Speaker 1: 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, nea Thomas, as we talk to today’s Knowing Self-Knowing Others guest. I’m joined today by Katrijn van Oudheusden, and I spotted Katrijn on LinkedIn because she had just released her book Selfless Leadership and it was really interesting and, of course, as you know, my interest is in self-aware leadership and I just wanted to know what the similarities and the differences were. And I think there are both similarities and differences, but we’ll tell you more about that as we go through our conversation. Katrijn’s background is in organisational development and leadership coaching, as well as being an author. So, Katrijn let me hand over to you to give an introduction of your background and how you’ve come to your selfless leadership.
Speaker 2: Thank you very much. Well, it can be a very long story or a very short one, so let’s start with a short one. Sure, about two years ago I found a way to. Well, i moved away from organisational development and found myself moving more into the one on one leadership coaching part. The reason was that I noticed, in the type of leadership workshops and leadership development projects we were doing, there wasn’t really a fundamental shift happening and there was a lot of, you know, good things going on in these workshops, no questions. But I found myself more drawn to really working one on one, with self understanding, self reflection, self awareness and these inner shifts that leaders can make.
Speaker 2: And going back a while, i discovered for myself something that’s called non-duality, which is an approach, a wisdom approach from Eastern wisdom traditions. You find it in Buddhism, taoism especially. Some people would say it’s also the basis of some of the Christianity and other religions. However, it’s not spiritual. It’s a philosophy, a way of looking at life and what it means to be human. And what I found myself doing in this leadership coaching was translating the understanding from that philosophy into what does that mean for leadership?
Speaker 2: And so this translation became what I now call selfless leadership and very important from the start. Selfless, not in the sense of extremely humble or extremely, you know, not caring for yourself but putting all your care towards others, but selfless in the sense of understanding that we are more than a separate self. So we have and we can talk about this, i think we have the construct of, we’re conditioned to think of ourselves as separate individuals, and that is true. That is how we experience life, how our psychology works, and yet there is also a level of being human which is, you could say, universal consciousness or awareness that is not individual and unites us, and we have the capacity as human beings to see both and to know both, oh, so it’s very much around connectedness.
Speaker 2: That’s actually the opposite. It’s two sides of the same coin. So, if I can see that the separate self that I you know, the person I believe myself to be is a construct, it’s a you could say an illusion, psychological illusion that we develop over time. So we don’t have it at a very, very young age. We actually have to learn that we’re separate and that we’re a self at around the age of 18 months.
Speaker 2: And we can see that this is a construct, so it’s a useful construct and it’s something that we use in being human. But at the same time, we can see the illusion of it. And when we do see that the opposite of the or the corresponding understanding is, well, that means what we really are is connection.
Speaker 1: Oh that’s fascinating And that takes us very nicely into our questions. How do you define self-awareness? How do you define self-awareness?
Speaker 2: Well, for me, we have to differentiate between the small self, as some people call it, the psychological self, so the person I believe I am. I am a woman, i’m 46 year old, i have a background in organizational development, i’m good at maths or I’m not, or all these beliefs and understandings we have of ourselves, some of them reflected by others or taught to us by our parents and teachers, et cetera, some based on genetics and experience. So this all creates a concept of who we are, and this can be very useful, right To understand. well, i’m more of an introvert. I could do with some better understanding of assertiveness in meetings or whatever it is.
Speaker 2: So this is the type of self-awareness that is usually discussed in the psychological setting and in self-reflection, and all of that. Then there’s the self-awareness with self, with a capital S, and this is referring to the essential self, what I was talking about earlier, the aspect of our experience that is universal, that is not limited to a separate self, to our person, but that which is aware of our experience. and these Eastern wisdom, traditions and non-duality point to the fact that this self-awareness, this self is our essential nature, is always available to us and is free, So not limited to these beliefs we have about ourselves, just to name a few aspects.
Speaker 1: So it’s a really complex notion, so I’m trying to work. what is the picture? So, when I’m talking about self-awareness, it has three layers And I’m almost wondering whether your self-awareness is one layer, because it all flows from what we are, as opposed to what we think we are, how we connect with others, that there aren’t separate elements, that it’s all connected and it’s all. so I appreciate what you’re saying earlier, that there are two sides to the same coin, but there’s a flow maybe, rather than a connectedness. Does that come near to it?
Speaker 2: Yeah, i guess you could say in the visual sense it’s the layer that encapsulates all the layers.
Speaker 1: Ah, that’s really helpful Okay.
Speaker 2: So some use the metaphor or the image of the ocean. So reality, you could say, is like a 3D ocean and our separate cells, so our idea of being a person and experiencing these bodies and separate minds, those are like waves in this ocean. Each wave has the experience of being a separate wave. Right, it has part of an ocean, But it is essentially the ocean and not separate.
Speaker 1: Ah, now, that is really helpful. It’s a very interesting concept, isn’t it? And you need to have a real bigger picture view of yourself, in society, in your country, in your universe, to be able to understand that.
Speaker 2: Yes, not only that, but I think it’s really helpful when you’ve seen, due to experiences you’ve had, that your identity and your sense of self is fluid. Many people who’ve had intercultural experiences or have had big changes in their lives often they’re negative to really wake up out of this, but they don’t have to. These people have seen and we’ve all had this in some form that, well, what I used to believe about myself at 20 is ridiculous. Now, right, i believe something completely different. The body has changed. The types of thoughts and emotions I have have changed. Who I believe I am has changed fundamentally, and this often begins to give us an indication of oh well, maybe you know my self-concept and this self-awareness that I have. It’s fluid, it’s not stuck.
Speaker 2: What are your thoughts on the relationship between self-awareness and leader effectiveness Both levels the self with the small s and the self with the capital s are essential to leadership effectiveness.
Speaker 2: Because so, taking my point of view, which is, i think, a bit different than how it’s usually discussed, if I have even an elementary understanding of the fact that I am more than a separate self, so that we are connected, that there is this larger whole that I am a part of, this produces, or it leads to less of an obsession with this separate self.
Speaker 2: So usually, the more you go into this, the less self-interest there is, self-promotion, self-protection, and that’s how this understanding can slowly, or sometimes immediately, lead to a more selfless or servant form of leadership where the interests of others are naturally put ahead of my own, not because I’m so humble or because I’m trying so hard, but because I’ve seen that the self I used to be protecting is simply is a construct. It’s not that important, it’s just arbitrary. Really, it’s a mix of, you know, my conditioning and things, i believe, but what’s much, what’s really true, is this interconnected whole And when I really understand that. So this deep self-awareness for a leader leads naturally to more selfless, servant leadership. So I’m naturally, as a leader, more in service to others, and that’s a good thing.
Speaker 1: Okay. So, in terms of really effective leadership, you need to understand that you are the ocean and you are a wave as part of that ocean, and there is a connection between servant leadership, humble leadership, but it’s bigger than that, isn’t it? It’s as big as the ocean, it’s exactly.
Speaker 2: It’s as big as the ocean And it’s as natural as the ocean. The problem I have with a lot of the servant or selfless leadership narrative is that it’s this moral thing. You have to strive towards it, you have to become a better person And only when you’re at the pinnacle of goodness then you’re a servant leader. But if you see, well, we all already are the ocean. We also see that this is something naturally inside of us. So we don’t have to go out and try to create servant leadership or selfless service. We find it within.
Speaker 1: That’s definitely something that I’ve been reading as you’ve been writing about your book. It’s this notion that I think. For me, self-awareness is often about searching for it. Searching for an understanding of yourself and your behavior and your impact of others And your model and your view of the world is that there is less searching, more discovery. Yes uncovering, yes.
Speaker 2: So it’s finding the core and the essence of what means to be human, which is, interestingly, not so human. I mean not so separate and limited as we’ve learned to believe That is. I find the good news of this message is that you can stop searching, you can start finding by looking within and discovering, hey, my true nature, what I really am. If I don’t believe all these beliefs about being separate and being limited and having flaws and all this stuff, i’m naturally driven or that’s even too strong a word I naturally flow in service to the ocean And what I want more than anything else is to be in service to others, and that is selfless, because I’m no longer.
Speaker 1: I’m not doing it for my goals and out of interest in myself, but because I’ve seen what I am, what we are. That’s a fascinating notion and something really new to me And, being a reflector, i probably go away and sleep on this and really think about this, but really fascinating. Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels within organizations, and why?
Speaker 2: Yeah. So I’ve had this view for a very long time that it’s really not about leaders, but about leadership. I think we should maybe even get rid of the noun. I mean the leaders, and for me, leadership is the act of taking the lead, and I know that sounds like a tautology, i mean, it’s nothing new. But what I’m trying to say with that is that it’s simply this act of leading, of taking the lead, independent of your role, your position, what you’re taking the lead in.
Speaker 2: So, whether that’s cleaning the bathroom or reorganizing a company, and the reason I see it so broadly is because for me, it’s taking the lead in an area that naturally flows. So if you are in a meeting and there’s an issue where you notice, ah, there’s the desire, the intention is coming up for me to be a part of that, to even take the lead in that, then that is what you do. You follow this natural flow when you’re in tune with what is emerging, what your talents are, what your skills are and what the moment is asking for. And so for me, leadership is all over the place. Everyone, at any moment, anyone can take the lead and be a leader.
Speaker 1: Interesting. As I said right at the beginning, i think we have similarities in our models and differences in our models, and the big diagram of how all of that fits together is starting to emerge. One thing that I looked at specifically when I was doing my research was leader effectiveness. So it was definitely about the individual, and I wonder if your element and your considerations around leadership are the two parts of that Venn diagram that don’t overlap. Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self-awareness than leaders at the level of organizations, and what is your experience around that?
Speaker 2: In my experience, unfortunately not. So I started off in hospitals, university medical centers. I was a management consultant for a while and saw lots of larger companies, always advising at CEO or top management level, and then I worked in staff roles advising the president of a university. So always at this CEO, c-suite, top management And, at least in the career I had, and the people I saw, almost all of them were very much stuck in ambition, ego, not always in a negative sense, in the sense of, oh, i want to be this big, important person, but in the sense of I as an individual am crucial in this role and I want to be important and admired and compensated for that with the idea of you know, it needs to be, it needs to grow and it needs to be more.
Speaker 1: my influence needs to increase. So some people weren’t in the ocean. Some people wanted to be the tsunami but didn’t realize that actually they just needed to be a wave, because tsunami can be destructive.
Speaker 2: Yes, Well, that’s an interesting way of putting it. Yeah, they wanted to be a bigger, better wave tsunami of influence And some of this had had positive effects. You know I’m not. I’m not judging it in the sense of this was all negative because, as you said, you know, a big, influential tsunami can be, can be helpful, it can change a lot of things or move many people, but the intention behind it was self-centered.
Speaker 1: What do you think is an effective way to develop self awareness or your awareness of the whole ocean?
Speaker 2: I’ve had a lot of, you know, the psychological path, as, if you’d like to call it that, with Myers-Briggs understanding yourself. You know what are my tendencies, all the different models there are. I had lots of experience in that and studied a lot of that in the course of my career and my own development And many of these models are really helpful. So I think learning about who you are in the personality sense, how people react to you, and all of that is essential and useful up to a certain point or on a certain level. There is also this self awareness, self capitalized, so the awareness of what we really are, and that’s where this non-geo wisdom tradition has developed over the centuries, really has developed inquiries. So they’re a form of contemplation, of looking at your direct human experience and discovering what you really are.
Speaker 2: So there are various, you could say almost exercises, experiments. They’re quite scientific really, they’re self observation. You work with a hypothesis and you kind of test it in your direct experience. That can help us see how the separate self is a construct, how we create these limitations in the mind. You know things like looking at where a thought comes from, how does it originate. Do I do that Or does it just appear. Am I in control of my thoughts And not following the mind on this, because the mind comes up with an answer. You know what we’ve learned or how we want it to be, but really looking so it’s a nice mix of meditative and inquiring and looking directly. Okay, where will your, where does your next thought actually?
Speaker 1: come from. It’s almost existential, isn’t it?
Speaker 2: Yes.
Speaker 1: You really have to step outside of yourself to consider these things in a far more detached way, possibly from that self that you have constructed, that you have been working on by going to leadership courses and university classes, etc. Thinking about your book, Selfless Leadership. If listeners want to go and read your book, what are the type of things that they’re going to discover? What’s the journey of learning through your book?
Speaker 2: Yes. So the book really looks at this. What am I, what am I truly, what is my, what is myself? And I’ve put this into four insights that help us see that our true nature is selfless and therefore in service. And that’s really the fourth insight.
Speaker 2: So the first one is the most counterintuitive, because we’ve learned to believe that we actually control our lives, so that it is possible for us to control our thinking, to control how we develop, to maybe have more or less willpower to grow, all these different aspects that we’re supposed to control. And it’s interesting because if you look at different cultures and different times, what we’re supposed to be able to control varies wildly. And if you ask different people, they’ll say, well, yes, you’re in control of your health, you’re in control of your thoughts, and others will say what? No, of course not. So just that shows how tenuous it is. But so this first insight is well, maybe, and it’s always an invitation to check, right. So the book includes practices, some of these exercises, amazing, to find out for yourself, in your direct experience, what is my truth. Because the idea is not for you to believe me or anybody else, it’s the invitation is always check What is true for you.
Speaker 2: So the first one is about checking am I really in control of my life? Is this narrative true, that I’m in control? The second one is I am my beliefs about myself. So I am my identity, the image I have of myself, my self-awareness. Is that really what I am? Am I an introvert? Am I this or that? Is that truly what I am? Or am I maybe that which is aware of those beliefs? So we do exercises that show us that these beliefs change over time and they are simply beliefs We choose. We can choose to believe them or not believe them. They’re beliefs, they’re not facts, absolutely. So these insights together they start to make this idea of a fixed, separate self a bit more fluid.
Speaker 2: And the third insight is about seeing this other side of that understanding, which is well. Can I really find a separate person? Can I really find a place, a clear delineation where I end and you begin? Is separation really true in my experience, or is that also a mental construct, maybe a helpful one, of course, because we don’t want to merge with other people, but maybe it is something that has been created in our thinking And there’s never a moral judgment. It’s never. This is good or bad or you need to get rid of something. It’s always just an invitation to look, because when you really see this and you start to see, oh, okay, maybe there’s more connection than separation.
Speaker 2: This has all these different consequences for how we interact with humans, other people and ourselves. Obviously, because we stop thinking so much, oh, this is mine and this is yours, and self and other, and we stop judging so much, because I understand that maybe you’re acting because you’re believing something specific about yourself And it’s not so much because you’re trying to be annoying. I understand that you’re not in control of your genetics, how you grew up, what you currently believe, how you’re acting. So it creates a lot more fluidity and understanding and peacefulness in how we understand each other, ourselves and how we interact. And the fourth insight is then this understanding of okay, so maybe I am in essence, selfless, not fixed and limited by my idea of a self, of a separate self, and that means that really I can flow with what is emerging and that is always in service to, as we said earlier, the ocean. So because I am a part of this, i am in service to it.
Speaker 1: How amazing, just fascinated by your model and your thinking and your ideas. Listeners, as I’ve said before, we will make sure that there are links in the show notes so that you can go and find Katrijn’s book and you can find out more about her. We link to Katrijn’s website and her LinkedIn profile so that you can make those connections if you want to. I hope you enjoy reading that book and you make that decision about whether you’re a wave, whether you’re the ocean, whether you’re at tsunami or maybe you are all of those things. Katrijn van Oudheusden, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been absolutely fascinating, definitely something that I need to go away and reflect on and think more about and definitely part of the learning journey. Katrijn, thank you.
Speaker 2: Thank you very much, it was great.
Speaker 1: Thank you for joining me, your host, nia Thomas, at the Knowing Self Knowing Others 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, knowingselfknowingotherscouk. 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. If you’d like to join me as a guest on the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast, please drop me a line at info at knowingselfknowingotherscouk. If you’d like to advertise your podcast, book or company connected to self-awareness, leader effectiveness or leadership at all levels, please drop me a line at the same email. Please remember to bookmark the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast so that you can keep up to date with all new episodes. Remember to rate this podcast on whichever directory you listen. Knowing Self Knowing Others is available to listen on Apple podcasts, spotify, amazon Music podcast index, podcast addict, podchaser podcast’s, deezer…..