Jon Rennie, The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

N D Thomas  0:00
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 near Thomas as we talk today’s knowing self knowing others guest

listeners, I’m absolutely delighted to be joined today by John Rennie. If you don’t already know about John’s work, you may well recognise his voice. John is an entrepreneur and a CEO of his own company. He’s an author of three leadership books that have been very much influenced by his time in the Navy. And he’s also the host of the hugely popular deep leadership Podcast. I’m a big fan. John, please do introduce yourself.

Jon Rennie  0:50
Hi Nia, it’s good to be here. Yeah, I’m John Rennie. And, yeah, I’ve written some books, I run a podcast. And I also, I still run a manufacturing business that I started seven years ago, after spending 22 years working in large corporations, I ran eight different manufacturing businesses, for three global companies. And then, yeah, I decided to go off on my own seven years ago and started my own company. But as you mentioned, I started my career as a naval officer in the US Navy on a nuclear submarine. So that’s where I learned a lot of my leadership, my foundational experiences were in those early days, as a leader on a submarine, what an amazing background and an amazing history to get to where you are now and all that influence and experience that you’ve had along the way, quite amazing.

N D Thomas  1:47
How do you define self awareness?

Jon Rennie  1:51
Like what you when when you talk about self awareness, it’s it’s the ability to be humble enough to recognise where you need to improve. So you often hear sometimes people say Ego is the Enemy. And I think in leadership it can be so it can be the thing that gets you in trouble. If you think that you have all the all the knowledge and experience and you have all the answers, then you’re going to be in trouble when it comes to being a leader. So I would say it’s the humility, being humble enough to listen to others, listen to yourself, listen to the critics and trying to find those nuggets where you need to improve, we need to get better.

N D Thomas  2:32
I’m sure that the number of people that you’ve had on your podcast, and they will have spoken about their experiences. There are lots of leaders who don’t have that humility, but they are still leading big organisations, they are still drawing in the figures they are drawing in the money. What are your thoughts on how they got there? How are they staying there? What is their secret?

Jon Rennie  2:55
Well, I think you’re right, I think that we have a large amount of leaders in in corporations and companies, nonprofits, that really lacked leadership skills, they lacked that self awareness, as you mentioned, but they got promoted and moved into those positions. Because a lot of times people are very good as individual contributors. And then they get promoted based on that. So they’re a good engineer. So they become the the engineering manager, for example. And they really have never had any leaders leadership training or and been exposed to leadership training. So they think that they have a managers title now. So they’re the boss, and they have all the answers and, and they, and so that’s the way they operate. And there are others that move into the areas of leadership, because they want the they want the money, they want the notoriety, they want the title, they want the perks of being in those positions.

So there’s a whole group of people that, you know, in leadership, there is a study called the dark side of leadership. So they’re, they manipulate people, they do whatever it takes to to move up so that they can get, you know, the fame, if you will, of being a leader. And oftentimes, they can be successful, too. And so, but it’s a lot of times it’s narcissistic, ego driven leaders. And so there’s a lot of those in in businesses today. But I will tell you, if you look at the Gallup studies, only about 30% of employees are engaged at work, and this is just US corporations. But it tells me that the fact that 70% of employees are disengaged means that we have a real problem in leadership, at least in the US, I think globally as well. That is very interesting. That takes us very nicely into our second question.

N D Thomas  4:47
What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?

Jon Rennie  4:52
Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s something I’ve struggled with because one of things I noticed as a leadership author and a speaker a Someone who runs a podcast is that my fans, the people that that consume leadership content, tend to be people who are very much self aware that they realise that they, they’re humble enough to know that they can get better. They know that they, they really need to, they’re looking for ways to become even more effective as a leader. What, what the problem is, and the challenge is, for those of us creating leadership content is that the people that are consuming the content are already pretty good leaders trying to get better. The problem is, is that the people who are not self aware the one’s not likely to be consuming leadership content, you know, they’re not the ones watching, going leadership training and reading books and trying to get better, because they think they’re already good. And they think they’re already great. And so this, this is where the problem is where 70% of employees are disengaged at work, because they likely have one of these managers who think they’re already very good, and they are not self aware. And so I think, when you are self aware, you realise and when you’re humble, you realise that there’s a lot to learn. And I’ve been doing this for three decades, I’ve been leading people for three decades. And I’m, I’m actually right now in a in a Ph. D. programme. And I’m finding out that there’s a deep ocean of knowledge and leadership that I was not aware of. And so even after three decades of leadership, I’m learning things that I never even knew existed. So we have to be humble, we have to be looking to always get better every day.

N D Thomas  6:31
Most definitely. And it’s that Dunning Kruger effect, isn’t it? But the idea of if you think you’re pretty good at something, maybe that’s the very thing that you’re not pretty good at?

Jon Rennie  6:41
That’s exactly right.

N D Thomas  6:49
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations? And why?

Jon Rennie  6:54
Yeah, no, I really do think that that’s the case. Leadership is not a title. So if you take a look at any any group of people, you’re gonna find leaders and and they may have a title or they may not. So this idea of informal leaders or emergent leaders, so on almost every situation, you will see people step up and take charge, right? One of my friends writes in his book, he says that it’s the follow me moment. So every once in a while someone will step up and say, Follow me, let’s let’s do it this way. And that suddenly becomes the leader. And I think in every situation, we know, just as you know, humans are social animals, right? You go to any group of people, I guarantee you can find the leader right away, you can look, you look to see who everyone is listening to, everyone’s focused on. And that’s probably the leader, and I guarantee you, they may not have that title. So

it’s a problem when we think leadership is is a title, it’s really, what are you doing to impact the people around you. And that is not necessarily always going to be the person with the title and the person with a corner office. Oftentimes, it’s the person that says, Follow me and people are following him. That’s, that becomes that Emergent Leader of that informal leader. I’ve spoken to a couple of people with military backgrounds, Army, particularly, and they’ve talked about mission command, which I think is a very interesting concept. It’s about being very clear about the goal, but giving your people the autonomy to be able to make the decisions on the ground. How does that translate in terms of Navy leadership principles and practice? What’s interesting is when people when they hear that I was in the military, they think it’s a command and control structure, right? That the way I tell you what to do, you just say, Yes, sir, and do it, right. But it’s just the opposite. We we train heavily trained our sailors on on a submarine such that they can work autonomously towards the objective, right. So when, for example, there’s a fire on board, we train for all sorts of different casualties. So when there’s a fire as an example, everyone knows exactly what to do, what their roles are, where to go. And they know how to shift priorities when things change on the ground without being told because they’re trained. And we and we go through that operation. And so what I would say is that is that the mission is clear, right? And the objectives are clear in the rules of the game or clear things that like, don’t open a window, right? Everybody knows that rule, right? Absolutely. But but we give freedom to accomplish those goals. And so we do, you know, heavily trained people, we rely on their to fall back on their training when the circumstance hits that they’ve got to take action. So people aren’t standing around waiting for orders from from the control room. They’re taking actions based on the conditions on the ground. So we train very heavily, and we focus on having really good qualified sailors who know what to do in every circumstance. I think there is so much for organisations and businesses to learn from that model. And I think we need to be doing more training people to empower them as opposed to, as you say, directing people to do Your tasks, which sometimes just disempowerment?

N D Thomas  10:02
Yeah, I agree.

Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at every level of organisations? And what’s your experience to inform that view?

Jon Rennie  10:22
No, I think just the opposite. I think the higher you get in the companies, the more likely you’re not self aware, someone once told me this thing about what’s called a monkey tree you’ve ever heard that expression. So monkey tree is imagine a tree full of monkeys and, and the leader is the top of the tree looking down on all the monkeys not only sees his smiling faces, right, but yet the lower you’re in the organisation, all you see is the other side of the monkey, right? So I think the problem is, is that when you’re in a higher up position, that you tend to be surrounded by people in your bubble, write the, the Yes, men, the Yes, women that are telling you everything is great, and also to they’re not telling you the truth, because they want to keep their job. So you’re surrounded by people that what I call the good news company, it’s all good news, everything is great, and everything is fine. And you’re doing great as a boss. So you’re surrounded by people that are telling you you’re doing great, and that everything is fine. And so you think that you’re, you know, a fantastic leader. And the problem is, is that we oftentimes those leaders don’t get a reality check, they don’t leave their bubble enough to spend time with the with the people lower in the monkey tree to see really how things are going on the organisation. So I think one of the things I see is senior managers not spending enough time where the value is added. And so they need to get out of their office spend time to where, where the value is being created. So who are the people that are talking to customers? Who are the people that are manufacturing the product, who are the people that are developing the software, they need to get out and spend time with those people to see what their true feelings of the business are and the true feelings of how they see their leaders. When you think about how you operate as a leader in your organisation, your business? How do you put that into practice? Yeah, so I mean, one of the things I did my first time I got a manufacturing plant was I was 32 years old. And I noticed right away, the difference between being on a submarine and being in a manufacturing plant is that there’s physical separation of people, right on a submarine, we were very close knit very tight. So I knew everything about my people, they knew everything about me. When I got to a manufacturing environment, there was offices over here, there was manufacturing over here, and everybody was sort of us in them separated. So one of the things I created early on when I first got into the manufacturing world, is a thing called Fridays on the floor. And so as the first Friday of every month, I would spend four hours on the shop floor working side by side with employees in different departments. So every month, I would go to a different department and work. And so what I did is I learned about the person they learned about me, I learned about the processes, I learned where the problems were. And I remember I would have a staff meeting right after I would have these sessions. And I would tell my senior leadership team, all the problems that we had, and all the opportunities we had. And I noticed that they didn’t have that same level of excitement as I had, because they hadn’t seen it firsthand. They hadn’t. They hadn’t touched it. They hadn’t felt it, they hadn’t talked to the people. So then I implemented Fridays on the floor with all of our senior management. So we all went first Friday of every month, we went for four hours, and we all rotated around different departments. And then we got together had lunch. And we talked about all we learned and I noticed the excitement level was very high. Because we we saw the world the way our people see the world. And so we connected with the hourly employees, when they connected with us, they saw what we did in the office is as important we saw what they did on the shop floor is important. So we built a bond, we built a connection. And that’s where we sort of, you know, got a reality check with with you know, instead of sitting in a conference room and trying to figure out how to solve our problems, we talked to the people are actually doing it all day long, and they had the answers. So I think that idea of being humble enough to listen to others and doesn’t matter what their rank is in the organisation but be willing to shut up and listen is a really important leadership skill.

The idea of physical proximity is very interesting. How did you manage when they were locked down and they were COVID and you were even further apart than what you were on offices in the shop floor. So I would have to confess to you I run a small business we have a small manufacturing business and we couldn’t work from home because we we make products so we had to be here so we still came to work every day and and so we did get we did you know physically separate we did wear masks we we did try to keep our distance but we stayed connected as as as a team throughout the whole process. So I think I was fortunate compared to others because I was able to just go in every day and have that social interaction with my employees and they could see

Every day, and it wasn’t through through zoom, or through emails or whatever, we still had physical connection. So I was one of the lucky ones. But I know, for example, in my industry, we lost a lot of the trade shows and the training that we do. And so I, I started doing

training, you know, via via zooms for, you know, technical training for the people in our industry. But it was just wasn’t the same as connecting. When you’re physically with people, you go to dinner with them, you spend more time getting known, it was much more difficult doing it, you know, via zoom, thinking about your broader leadership, advice, guidance and experience, how can people develop their self awareness? So you’ve given that really helpful example that you do on the shop floor on Fridays that you will get together and you rotate through your company and see what that looks like? Sounds like feels like? What other examples do you have, from what you’ve talked to other leaders about? of how they can develop self awareness? I think starting with the idea that you may not have all the answers, I think that’s probably a good place to start. And I think, especially as young leaders, when I first got my first manufacturing plant, I thought I had to have all the answers. So I sort of pretended like I was the expert. And then I, you know, over time, I realised that I didn’t have to have all the answers, I didn’t have to be that expert in the corner office, that I could rely on the expertise and the people around me. So what I learned is, is that as a leader, we don’t have to have all the answers. But we have to have the right questions. And then we have to be willing to shut our mouths and listen, to be able to learn better ways of doing things or listening to what may not be working, that you think, you know, we have this idea that if I say it, it’s going to be fine, right? It’ll be it’ll go great. I’ve thought about it, I made this decision, it’s going to be fine. And we tend to turn off critics because, you know, well, we make excuses. We say, well, they don’t really understand the big picture, or they don’t have the experience I have or what have you. But I think when you have humility, you’re able to listen to those critics and say, wow, is there a nugget of truth of what that person just said, regardless of their rationale for bringing up you know, a problem. So I think being humble enough to listen, I would also say another area where you can be humble enough to listen and to make improvements in your own self is complainers. So that’s one area that is interesting because as a leader, we always face the we people in our organisation who complain and what I’ve learned is that most of those people, there’s some that are just chronic complainers, I recognise that but a lot of them have genuine concerns for the organisation and they want to see it get better. So they complain because that’s their best avenue or the way they think is most likely to get response. So oftentimes your complainers have some great ideas. And you should be willing to, you know, lower that ego be humble enough to say, Okay, tell me about what your concerns are. Because there may be something in there that’s, that’s important that you can use to change. Another area to I would say this is introverts. So we tend to as leaders listen to the extroverts around us, because they’re very vocal, and they want to have their voice heard, and they like to hear themselves talk. So we tend to be surrounded by extroverts. But what I found is a lot of the great answers for how we can get better in our organisation come from the introverts. So it’s important that we as leaders, give those people a voice find those of introverts, because oftentimes, they’re thinking about how to solve the problem why other people are talking about. So I think, you know, another little secret is to make sure that you do listen to the voices that are typically silent in your organisation. I’m so pleased to hear you say that, as an introvert myself, that’s a definite rave are introverts. That’s amazing. It’s very interesting, what you’re saying about the ego and that humility. And I think even as a manager and a leader, who’s very aware of self awareness, I think it’s still difficult to hear what the complainers are saying, and to put your ego aside for long enough to say, I need to hear what they’re saying, as opposed to the way they saying it, maybe. Yeah, no, we, we, you know, I say that as leaders, we have to have thick skin we can’t be that sensitive because if we are, you know, we’re constantly going to be you know, upset at people because it’s, I say this I said people are messy, right, and leadership is a people business. So we have to be around people who are messy. So if we have thin skin and we’re constantly offended, by the way people say things or how they do it, or you know, they didn’t follow the rule, or you know, they they didn’t go up the chain of command properly. We’re always offended by things that we’re never going to get the chance to listen as to what’s the reason behind this person coming to see me or this person criticising or this person complaining

Meeting, what what are some of the root causes behind it? We miss out on those opportunities to get better. I think, you know, we always should be getting better every day. I mean, we should always be looking for self improvement. And that comes from a level of humility. That’s really important. Some people might look at me and say, Well, you’ve led people for three decades, you’re a former naval officer, you run your own business, you must know everything, you must be an expert, I often I’m invited on podcast is called a leadership expert. I cringe when I hear that because I’m not an expert. I really I’ve, there’s there’s such a vast, I mean, there’s been 15,000 books written on leadership. And I haven’t read off 15,000 I can tell you that right off the bat. There’s also lots of theories and research and studies. And there’s just, it’s just so much it’s so vast that I think if you say that you’re a leadership expert, I would say this is that you still have a lot to learn. There’s so much more out there that you can learn. And I think having a humble approach to to yourself, I think I think you’ll always be better. You’re always working to get better.

N D Thomas  21:09
John, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your learning with our listeners. I’ve certainly learned a lot and I hope listeners have as well. We will make sure that there is a link to your website and your books are in the show notes. And we will make sure that also there’s a link to deep leadership. There’s a been a new episode out today so I’m not going to make sure I’m gonna listen to that before the end of the day. John Rennie it’s been absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come and join me it’s been brilliant. Oh thank you. It’s been great being here

thank you for joining me your host Nia Thomas of the knowing self knowing of this 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 knowing self knowing, LinkedIn, Tik Tok 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 self knowing this podcast, open your favourite podcast app, find the knowing self knowing of this 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 of his podcast on your favourite podcast player and tune in to the next episode in two weeks time. The knowing self knowing of this podcast is available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, good pods, pod chaser Amazon Music