Nia Thomas [00:00:01]:
Hello and welcome to the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that talks about self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. If you want to be a better leader and a better work colleague, then join me, your host NEH Thomas, as we talk to today’s knowing, self Knowing Others guest. Hi listeners. And it’s a very warm welcome to today’s show to Kyle Dowell. Kyle is a best selling author, inspirational speaker, leadership and culture expert. And I first heard Kyle talking on the Deep Leadership podcast with John Renny, who I’m a fan of. And Kyle was talking about leadership, which was definitely peppered with self awareness throughout the whole thing. So I’m so pleased that you’ve been able to join me and talk a bit more about self aware leadership. Kyle, please do introduce yourself.
Hey Nia, it’s my pleasure to be know I think you’re doing really important work, so it’s my pleasure to join you today.
Nia Thomas [00:00:59]:
Thank you so much.
I’m nearly a 30 year veteran of the corporate world and I stepped away from that, I guess it’s been about three years ago now, to really embark on what I would call my life’s mission. It’s my purpose now and that’s to evangelize the principles with which that I led, not my entire career. I kind of stumbled across a series of principles that really guide and dictate how I behave as a leader and frankly, more broadly as a human. Once I had kind of come to conclusion on these principles, I realized that they had resonated so strongly with so many in my organization. I think at the time when I created the principles that maybe we’ll spend a minute or two discussing, I had about 15,000 employees and was just so humbled to see the reaction and how strongly the principles resonated that it really occurred to me that I’ve got a bigger purpose than leading any one organization. So I left Corporate America, wrote the book, and now I’m just doing my best to spread the message as widely as I can.
Nia Thomas [00:02:07]:
And I really like your book. I’ve been able to borrow it from my husband very occasionally and read some sections. And your principles, ten principles. And there are a couple in there that I think really speak to self aware leadership. The first one, I guess, is number two, which is we lead by example. And I think that’s a conversation that comes up very often when we’re talking about self aware leadership.
Yeah, no question. And I think leading by example doesn’t necessarily come with a title. I mean, the entry level intern, by the way that person carries themselves can lead by example. And I think as it relates to being a leader, if you’re not leading with a positive example that inspires others, then you’re not a leader. You’re what I would just call a boss. So it’s a very important principle for me.
Nia Thomas [00:02:56]:
How do you define self awareness?
For me, it’s very simple. It’s knowing what I know, knowing what I don’t know, and being quite comfortable with both. I kind of boil it down very simply.
Nia Thomas [00:03:11]:
That’s a very nice, simple start to our conversation. What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?
You know, it’s incredibly important. As a matter of fact, it might be the most important character trait or element of a great leader. I’m often heard saying authenticity and relatability are two huge components when combined, equal trust. And I think as it relates to our conversation today, authenticity and self awareness are very, very similar to one another. If I’m aware of who I am, if I know what I know and what I don’t know, I’m much more likely to behave in an authentic way because I’ve gone through the mental exercise to recognize there are things I don’t know. And I also recognize that I’m actually pretty good at a few things. And the gaps in between is where I think you really make hay in terms of developing strong followership and having people really get behind your ideas. Now, how does it impact you as a leader, I think is up for debate. But there are some really obvious outcomes for the leader who is self aware. I think better decision making is clearly one of the biggest outcomes of being a self aware individual. Certainly leader. Because when you’re self aware and you can set aside your ego to be open and vulnerable enough to hear input from the team, to hear input from those around you who may have different experiences, greater exposure and then obviously could have a lot more intel about any specific topic that we’re facing. So the better decision making, I think, is the number one outcome for a self aware leader. But also, if you’re self aware, you recognize that you have an opportunity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, which I think results in increased empathy. When I’m a self aware leader, I am capable or try to be capable of putting myself in the shoes of the person with whom I’m interacting or the person on my team or someone who I’m passing a direction along. And if I’m self aware, I can recognize the tone and the approach that I’m taking may not be the right ones for the person with whom I’m speaking. So it’s important to understand that I’ve got to be empathetic when either handing out good news or being critical of someone putting myself in their shoes. And none of that comes without being self aware. So what happens after that? If I’m self aware enough to help or to allow members of my team to have a very loud voice or input into decisions that are made? Clearly, decision making gets better. And I now have empathy for those in my charge because I’m allowing them to have a voice and I am allowing their input to matter a whole heck of a lot. And out of that comes much stronger relationships, which I think is really critical to making sure that we have a team that is kind of rowing in the same direction at the same pace towards what I like to call a culture of excellence. In summary, it’s absolutely critical to be a great leader, you must be self aware.
Nia Thomas [00:06:18]:
What about these leaders who are leading, but they don’t appear to have self awareness? I expect within 30 years of being in the world of work, you have seen experienced leaders or maybe managers rather than leaders who operate in this way.
Absolutely. And what a shame, man. What a shame because and by the way, I think that is a lot more prevalent in larger organizations. I’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in the US. And been fortunate enough to have some fairly senior roles in some of those very large companies. And it’s been my experience that unfortunately, more often than not, the more senior the leader, the more times he or she has been told yes and not really been challenged about their opinions, not been open to other people’s opinions, ideas or alternative approaches. And over time, the result is someone that is not self aware because they’ve been told for many, many years, if not decades, that their opinion is the opinion and it’s the only opinion. So I think it’s natural that the leader ends up not being very self aware. But I think it’s a shame because they don’t welcome the opportunity for disagreement. They don’t welcome the opportunity for other alternatives or options when electing a path to take. So I think it’s a real tragedy because not only do you limit the input and the possible solutions that we could find, you also stifle creativity and innovation from those around you. So you’re stunting their growth as a result of your, frankly, arrogance.
Nia Thomas [00:07:56]:
What do you think it is about larger organizations that allows that to happen more often than in smaller organizations? Is it simply a case that you’ve got more space to hide?
Oh, great question. I think it’s more of a scale issue. So, NIA, if you and I were to partner on a company launching a business, just you and I, there’s only one person other than myself to look at for solutions. There’s only one person other than myself to kind of debate our path or help make a critical decision. As the organization gets bigger, I have more people in my charge and this notion of kind of self preservation almost starts to surface. The bigger the organization, because of exactly what you said, the ability to hide. You can make a pretty good living in the corporate world at many organizations, putting your head down and not having an opinion, just kind of lather, rinse, repeat, I guess, as the expression goes. But the shame in that is, as I mentioned a moment ago, the ideas don’t flow, the disagreements don’t happen. So there’s really a vanilla approach to business. And if it’s just the two of us, you and I, going back and forth, it’s kind of hard for me to hide behind my you know, you can pick up the phone or walk down the hall and look at me and say, kyle, what’s your opinion on this? It and it’s just the two of us, so we can disagree. When I have an organization of 15,000 people, it’s quite easy to insulate yourself and not get the opinions from so many, because the corporate world by that point has told me that I’m really smart and my ideas are the best ideas, which clearly is not the case.
Nia Thomas [00:09:32]:
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels and why? And I think that’s principle number two.
Absolutely. You stole the words right out of my mouth. If you’re going to lead by example, you can do that without a title. I’m kind of a sports nerd, and when I’m asked a question in similar vein to this one, my response is very simply look at a football team, a US. Football team with 53 members of the team and one coach. There’s no way that that one man leading that team is the only leader. He’s a leader in title. But how you perform the example that you set, as we mentioned, the way you carry yourself, the passion that you bring to the organization or the team in that case, those are all things that others typically seek to emulate. So by definition, you’re leading by example. And that is not something that comes with a title or you’re not anointed that leader, but how you behave is what sets the bar and that standard for you to lead by example. And I think it’s lost a lot of times in the corporate world that I’m not going to be a quote unquote leader until the title allows me to be a leader in my career, and especially those that I’ve witnessed and helped kind of develop their growth throughout their career. That comes from people taking initiative, from showing that you do care, from being vocal at the right times. And if you take that approach and those that do take that approach, in my mind, by definition, they are a leader.
Nia Thomas [00:11:12]:
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of the organization? And what experience have you got that really inform your view?
Yeah, sadly, no. The larger the organization, the more senior the individual in that organization, I think, is kind of where you’re going when you say from a more strategic role. No, it’s the shame I mentioned earlier as a leader in a large organization, at a strategic level of an organization, this arrogance and ego tends to creep in, especially in these massive organizations. And it’s understandable. By the way, I’m not being critical. It’s understandable because those individuals or the individuals at those strategic levels have had, in most cases, very successful careers. They’ve driven great outcomes for huge organizations, massive return to shareholders, and that develops a sense of ego that allows one to insulate themselves and not necessarily be open to feedback of others. So their self awareness, I believe, over time, unfortunately wanes and even vanishes in some cases. And again, I just can’t tell you how much of a shame that is, because it stifles innovation and growth from those around you.
Nia Thomas [00:12:23]:
Does principle number eight, we challenge each other feed into this notion of feedback being filtered as you go up the management tree?
What a fantastic observation. NIA so when I give talks or in my consulting business and I walk through the ten we’s, and when I get to eight, I always pause and say we. Eight is both my favorite and the most difficult to embrace, because it is unfortunate that with the title, many people, they conflate the title with authority and almost omniscience, as if they have the only answer and there is only one answer. So we challenge each other, opens the door for the leader to say, I don’t have all the answers. As a matter of fact, when I pretend or purport to have the answers, my teams are obligated to challenge me. When they think I’m wrong, my teams are obligated to point out that I might be kind of heading down the wrong path, because in my world, there’s no benefit or value to an I told you so. So when we’re talking through a plan or we’re wrestling with a tough problem, I want every opinion on the table, and I want everyone to challenge each other’s opinion. It can’t be subjective. Those challenges need to be based in data and or experience. But I think it’s really critical to get everyone’s opinion on the table, especially those closer to the work. That kind of reminds me of another scenario that I think is relevant to the question you just asked, and that is, when we don’t get all of the opinions and ideas on the table, what results is a sense of apathy. The team no longer feels as if they have value or their input is not valued, which, over time, I’m sure you’ve seen as well, people stop raising their hand. If you’re not going to hear me and you’re not open to hearing me, why should I even bother wasting my breath with my opinions? Because you don’t value them anyway. And ultimately, typically, that results in separation, someone leaving the organization.
Nia Thomas [00:14:27]:
And that really does feed into the quiet quitting conversation that we’re all having at the moment.
Amen. Yes, ma’am.
Nia Thomas [00:14:34]:
You said that number eight is one of the most difficult yet, the one that you get to that point in the conversation. And it’s always a challenge to talk about the challenge. Which one of your principles do you identify with the most or like the most or the one that you want to talk about the most?
Yeah, I hate to be redundant, but we’ve touched on it. We challenge each other to kind of expand on that. It’s not enough, and I’ll use the sports analogy again, it’s not enough for the coach to challenge all of the players. That’s one person versus many, if you will. What I like to see in an organization, especially in the teams that I lead, is challenges. From peer to peer challenges, from a team member to me to the leader. The benefit that comes from that is so profound on a couple of fronts. The first is when we are in an environment where challenges are safe, the best ideas usually win. Almost in a sort of meritocracy type way. The best ideas typically win, but it also creates an open playing field for members of the team to learn more about what’s going on in their peers organization. So very briefly, I was in an organization once, this is probably six, seven years ago, when I first introduced these principles. The Ten Wes and my staff meetings NIA were classic Cliche staff meetings. I would sit at the end of the table. The members of my team were around the table and they would each individually go through their updates. I was listening. I’d take notes, ask a question here or there, but while one member of the team was presenting, the other members were on their phone or they were in their laptop or they just really weren’t engaged. Why? Because historically that conversation was with the person presenting their business out their business results. And the leader, me in that case, was listening it’s back and forth. But when you allow and encourage challenges, the rest of the team and this was a transition over time, but it certainly is very, very prevalent still in that organization, which I’ve left multiple years ago when as one person, is presenting. And we have this environment where challenges are now safe. The rest of the team is now paying much more attention because they know that they’re allowed to kind of call out a foul. They’re allowed to call out a challenge when they recognize something that’s being discussed is not necessarily as accurate or as thorough as it could be. And lastly, when that environment exists within team meetings, within town halls, whatever group sessions we have that safety to know that it’s okay for me to raise my hand and say, hang on a second, I think I just heard something that doesn’t make sense to me. Have you considered X y or Z? Or perhaps we have another solution if we looked at A, B or C without that environment and without the ability to challenge, it’s really one opinion driving the entire team. And I think that’s a shame because you hire people for what they know, for what their ability and the value they can bring to the organization. So why would you not allow them to express what they think is important or express their solutions to any given situation? So in my mind, it’s just absolutely essential to have challenges as a part of the organization. If you want to grow, if you want to improve, if you want your people to grow, if you want your product or services to improve, you can’t do it with a one size fits all, with only one person having the ability to have an opinion.
Nia Thomas [00:18:08]:
That’s such an interesting observation and as you were saying it I was thinking yes, absolutely. I think all of us will have sat in meetings where actually it feels like a one to one with a chair, but lots of people sitting to your left and to your right.
Nia Thomas [00:18:21]:
And actually you’re having a one way dialogue about your updates or what’s going on in your world of work. But actually there’s no discussion happening around the table. And when it does start to happen, it feels so fulfilling, it feels valuable. But you’re right, that one way. Keep information passing back and forth.
What is the and NIA, if you’ll allow me a really brief story that highlights how profound of an impact this can have. So when I introduced those principles, my staff meetings went from those individual readouts to discussions. And there was one woman in particular and she knows I tell this story often. There’s one woman in particular very, very curious, asked a lot of questions. And those questions, in most cases they came across as challenges. And at the time I mentioned, I had about 15,000 people in my organization. This woman on the team, she had about 200 employees of the 15,000. And there was another woman on the team who she routinely asked many questions. She routinely challenged the leader that she issued those challenges towards and asked those questions of was a very, very self aware and secure individual. Fast forward several months, if not a year plus later. The woman who asked all the questions and did all the challenging assumed the role of the other woman who by the way, had about 10,000 employees. She was enabled and was the right choice to succeed. The woman who left her post because why? She was informed and how was she informed? Because she challenged and asked a whole heck of a lot of questions, which made her the right fit to backfill the woman who had the larger team of about those 10,000 employees. So it creates an environment that allows for a safe space to ask questions, which allows us to get to better solutions. But more importantly, it allows growth of the person asking the questions. They’re asking the question because they want to know or challenge that there might be a better solution. So everybody wins, especially the organization.
Nia Thomas [00:20:25]:
I’m really interested that you happen to say that those two people were women. Have you noticed something different between the genders?
Wow, great question.
Nia Thomas [00:20:34]:
Yeah, and I don’t shy away from controversial questions, in my experience, and it’s maybe perhaps because I was raised by a very strong, career driven woman, so maybe I’m a bit biased in a healthy way. I’d like to think I tend to think, if we’re going to be honest, I would say females are typically more self aware than men. And I don’t have an opinion as to why. It’s my experience it’s a good observation on your part, because Julia, in this scenario, the woman who was asking all of the questions of Lori, the other woman, both incredibly self aware and they and I think they would categorize one another as very close friends to this day, and they haven’t worked together in multiple years. Appreciate I appreciate the difficult question, but in my experience, I would say self awareness is much more commonly found in women than men.
Nia Thomas [00:21:30]:
What do you think? Well, in my research, I didn’t specifically look at the gender differences, but it nevertheless came up, as I was looking, that direct reports and senior colleagues do identify women as being more self aware. It’s a really interesting area and it’s one that I didn’t explore, but I think there is a whole heap of research out there or to be done out there on this subject.
Wow, so fascinating. And to relate it to a personal level, if one were to ask me would I rather work for or report to a man or a woman, it’s a no brainer for me. I’d much rather work for a woman. I’d much rather report to a female. And I’m wondering I’m just thinking out loud now, and this is certainly off the cuff, but I’m wondering if that is because maybe with a degree of arrogance, I consider myself to be a fairly self aware individual. So maybe that is why I have a greater connection. Or being led by a woman is something that I’m very, very comfortable with, because we see eye to eye on some of those traits that you just mentioned. This is fascinating. Thank you for bringing this up.
Nia Thomas [00:22:38]:
Well, it’s interesting. Jacinda Arden has recently resigned saying that she is aware that she’s not able to give to the role, and actually the role is taking a lot out of her. She has demonstrated self awareness. We have had the leader of the Scottish government, she left her post recently saying something similar. I don’t know how many male leaders have ever or would leave their posts saying something similar.
Good luck trying to find one. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, actually. You know why I think, and this is probably a whole body of research, as well as I think self awareness for many is synonymous with vulnerability. And I can’t be vulnerable if I’m going to be a leader. Gosh, no, which is obviously not the case. I think vulnerable leaders can be some of the most impactful leaders on the team, without question. I can’t imagine a very senior leader being self aware and being that open about their reason for stepping away from their post. I just don’t see it.
Nia Thomas [00:23:40]:
I wonder then if we should be creating greater psychological safety around men so that they can say that if they.
Feel that I think we need greater psychological safety across the board if we had to lean towards one gender. I think clearly, based on the last five minutes of our conversation, starting with men certainly is probably anyway the wisest, at least most efficient approach. But psychological safety has never been more important in the workplace than it is now. So I think if we had to target a demographic, that’s where I would lean again. I think we’re all products of our environment, and as I mentioned, being raised by mostly a single mother household of a very strong minded, independent, career driven woman, I think I’m very fortunate to have been passed on some of those traits. Now, I don’t profess to be perfect about it, clearly, but I think just even being open and being curious about what makes me tick for anyone to say that I think is a real feather in their cap. And I think it’s the right step, or at least the right first step in becoming certainly very self aware.
Nia Thomas [00:24:50]:
What do you think is an effective way to develop self awareness? We’ve already talked about some ways.
Yeah, you got to be curious. And when you asked me to define my version of self awareness, as I mentioned it’s, know what you know and know what you don’t know. Be comfortable with both. And the threshold question is, what don’t I know? And if you can ask yourself that authentically and be prepared for whatever answers might enter your brain, that’s an important or if not the most important first step. You got to be curious. But you can’t be curious without recognizing that your ego plays a role in this whole journey that we’re on, especially if you’re on the journey to become ultimately self aware. I’ve got to be curious. I’ve got to put that ego aside, because that ego tells us I know everything. The ego tells me I have all the answers, which is the enemy of self awareness, which is the enemy of progress, and it’s the enemy of getting feedback and opinions from others. So I think, lastly, I would encourage others because this is where I feel like I’ve made progress in my own journey, and that’s putting myself in the shoes of others, being empathetic. A self aware leader knows what makes the person across the table tick. And that might sound a little counterintuitive, but if I’m self aware, I know how I’m coming across, which allows me to be empathetic, which allows me to put myself in that other person’s shoes. Some people react. Everyone reacts. Differently to criticism, everyone reacts differently to praise. So you must be self aware enough to know how you’re going to deliver information to the person on the other side of the table. And by doing that, you put yourself in their shoes and you find common ground. And as I mentioned earlier, trust comes with that as well. And I think, lastly, this just occurred to me as we’re talking through this, and you might have stole my thunder and this is perhaps where part of my answer is coming, is you have to ask. You just have to ask. I think doing 360 degree surveys, a formal way of doing it, where you gather anonymous feedback from your team, ask the questions you may not want the answer to, and that know things like do I consider the opinions or input of others before making a big decision? And you can do it less formally in your one on ones or just hallway interactions for that matter. Hey, how do you think I handled that problem last week? Or how do you think I handled Julia’s Pushback in the staff meeting earlier today? Do you think I came across overbearing, did I come across genuinely interested in her input? You just have to ask. Which is tough for some people to do because I think in their minds that’s that vulnerability issue, that some conflate with authority. So if I’m vulnerable, I certainly can’t lead effectively, which is nonsense. So you got to be curious. Let go of that ego and ask, I think really three big steps.
Nia Thomas [00:27:43]:
Yeah. And I think asking is less difficult than dealing with the response because I think that is the clincher. It’s what happens when somebody says something that if I’m in a corridor or I’m in a one to one and somebody says something that’s really tough to hear, what do I do? How do you prepare yourself for that? How do you get ready to not be in tears or to not want to walk out of the room? That’s the hard bit, I think so true.
And I’m connecting it to a part of our conversation earlier with this more strategic levels of leaders inside organizations. They don’t ask because they’ve been told the same thing for so many years, that their opinion is the only opinion. And there’s a bit of pandering that goes on. So they don’t ask because they’re not going to get the answers that they would want to hear. And the answers that they want to hear are too often supplied because most environments don’t encourage a dissenting opinion, they don’t encourage others to weigh in strongly. So I think there’s a big circle here that we’re talking through that’s pretty evident to me. And I’m often heard saying it has to start somewhere because if nothing changes, nothing changes. So if you want to have an impact, have a more fulfilling journey throughout your career. Being self aware is a critical component. To your own growth, but maybe more importantly, the growth of those around you.
Nia Thomas [00:29:06]:
And that’s a brilliant end to our conversation. Kyle, thank you so much for joining me. Listeners, as ever, we will make sure that there are links in the show notes to Kyle’s website, Kyle’s LinkedIn profile and begin with We Kyle’s book. Kyle, it’s been a really interesting conversation. You’re so busy with promoting your book, and I can see that it’s going so well. I’m so glad that you’ve been able to find time to join me. So thank you very much.
My pleasure, NIA. As I said earlier, you’re doing great work, so I’m really proud to be a part of it. Thank you.
Nia Thomas [00:29:36]:
Thank you. Thank you for joining me. Your host, NIA Thomas at the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast. After every podcast, I’m going to be doing a top takeaways review of the things that I’ve learned from my discussions with guests, which you can find on my website. Knowingselfknowinguthers. Co, UK, LinkedIn, TikTok and the other main social media sites. Rates, reviews and recommendations from you are the best way to get the word out about the Knowing selfknowing Others Podcast open your favorite podcast app. Find the Knowing Self, Knowing Others Podcast take a listen to some episodes, give it some stars, and write a little review. A little word from you means a big deal to me. Make sure you bookmark The Knowing Self, Knowing Others Podcast on your favorite podcast player and tune in to the next episode in two weeks’time. The Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast is available on Apple Podcasts Spotify google Podcasts stitcher Goodpods Podchaser amazon Music Podcast index Podcast Addict pocketcast Diesel.