Speaker A [00:00:02]:
Hello, and welcome to the Knowing Self, Knowing Others podcast, the Fortnightly Podcast, discussing self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. Join me, your host, Nia Thomas, as we talk to today’s guest.
Speaker A [00:00:16]:
A very big welcome to today’s show to Dr. Gerrit Peltzer.
Speaker B [00:00:20]:
Hi, Nia, thank you for having me. It’s really a pleasure speaking with you today.
Speaker A [00:00:24]:
It’s great to have you on the show today. Gerrit is an executive coach and coach supervisor at Vivo Coaching. He’s also an adjunct professor of leadership at the Institute for Management in Austria. He’s a co host of the Second Crack Leadership Podcast and based in Bangkok. So please do introduce yourself to guests just in case there is something that I’ve missed in my introduction.
Speaker B [00:00:47]:
Your introduction was very thorough. I can hardly think of anything maybe just to add. So really the focus of my work is the individual executive coaching. And I use the tagline that I help leaders create the conditions in which people can be their best selves. So this already leads us to self awareness, and I’m really curious where our discussion will take us today. And maybe also quickly to add that my approach to coaching is influenced by two worlds. So by education, I’m a chemist, and so coming from a background in the natural sciences, I also try to take a scientific approach to coaching by using the latest insights from neuroscience to help people change behaviors. And at the same time, as you indicated, I’ve spent almost the last two decades in Asia have been influenced by the Eastern wisdom traditions as well, especially Zen Buddhism. And so being in touch with these different approaches to life and coaching leads, I believe, to a more holistic approach in coaching. And perhaps also quickly to add the podcast that I’m running together with my friend Martin Alder God. It’s called second Crack the Leadership Podcast. We explore everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes, and we invite our listeners to self reflect, which brings us again back to.
Speaker A [00:02:10]:
Self awareness most definitely, which takes us very nicely into our very important five questions today. So really to set the scene, how do you define self awareness? What does it mean for you?
Speaker B [00:02:27]:
It sounds like such an innocent question, but I think it’s not as easy as it sounds. As the term indicates, self awareness is about the ability to be aware of the self. But what is the self, actually? And I mentioned my scientific background, I’m not aware of any scientific definition that everybody has agreed on. So when you look at psychologists, some will say there is only one self. Others will argue that we have several cells and they’re not talking about multiple personality disorder or anything like that. And then in neuroscience, we find some hints that clearly the brain is involved in constructing an identity or a self, but we can’t really point to a particular location or region in the brain where we would say this is the seed of the self. And then to make it even more complex, in Zen Buddhism, you will find the concept of no self. And that is nothing esoteric. Actually, it’s pretty much in line with what we know about from science. So let’s say if there is such a thing as a self, then it’s constantly changing, it’s not fixed. So you and I and all our listeners, we are not the same persons today who we were ten years ago. And in fact, we are actually changing every moment. It may be very marginal changes, but basically every second ourselves change. And so the self would change, right? And the second aspect of no self, or let’s say in the Western world, we typically have the idea of an isolated self, which is a bit of an illusion, actually, because we are interconnected with our environment. So right now, as we are speaking, we are depending on the air that we breathe, which is produced by plants. Our body physically consists of what we drink and eat. And nowadays we also know that we massively depend on our gut bacteria. And these bacteria impact our moods and our decision making. So the self as we perceive it is depending on our microbiome. Right? And also the self is strongly impacted by relationships with other people more than most people think. And these are extremely interesting questions to ponder, both philosophically and scientifically. But we might not have the time to do that in detail today. But the bottom line for me here is we can safely say that at least the idea of an isolated and what should I say, stable or nonchanging self is based on a Western narrative, a concept that we made up and believe in. And it’s just a perception, not really a fact. But let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, for our discussion today, I think we can also safely say that most of us have a sense of individual identity, a sense of self. And now, coming back to your original question, what my definition of self awareness is, is probably quite close to what you call internal self awareness. So awareness of my thinking, my values and beliefs, certain behaviors and patterns. And then also, let’s say, when I talk about patterns, maybe the typical reactions I have in certain circumstances and most of my executive coaching engagements, they start with building self awareness. And besides all the factors that we mentioned, there’s another one that we have in common. But this is one of the areas that the clients I work with, they’re corporate leaders. All of them are very good at rational and logical thinking. But what they often neglect is this big aspect of emotions. And in the corporate world, emotions have the notion of being something fuzzy. But coming back to the neuroscience, what we call emotions are the results of neurobiological processes. And these processes permanently influence our decision making. And behavior most of the time without our conscious awareness. And so these processes are also much faster than the rational thinking. So we are not really rational beings, but merely rationalizing. And I recently heard a fantastic Ted Talk from a neuroscientist and she said we are not thinking beings who feel, but we are feeling beings who think. I summarized some of these aspects in a chapter which I recently wrote. It’s called soft skills through the lens of hard science insights into what leaders need to know about the brain. It’s just a chapter in a book which is called Brains Brought into the Business and it should hopefully be published in April this year.
Speaker A [00:07:55]:
Amazing. It’s interesting. As I’m hearing you speak, I’m suddenly realizing that the people that I have talked to and asked this very question to have either tended towards that very self as an insular being definition of self awareness or the idea of the self as being a part of a community. And I was very drawn to the conversation that I had with Katrine Van Udhuston about selfless leadership, where she is talking about that are we really individuals and how actually we’re part of a society and we move within that society. But then, as you described it’s, that notion of self within that.
Speaker B [00:08:40]:
Yes. And the Buddha famously said there is clearly thinking, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a thinker. When it’s raining, there is no rainer. So it might be all made up. If I may, I wanted to touch on another aspect that I find important when it comes to self awareness and that is also awareness of the body. These rational people, and by all means I am, or at least was one of them, a chemist. I worked in manufacturing for a long time. So I was also for quite some time detached from my emotions and bodily sensations. So as rational beings or thinking that we are rational beings, many think that consciously we only take in information with the five senses, right? Hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and touching. Touching. But once again, neuroscience teaches us that the body also processes information, once again without conscious awareness. And scientists call that neuroception. This is a process through which the nervous system evaluates risks without awareness. But we can pick up these signals from the body and this process is then called interoception. But basically what that means is it’s the 6th sense and a very common one of these what should I say? Realizing the signals is the gut feeling. A gut feeling is again, nothing esoteric or fuzzy. It’s hard biology and most of us would be well advised to pay more attention to developing the gut feeling and pay more attention to it. And so when I just reflect on what I just said so everything that I mentioned is, I would say, quite close to what you call internal self awareness. Now, I’ve read some of your work and I know that you also have other components like internal social self awareness. That is what I usually call perception. So beyond how awareness of the internal self is, then how do other people see me and interpret my behavior? And then a lot of my coaching is actually around what I call perception management and I think that is related to what at least to some extent to what you call external social self awareness where it comes to the regulation part.
Speaker A [00:11:20]:
So to say yes, definitely. What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?
Speaker B [00:11:32]:
Yeah, definitely. To me a leader’s self awareness has a huge impact on their effectiveness as a leader. Of course we can argue again what do we mean by leader effectiveness? And like I said earlier, to me leadership is all about creating the conditions for people to be their best. But when I say for people to be their best so this then includes the leader. And so when leaders approach me for executive coaching, it’s usually about some sort of behavioral change. And every behavioral change process starts with self awareness, right? So on the most basic level you need to be aware of what you want to change, otherwise how can you possibly change? And then it comes to the next stage, becoming aware how other people perceive you. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, once famously said one thing that people are never good at is seeing themselves how other people see them. And then this perception management, which is then again related to regulation, self regulation, perception management is so immensely important when it comes to influencing people. Not manipulating, but influencing as a leader in a positive way. Coming back to your question, self awareness is a prerequisite for good leader effectiveness.
Speaker A [00:13:06]:
I’m interested in what you were saying about that perception. And something that I often talk about is reputation. And I think unless you have an awareness of yourself and how you appear to others, your reputation can be significantly impacted in the blink of an eye. So I think when you’re operating in the workplace, I think you have to have that attention and that to being conscious of yourself constantly. Because there are people around you, right around you 360 degrees. And unless you are conscious of that, somebody’s going to spot something that you didn’t and were neglectful or careless or not conscious of or not aware of that had that significant impact on you.
Speaker B [00:13:54]:
Speaker A [00:14:00]:
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organizations and why?
Speaker B [00:14:06]:
Definitely yes. So leadership comes not only with the title or the formal authority. Leadership is about influence, it’s about creating a positive impact in an organization. And we have this awkward term of individual contributors, right? So the people who have formally no direct reports and not leading a team, but of course also these people can very positively or negatively impact the organization through the ways they interact with others. So again, even if they have no formal authority through their behavior, interaction with others, they can bring out the best in other people and that is leadership. And personally, you mentioned the levels. We talk about certain hierarchies and I have also personally seen great leadership on what is often perceived the lower levels. So I was in manufacturing and I’ve seen fantastic shift leaders. And you don’t need to be a director, senior vice president or the CEO to be a great leader. And I think I take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my former manufacturing teams in Germany and Thailand.
Speaker A [00:15:23]:
I was speaking to Marie Verano and like yourself, she has focused on coaching, but recently has moved to middle managers coaching for that very reason that there are lots of middle managers who maybe don’t have that recognition or need that extra support to move up the levels. I appreciate that you’re focused on executive leadership. Do you have people from different organizational layers coming to you asking for coaching to say, this is the direction I want to go, I’ve got a couple of steps to go, how do I get there? What do I need to do? How can you help me?
Speaker C [00:16:05]:
Yeah, that’s interesting. So yes, indeed, I work with, first of all, very different people, but also on different levels. And like you said, it’s often the executive level simply because that is where people think, where decision makers and organizations often think they have the biggest impact on the organization. And so they think that when they pay for the coaching, they will see a bigger return on investment. But I’ve just started also working with two younger people and yeah, often it is actually about this. Maybe what comes to mind is another case I work with where a person was on a director level and applied internally for a GM level and somebody else got the job and he wanted to make sure that he gets the next promotion. And then I also spoke with his boss and said, fantastic guy, and I supported the promotion. But then the other people decided differently. And so I interviewed these other people and said what was going on there? Or tell me about this person and say, yeah, so and so, it’s really great, works a lot, he gets the job done end and end. And then after this long list of positive attributes, there came this. But and it was all around the perception, around communication. And it was not that the person did not have the capabilities, he just didn’t demonstrate them enough. And once he was aware of this, he could work on it. And believe it or not, a couple of months later was a larger organization. He got a GM position in a different country.
Speaker A [00:17:52]:
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self awareness than leaders at other level of organizations and really what’s your experience that’s informed your view?
Speaker B [00:18:04]:
That is a tough one. So basically I have only my personal experience or perception. I haven’t seen any comprehensive studies around this except yours, which is more in the public sector. And so my experience is that as a former employee of a multinational corporation and now, of course, as a coach, has worked with numerous different organization and I think of it in, let’s say, first of all, on one. Hand. When somebody has advanced to the top of an organization, I think we can assume that they have a certain degree of self awareness. And I think we can also say with certainty that as these people have been promoted through the ranks, they must have done at least some things right in terms of perception management. And at least at some point in time they were able to convince these decision makers that they have what it takes to be effective in the top level role. And I’ve worked with wonderful clevel, executive vice presidents, directors, and often thought, wow, I wish we would have more people like you in the corporate world. And at the same time, we see regularly top level leaders derail because of a complete lack of self awareness. And near what you said earlier about you said in a blink of an eye, you can ruin your reputation and you’re always in the spotlight, right? Let’s say if we were attendees in a meeting, we could get away with looking at our smartphone. If you are the top person in the room, everybody is watching you. And interestingly, while you were talking, I remember two examples from German politics. One is a very recent one. The Minister of Defense recently resigned. There were, of course, many things that led to it, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was a video she posted on New Year on social media, and I assume most people watch it. How can you be so insensitive? And there was a lot of criticism and she stepped back and exactly this people spot you. There was a candidate who wanted to become chancellor in Germany, successor of Angela Merkel, and he was spotted while he was visiting a flooding site. He was standing far in the background and apparently he or somebody made a joke and he was laughing and it made the front page of the news. And he hasn’t become chancellor. So I wish I could say on the most strategic level, people would have great self awareness, but it’s apparently not always the case.
Speaker A [00:20:55]:
And it’s hard, isn’t it? Because that example that you’ve given, I’m just thinking how innocent he might have just been demonstrating politeness to somebody who made a slightly funny joke about something totally irrelevant. But what you are seen to be doing at that particular moment in time is captured by somebody and the meaning is derived by that individual. I think that’s such a good example of I was expecting to do A, everybody else thought I was doing B and therefore B is the message that’s shared.
Speaker B [00:21:33]:
Speaker A [00:21:38]:
And our final question what do you think is an effective way to develop self awareness?
Speaker B [00:21:44]:
So I’m thinking of three, maybe three to four aspects. So most of the time I think the first step is making time for self reflection and introspection. And funny enough, it is what the Buddha taught already over two and a half thousand years ago. We need to stop and pause and then look deeply. But interestingly, most of the leaders I know, they do not make enough time for reflection. They are all extremely busy. And we live in a world that values action, right? We look in awe at these people who are busy all the time. I don’t recall anybody who has been recognized for his or her great reflection skills. But it is hugely important because what I see in my work is that oftentimes all that neithers lead for improvement, for self development is a bit more time for reflection when there are experienced leaders. And that is maybe one difference to what you said earlier. When younger people approach me, they sometimes need some knowledge, maybe some leadership model, some how to. But an experienced leader, they know enough. And so that is actually one reason why we created this podcast all around reflection. We didn’t want to offer another five simple steps to do this and this we want to invite people to reflect so that they can find the best answer for themselves. And then of course the next level, it may sound like an advertisement, but I genuinely mean it is then individual coaching where you reflect with a trusted external partner to gain new insights. And this has a different level then the second aspect relates to also what you said earlier. So in our everyday life we need to remind ourselves to direct at least some part of our attention to this self awareness part. Awareness of our surroundings, the situations we are in. So practically that means I need to observe myself in a meeting or during a phone call. So while I want to bring most of my attention into the meeting or in a phone call, but also then observe how do I typically respond when X happens, what triggers, and it’s usually what other people do, what triggers my frustration or anger. All these behaviors, habits and patterns that I know are actually unproductive. And once I’ve sharpened my awareness, when I know what are the triggers, then I can actively work on stopping this automated reaction and I can choose a different response. So awareness allows us to hold that space between stimulus and response. So we become more aware of our standard reaction which is often not very productive. And then we can choose a different response. And the third aspect is then understanding perception. We touched on it briefly so on one hand, I can observe how are other people responding to me. Right? So in our conversation, are you still keeping eye contact? Can I see some excitement in your face, or do you start nodding off? And then I can, of course, ask people for feedback. I can do this individually. I can do a formal 360 degree feedback. Or as a coach, I also often interview people. So a verbal 360 or also stakeholder interviews. And then the last aspect is then the regulation. And there are three key steps. That is practice, practice, practice. And taking small steps, we can’t change our behaviors that we have built over the last 20, 30, 40, or more years. Typically, we can’t change them overnight. So take small steps, monitor progress, and get feedback along the way. So these are my thoughts about how you can develop self awareness.
Speaker A [00:26:18]:
Gerrit that’s such a helpful list and really something for listeners to think about. And I think it probably forms a really helpful plan of action, especially if you’re new to thinking about how to become more self aware, how to become more reflective in your practice. So that’s really helpful. Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been such a good conversation. Listeners, as ever, we will make sure that there are links in the show notes to the podcast, and it’s quite possible that by the time this podcast is going live, that the book that Gerrit mentioned will be out in print. So we will put a link to that if we possibly can. Gerrit, thank you so much for joining me. It’s been an absolute delight having this conversation. Thank you very much.
Speaker B [00:27:03]:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I also thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and all the best to all your listeners.
Speaker A [00:27:13]:
Thank you for joining me. Your host, Nia Thomas, and my guest on today’s episode. Remember to rate and review this podcast on your favorite podcast player. A little word from you means a big deal to me. Catch you in two weeks time. Looking forward to having you on my learning journey. The Knowing self Knowing others podcast is available on Apple podcasts spotify Google Podcasts podcast index overcast amazon Music podcast addict Castro Cast Box Pod Chaser Podcast.