts video clips, which I absolutely love. She is a leadership and management specialist. And at the moment, she’s in the middle of a PhD looking at inclusive leadership through the lens of psychology. This is something that really, really interests me and our listeners as well, in terms of how self awareness fits. But without further ado, I’m going to hand it over to Sile to introduce yourself.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it. So as you said, my name is Sile Walsh, I am based in Dublin in Ireland. But I work both online and travel a lot. Anywhere between the UK, Europe, kind of are the main places. And I’m in private practice about 11 years now, which is based on coaching psychology. And I’ve done a lot of work with leaders, both formal training, development and coaching. And that’s kind of what what led me to the conversation, this conversation with you today Nia,
amazing, the foundation of psychology and I think when we’re talking about self awareness and relationships, that’s most definitely where it’s at. How do you define self awareness?
So for me, self awareness has has two prongs to it. So one is my awareness of myself. And then one is my awareness of how my self is experienced by others.
How does that in terms of your experience of working with leaders? How does that look like sound like for you? Like, how does that manifest.
So in a couple of ways, I suppose the first one is that our level of self awareness, so as a leader, will give us data. And if we’re missing some internal self awareness, we’re missing some data to make the decisions. But in my experience, if we missed that internal self awareness, we often then also miss the external awareness of how people perceive us. So without that piece of data, we can make a lot of assumptions. And we can communicate effectively without meaning to. And so I think for leaders, look, there’s a lot of attention in self help on self awareness, right. So there’s been a lot over the last 1015 years saying, you know, build your self awareness know yourself. And so a lot of the leaders I meet do have a degree of that. Some have load, some have a functional degree, what I find can be a barrier is often when we think we have self awareness. And when we say Oh, but I know myself really well. Often, when that comes up in conversation, I find that we probably have a blind spot that has become blind because of our self awareness. Because we learn something about ourselves, we didn’t know before, we now might think there’s not more to know. So I see this kind of dichotomy around self awareness, where if somebody, even when I was saying, Oh, I have self awareness, but also when I see others say, Oh, I have self awareness, I’m often like that, do you? Because when we have it, and we’re active in it, we usually know we don’t know everything about ourselves or others. So there’s always this unknown knowing. And so, for me, there’s kind of an early stage of self awareness where we think we know what we know. But we don’t actually know that we have blind spots yet, or how big they are, how active they are. So for me, there’s kind of this like journey about when you first work with self awareness versus what I would say I have a mature relationship, which means I know there’s a massive gap between what I know and what I think I know about myself. Whereas before, I thought the gap was smaller. But the more awareness I get, the bigger the gap, and the awareness that there’s a bigger gap there. So for me, it’s like a weird dichotomy. You know, the more I know myself, the more I know, I don’t know myself.
Absolutely. I was just thinking of the same phrase that yeah, it’s that as when you become more self aware, you realise that, you know, very little, and I think it’s that it’s that gap, isn’t it? And as you were talking, I was thinking, absolutely, it’s that journey of you start with a little bit of awareness and you increase it and increase it. And as one of my other guests was saying that it’s about continuing on that journey that as you change as you develop as you are having different experiences in the world. Your self awareness is going to change because you change as a person. You said earlier that some of your clients come to you with a little bit of self awareness. Do you think that To come to coaching to realise that you will benefit from coaching, you have to have a little bit of self awareness. No. Okay, so
no, I think one of the predictors for successful coaching is your readiness for change. And I think that’s more closely linked to how activated your defences are, and how equipped you are to integrate new knowledge about yourself or parts of yourself you’ve exiled or denied. And the self awareness itself doesn’t dictate that it’s actually in my experience, it’s your defences, it’s your readiness for change. And that they have, they’re a bigger predictor of how helpful coaching will be than how much you know. In fact, sometimes people come to coaching because they have to for different reasons. And they have very little awareness and they think it’s a load of crap. And then actually, the amount of awareness they develop in a very short period of time, over 12 weeks, would never have been developed if they didn’t come with so little. So sometimes it’s actually the very start of someone’s self awareness beyond intellectualising self, or kind of like reading a book and applying it like actual internal knowledge of self, the start can be in coaching.
Now, that’s really interesting. So maybe the journey is kicked off by a need for change, as opposed to a need for self awareness. And actually, self awareness just might be uncovered as part of that change.
Yeah, and I think it also depends on the type of coaching. So because I work with a psychodynamic systemic lens, and self awareness is part of the way I coach. So for a couple of reasons, one, the client will bring the reasons but other times I’m reflecting, you said this, but your behaviour contradicts it. So can we explore what’s happening in that tension? And that can help people see, oh, I didn’t think there was a contradiction, but now that somebody’s reflected it to me, I can see something about myself. I didn’t before. So I think people start self awareness from different places. And for different reasons. I don’t think that’s always the goal for people. But I think it’s part of most people’s transformational journeys, even if it wasn’t the gold
Do you think there’s a relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?
Yes or no? Okay, so the reason I say no, is that some people are effective leaders because they learn the rules of the game. And they play the game politically very well. That’s why we see kind of like increases of narcissism and pathologies in more senior leaders globally. And we see with different pieces of research that kind of point to that. And that isn’t because they’re very self aware, it’s, it’s because they learn the political game, and they play it and they’re effective, to the degree of which they need to be effective to progress personally. Now, do I think those leaders are the people we should be promoting, and we should be fostering in our organisations, if we want them to be places where other people thrive, then no. So you can be an effective individual leader who doesn’t necessarily help those around you thrive, but hit your targets, meet your agenda, and professionally grow as they move forward and be rewarded through money power titles, but if we want to be if we see effective leadership, as a leader who is effective within their role, and fosters other people’s effectiveness, and helps them to thrive, then I think that does require self awareness. So it really depends what how we define effective leadership, I think, because a lot of organisations talk about effective leadership where self awareness is required, but reward effective leadership where actually individuals outperform others and meet the political agenda and progress professionally, but they don’t actually help others thrive. So we often talk about it as if it’s one thing but we reward one more than the other sometimes, and statistically, that that’s kind of what a lot of research is suggesting to us.
Do you think that organisations are changing in terms of who they want to be their leaders? Because you mentioned that, that it’s the about the individual versus the team and how you get a team to flourish? Do you think that organisations who may have been more about the KPIs and about how much money you can draw in do you think there’s a change? And if so, what is what does that look like?
Again, yes or no? So no, in terms of shareholders still want to see their profits increase. So that’s still under any profit driven organisation. That is the task we have. Now, I think the way we meet the task was previously cultivated by the industrial age, and by very old styles of power use, and there was there’s kind of good reasons not everyone was educated or had access to education or skills. People were were given roles because their dad had the role rather than because they were particularly skilled at that. So the way that we did business previously has kind of that is not for a couple of things that I think is bad practice. But what what I am seeing is that organisations realise that for sustainable profits that can where they don’t get bad PR, where people stay with the business where they’re not wasting money on new recruits all the time, or they’re not having to constantly like pay PR problems out, or they’re not, you know, ending up in court over their practices, they are understanding that it’s not just about the task of producing money, but how they produce money has a longer term impact on the task itself. So you could have a really great year, but the other years set up to succeed in a sustainable way. And that really then comes back down to the relational side of leadership and the how we do things, which is where self awareness and really links in really strongly.
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations
100%. For me, leadership is a social construct. It’s a social agreement that we have. So there’s, there’s kind of two main types of leaders, you have the title of leader, you get a promotion, an external body of some sort gives you authority and power and your leader. And then there is social leaders who influence and who create change or move people and people follow what they say. And they can be anywhere because they’re social social leaders rather than title based leaders. And I’ve seen them up there was an organisation I worked with, and one of the what would be considered like the lowest ranking professions in that organisation, the most influential leader in the whole organisation existed in that profession. But when something happened, he influenced people on board or off board, if he said there was a problem, it was going to be a problem for many people. So to me, we have social leaders, and we have title leaders. Ideally, you want social leaders and title positions, that’s not always possible. But also I think there’s a model of shared leadership that’s becoming normalised Now, throughout organisations realising that if people aren’t empowered to lead within the capacity of their role and their team in different ways, you don’t get optimal performance. So now we’re thinking more about how does everybody occupy a leadership role within any level in any of the work that they’re doing? Because it actually improves performance? And then they help others improve their performance? Yes, so I, I think it can be anywhere. But I do think there’s two different styles or types of leadership in organisations.
I’ve not heard anybody articulate it in that way. I absolutely agree with you. And something that I picked up in my research was that you can have individuals who lead in the way that the shop stewards led in the 1970s. And you’re right, they are social leaders. But I’ve not heard anybody articulate it in Title leadership and social leadership. And that’s brilliant, I’m definitely going to use that in the future to be able to explain that. So thank you very much for giving for giving me that nugget. That’s really, really helpful.
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders, other levels of organisations? And you have touched on this already?
Here’s not necessarily the question is how did the person take the more senior role or the more strategic role? And what was behind that? Was it because they helped other people thrive? Or was it because they themselves were able to politically navigate the landscape? What I will say, as I remember this quote from Michelle Obama, in her book, something about, she sat at the table with the most senior leaders in the world, and they’re no different to you and I. And I remember reading that thinking, that’s what I’ve been trying to explain, because I work with really senior leaders. And I also work with middle managers who are moving into senior leadership. And I work with those and more of a kind of training or development capacity, but senior leaders usually shadow consulting, and coaching. It’s more like confidential and private and less people know. But one of the things I’ve learned is they’re not smarter. And part of the issue for a lot of people who get to a senior role, who are, who have built a career and helping other people thrive, is that they often think they should be more than what they are. Because we do, we do have a little bit of this kind of, I call it fantasy of leadership. It’s a bit like having the fantasy of our parents with this fantasy that if that person is leading us, well, they have to be more capable of themselves, because it needs to reduce our anxiety. But what I have found really harmful is that for people who have for leaders who’ve really been able to support other people thriving when they get to quite a senior leadership role. They may then doubt themselves because they’ve got their because they’ve helped others. And they’ve also bought into this fantasy that people at this level are somehow less human than all the other levels that they occupied. And I think that partly is about feeding into the fantasy to relieve anxiety. See from us, because if we knew we were being led by average people, we might be a lot more anxious trader lives, both politically organisations, you know, we need a little bit of fantasy, sometimes in our power dynamics to relieve anxiety. But on the flip side, then it sets people up to think that they’re not equipped to be a human at that level. And so for me, I think we need to think about that a little bit, both when we put people in leadership roles. And when we ourselves end up in in title and leadership roles, we need to think about what fantasies we have about leaders.
Fascinating. And you’re right, because so many people don’t have access to leaders, because of course, organisations aren’t triangular shaped, and you have less access to people at the top who are perceived as those leaders. And yes, there is this sort of hero worship or this fantasy around leaders that they are something else. But when you are in their company, they are often very nice people, and they are ordinary, and they have ordinary lives like everybody else. And so that’s, that’s fascinating that that is so relevant and obvious when people are looking to move up the career ladder that that can be viewed as a barrier, because I’m not that fantasy character.
Do you think effective leaders have more self awareness than ineffective leaders?
If we define effective leaders as helping those others thrive? They need more self awareness to be able to do that. But if we see effective leaders, as people who get the job done in a solo role and navigate politically, no,
in terms of your coaching experience, do you have individuals who have that individual leadership coming to you more frequently? Or is it those individuals who are social leaders and looking to develop their skills? Or is it a mix of both? Or Or how do your clients present in terms of that, two different styles of leadership?
So generally, because my area is more of a relational leadership style, and my approach is because of the psychodynamic piece of it’s kind of hard to hide in the approach, I tend to to have social leaders who have taken up title roles. So they’ve been leading and influencing for a long time, but now they have a title sort of brings a different texture to how they need to lead and present. Now, I also see that often people are sent to me, or are encouraged to get leadership, because they’re being seen as kind of broken down relationships, or they’re effective at their role, but they need to develop something so often, that kind of orientation towards leading where people are kind of self serving in their leadership, they come to me a lot less, because it would be really challenging to work with me, but they do come because they might end up in front of me for different reasons, like, something didn’t go well at work. And they can’t understand why what they always did didn’t work, and their organisation thinks they need support. So I do see more of that now than I used to. But generally, the leaders who kind of pick me for want of a better expression who come looking for me, even if their organisation told them, they need to coach, the people who pick me are generally quite aligned with a type of leadership that’s good for everybody, and not just simply kind of a political feat for themselves. Generally, they have more of that, that they’re still ambitious, always high performers, but they have an understanding that they’re that they can only bring their performance to a certain level as an individual. But as a collective, they could outperform that. So generally, that’s who would gravitate towards me, but I would see some of the other leaders, because there’s usually feedback now we know about coaching organisations are saying we want more collaborative leaders, and so that they might have promoted someone or awarded someone for not being collaborative and just getting the job done and just looking after themselves. And then they get to a position and then people say, Oh, we can’t we can’t let them do that. Now at that level that won’t go down. Well, we need to like get them to change their behaviour in some way. So I see both, but more. So. That kind of social leader who then takes on a title, that’s mostly who I work with as people with titles, but often they’ve been a social leader long before they stepped into a title role.
What is your experience of leaders who come who have or are ineffective leaders but have limited self awareness? I know I I’ve spoken to Jackie frost who works within the area of educational leadership. And she was saying that she spoke to a head teacher who took her around their school, and for that period of time spoke to nobody so made no contact with their teachers make no contact with the children. And in reflecting with Jackie they had no awareness that that in itself was a problem. Do you have experiences of anything like that where self awareness has been so limited? that getting over that first hurdle to start, the journey has just not been possible.
So there are people who, who aren’t ready for change. So that’s one of the things I assess when I, when I have my kind of free consultation, like I’m assessing readiness for change, I’m not really assessing anything else. And so usually I don’t begin with them, because in that call, it becomes clear that while they may say they want coaching, their idea of coaching, or what they think they’re going to receive, or their idea of what the problem is, is so disconnected from what they would have to acknowledge, to be able to move forward. So that that does happen, what I will say is that we all have blind spots. So there’s all for all of us, we all have parents that we are really sure we don’t have. And in coaching, in my experience of working with people and being coached those parents come into the room to to have a relationship with. And for me the biggest barrier for people to be able to have that relationship with those parents so that self awareness will usually come if shame has has entered the dynamic for them. So if they have any shame about who or how they should be, or if the self awareness is linked to something that also brings up shame. At that point, the work is about diluting the shame in bringing the humanity back to the reality of the experience. And then we can move into self awareness. But for me, the biggest blocker to self awareness is actually there’s some shame associated with the part we’re bringing awareness to.
Oh, that’s fascinating. And that’s probably a whole different conversation. Sheila, it’s been absolutely wonderful talking to you really, really interesting. And it’s certainly made me think, before we go on, I know that there are some really helpful resources that you can share with our listeners, please tell us more about them.
Thank you. So I send every two weeks ish. Everything’s in Ireland, right. So it, I send an email, which is about the art and science of effective leadership, and I call it the leadership letters. And I include things in it from things I’ve seen or done or read, to thought provoking pieces of work that I might introduce into some online coaching so that the recipient can actually think and reflect themselves on some of the questions that come up in in leadership coaching. So you can come to my website and sign up for those and you’ll hear from me in about every two weeks.
Amazing. We will make sure that we have links to your website and your leadership letters specifically in the show notes. So any listeners who are interested they can click and find out more. But if they want to connect with you on LinkedIn, it’s Sheila Walsh. Si l e. Walsh. Is there anything else we should
be sharing? If you’re on Tik Tok, and you’re one of those brave people i i fumbled together on Tik Tok and on YouTube so you can check them out as well. But LinkedIn is probably where I post a lot of the thought leadership that I’m working on at the moment.
Brilliant, we will make sure that there are links to LinkedIn, Tik Tok, and any other website and social media that we can find to make sure that you can have access to Sile, Sile, thank you very much. Once again, it’s been absolutely brilliant having a conversation with the
prankster millionaire appreciate it.
Thank you for joining me your host near Thomas at the knowing self knowing this podcast. If you’d like to know more about self awareness, leader effectiveness and leadership at all levels. Please take a look at my website knowing self knowing others.co.uk You can also join me on YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter. Make sure you bookmark the knowing self knowing others podcast and tune into the next episode in two weeks time. I look forward to having you on my learning journey.
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