Hello and welcome to the knowing self knowing others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that explores self awareness, leader effectiveness and leadership at all levels. Join me your host, NIA Thomas, as we talk to today’s knowing self, knowing others guest
Alison Lagier it’s absolutely wonderful to have you here. I’m so delighted to speak to you. We haven’t spoken for such a long time, I was thinking about it. We’ve known each other for over 20 years, which, which I can’t quite believe her time was flown. For all our listeners today. I’ve got Alison large do with me here. And Alison has a background in the NHS, and a number of roles in the NHS, from clinical to management to very senior management. And I’m so delighted that she’s here, but I’m going to hand over to Allison to introduce herself.
Oh, thanks very much, Nia. And I think we’ve we’ve managed to keep in contact over the years. But as you said quite some time since we’ve actually worked together. So in terms of my career, I’m at a privileged punter really, I’ve literally retired in the last eight weeks, after 37 years working in the Welsh NHS system. And as you said, I started my career at 18. I trained as a mental health nurse. And I’ve had numerous roles throughout that time. Interestingly, I think for part of the discussion that we’ll have later on, I was probably quite young and female. And back in the day, that was a bit different than maybe it is now into my first management role. So when I was reflecting on my career for this, I was about 29 When I had my first general management role outside of mental health services, and then I was a deputy chief exec by about 35, I was actually an interim chief executive 40. And then took on numerous, the director roles in quite big provider organisations. After that, I then took a career break quite late in my career to look after my two elderly parents. And when I came back, I was quite clear, I didn’t want to come back as a director, I had my daughter was 10 at the time, and you know, I was mindful she’d be going into secondary school. So I didn’t want to come back as a director. And I came back as what I would describe really, as a middle manager on a part time basis, a big role, and looking after primary care community hospitals, district noson. But actually, that role in the last eight to nine years of my career was was fascinating for this topic. And then I’ll explain them probably as you as you ask the questions, but as you said, a very, very career, but starting as as a clinician, and in mental health, which I think for this topic, will, you’ll see, I’ll reflect on that quite a lot.
How do you define self awareness?
If I had to put it in the most simplest form, I’d say it’s about understanding myself, and how my actions impact on others. So that’s if I had to put it in the simplest form. But really, you know, it’s way more complex than that. And I think it’s about a conscious understanding. And I say that in the in the context of really being able to look at yourself, really being able to understand your own strengths, your weaknesses, your beliefs, your values, and not superficially. And being able to be honest, really honest, about what you’re good at what you’re not so good at being honest about how you are able to interact with others, and how you change the way that you are depending on the situation that you’re in. I think you can never underestimate that, especially in a leadership role. But in any any role in life. I don’t think you can ever underestimate the impact of yourself on other people. So for me, it’s really about understanding yourself, but just as importantly, understanding the impact on others. And I’m just going to sort of go back to that mental health training, because as I said, I did my mental health training at 18. I was really naive as I guess more seating 18 year olds are supposed to be thrown into the amount of personality tests that you are when you do read, and I don’t know whether that’s the same No, but we know when you were doing this mental health nurse training, the multi personality tests that you did the month that you did on self awareness, because obviously, the patients that you’re going to work with are very vulnerable. And really anything you say or do really impact. So I feel that I probably had a lot of not just training, but the opportunity to reflect very early on in my career. And then throughout my career, you know, I’ve done the usual sort of 360 feedback, then the Kingsmen, programmes and all of those things. But I, I always refer back to those very, very early use, because I think they were really formative in terms of the way that I not not just didn’t work, actually in life, I am very reflective in terms of impact. And I think it came came from my drain, and really,
how interesting but at such an early stage in the world of work, that reflection became so very important, because certainly there are other people that I’ve spoken to that time to reflect is something that they really got to work out within their working life. And it isn’t, doesn’t come as naturally. But I guess when you that becomes a part of what you do so early on, that follows you through your career.
Absolutely. And I specialised in children’s mental health services and having what we call called supervision, which, which to me simply is a space to reflect was something that you was non negotiable, essentially, you had, you know, a supervision session on a regular basis. And throughout my career with people that I have, had worked with, and I don’t want to, I don’t particularly want to use the term mentor, but people that I’ve worked with that have worked with me, and I don’t always mean for me, I mean, with me, I’ve tried to build that that in I mean, so for example, the role that I’ve just left any direct reports for me, we had a session every week. And some of that was about the to do list. But a lot of that was also about more general how things go in have a good relationships with other people, isn’t it? What can I do, especially after COVID, because some people are not based in the same places as they were before. Sometimes you’re based in very different places, and people are doing some work from home to have, you know, a weekly session, if I could always try and build that in with people face to face, just to make sure that people were okay, but not not just tick. Are we doing what we need to do? And am I doing what I need to do to help you do your job as well, that is followed me through? I think from those very, very early days.
Do you think that there is a relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?
I think you know, my answer to that, I think is absolutely essential. I’m not sure that you can be an effective leader without being self aware, you can lead whether that’s effective. It’s another question, I keep going back to the impact on others, because of whether we like it or not, if you’re in a leadership role, you are in a you are in a position of power. And whether that sits right with you or not with your beliefs with your values, other people will perceive you in that way. And with power where we know that there are immediately inequalities and therefore you have to find a way of ensuring that that that that doesn’t become an issue that is going to impact on achieving goals or working with it within a team. So I think you have to recognise that you have to recognise that depending on where you are in an organisation just by walking into a room will have an impact on some of the people going back to my mental health days. I remember I remember if the what was then the matron walked into a ward, everybody stood up, you marked that sort of power if you like admin, those things clearly are not how we work today. But if a chief exec walked onto a ward staff would immediately feel quite anxious about that. So it’s about you know, you have to be very aware of that and how you work with people and you have to be able to adapt. I you know, I’ve talked to many people about working, you know, my roles have taken me to working with the public during public forums, or meeting with a relative around a complaint. So, you know, and then the next minute I might be in Welsh Government and having a conversation with one of the ministers, you have to be very aware of the impact of view of yourself. And you have to be able to listen, fundamentally listen, you have to be able to understand where other people are coming from. And you have to try and find a way that’s going to tee everybody, you and the individual, you and the team to a point where, wherever possible, everybody is then moving towards the same goal that takes quite a lot of holding our mirror to yourself to see the impact that you’re having the language that you use, how many meetings have we sat in, and you’ve watched somebody fall last fall asleep, or roll their eyes, it’s the nonverbals, you really do have to be aware of all of those things to truly want everybody to be with you on whatever journey that is, it can be any journey can be a massive journey, or it can be something quite small. It doesn’t really matter what it is. But I think that as a leader, you just need to be very, very cognizant of the way that you take people with you.
That’s fascinating. And for listeners who might be new to management or new to leadership, you may want to play that back, because I think there is a lot of very helpful guidance there about how to really develop your self awareness. Allison, do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations?
Absolutely. I think I’ve already reflected on teams, and we have teams at every level of the organisation. And most teams however small they are, have some sort of leader. Now some leaders are given that position, because obviously they are appointed into a role a manager or whatever, you know, they’re given the bet, I’m always interested in the end official influences. Very, very interested. And the majority of the time, the unofficial influencers are very good and positive, sometimes the unofficial they are when says are the ones that are derailing the issue that’s going on. But if we if we stick with the the issue of leaders throughout the whole of the organisation, but my point is you don’t have to be appointed into a leadership role. I think we often have an official influencers and official leaders who are merely very skilled in the way that they lead. They often don’t even know that they’re leaders, they are good listeners, they are able to confidently speak about what they think and what they believe. Sometimes they’re also good at maybe detangling, something that maybe somebody else is trying to say, and presenting it in a way that they say yeah, that actually that is what I meant. I’ve often seen that in maybe large groups of administrative staff, for example, I can think of an office that I worked in that had lots of ladies working in that office, and actually the leader in that office wasn’t the official leader in that office, but she was really really helping supporting the manager in getting you know, because she she was more able sometimes to articulate what the issues were on behalf of some of the other staff I think we sometimes we assume lead different levels of leadership but about managers or team leaders, then they’re not always sometimes that about people who’ve got intuitive skills about how to bring people together and take issues forward. It’s really important that we recognise that and leaders further up organisations find a way of engaging in bringing on all those leaders to ensure that we you know, we take people forward wherever they are in an organisation
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do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organisations? And I’ve been dying to ask you this question because you’ve had exposure to all of those different levels of organisations?
This This was an interesting one, because obviously, I’ve been those people as well. So no, I don’t think it is always the case. I don’t think people higher up an organisation with strategic leads at all, always more self aware. In fact, I would probably say the opposite. Sometimes not always, because you can’t, you know, sometimes I think sometimes the further removed you are from, I don’t want to say the patient or the clinician, but the thermal if you are from day to day operations that I think, understandably, sometimes your drivers are different. So your focus can sometimes be changed by, you know, delivery, or by government expectations. And I am not always certain that sometimes people then put the same emphasis effort, I’m not quite sure what I would call it into that sort of regular self reflection. I’ve already talked about power, whether you feel comfortable with that or not, when you are, you know, a chief exec and executive director that comes automatically with that. But it also means that people often don’t challenge you, they won’t question you, you don’t always get the regulation maybe that you would, if you are, maybe I don’t know, a team leader, when your staff are more happy to say no, I’m not happy with that, that doesn’t happen to the same degree. So I think if you are not exposed to that, I don’t know whether people sometimes feel that everything is okay, because they’re not being challenged to the same degree. So I like and again, I’m not, you know, I’ve seen some fantastic very senior people who are self aware, and I’m saying this a little about when you know, when when I’ve been in those positions as well, sometimes, you know, you can be driven by different masters and your, your goal that day is to meet X target. And maybe you don’t take the same amount of time to listen or to understand the impact of maybe something that you’ve said in a way that maybe you wouldn’t normally say it, it can actually also be quite a lonely place to be. So it’s I’m not excusing people at that level of not being self aware. But I think sometimes maybe because you’re not challenged, or you’re not questioned to the same degree, maybe that impact on the fact that you think everything is sometimes fine. Now, my argument, however, would be and it is something that I tried to be aware of when I was in those positions is actually you need to be even more self aware, because of that position of power even more all the time. And actually, I think having been a clinician, I was constantly thinking, Do you know, I might think I know what we need to do to get us to x bat. I don’t know whether that’s deliverable on the ground. So I need to find a way of asking the people who will go in to deliver this so I’m not and again, I’m not saying that your best managers your best leaders have always come through the system and have always been clinicians. I’m not saying they’re made. But for me, I can only reflect on my personal journey. I never actually lost that reflecting back on to what would this really mean? So yeah, we can I can sit I you know, as a director of planning, at one point I can sit you can write as many plans as I like and shut myself in a room come up with an amazing plan that Welsh Government puts lovely ticks all over, but how are we really going to be able to deliver it unless I find a way of engaging all the people that are going to need to deliver on this I need to test it. I need people’s food. I really need to think about how I present this, I don’t present, please don’t present anything as a fait accompli, do not the rule is do not sit in a room and record a plan, engage everybody along the way, be prepared to change things based on other people’s because it won’t happen unless you take people with you. And I think that’s sort of self awareness at that level of I might be in this position. And I might have amazing skills, because we, you know, we’ve got to remember that often people have got exceptional skills at doing that sort of thing, but actually, without involving everybody else, without taking that feedback without watching how it’s received without being aware of the way that you present something without engaging your partners, your local authority colleagues, your local councillors, and changing the way that you present things not using the same language as you would in yet, without doing all of that, at that very strategic level, there’s often there’s often an unspoken conflict is the word that I think I do see that sort of language that is the them and us, they don’t know, they don’t understand the and that that can create quite a lot of barriers. If as a strategic leader, you’re not seeing that. And that I think, for me, that’s a lot of the self awareness. Not long before I left somebody, somebody was talking about a colleague, and they use the term and it really hit me to the smiling assassin. And I thought, wow, and they said, it made me think about behaviours, and how you present yourself. They said, Oh, no, this person can give you the worst information or can can really, really be telling you about off, but with a massive smile on their face. So this sort of incongruence and I thought, if you want to be good at what you do anything like that, you will start thinking, How do I present that sort of information? What what do I do in that situation? Because it really is about constantly learning, I think when you’re in those positions, but I do think there can be an incongruence sometimes between that very strategic senior management and people lower down in the organisation. In that sense, I felt that quite acutely in my last role. I think so having been elected rather than being a chief exec, and then coming back for that last part of my career. As a middle manager, I think I think there was there was a bit of an inevitability that I would feel frustrated on times, because I wasn’t able to influence as much as I had been able to previously. So I get that bit. But that sort of hierarchical somebody to places above me had to go to a meeting, because that’s where they were in the organisation compared to the person in the local authority, for example, but then the person from the local authority would say, why isn’t Allison you? Because she, she’s the one who knows what we’re talking about. And then after the meeting would ring me and say, I didn’t understand any of that. What are we doing now? It’s that sort of recognising that, again, you know, in these positions, sometimes we just got to use the right person for the job doesn’t really matter where you are in an organisation. If somebody’s got the skill for x, then brilliant, it doesn’t matter where they are used them for that. So it’s yeah, it’s an interesting one, because I think they’re also really good leaders out there, not in strategic sort of positions. I don’t want to target everyone with the same brush. But I think things can change. And I think you have to be even more self aware. But sometimes I’m not sure we always are.
That’s very interesting. And I don’t suppose I expected so many of my interviewees to say that. So part of my research that there’s a real body of research that talks about self awareness and leadership, referred to as the self other rating studies. And they say that strategic leaders are the most self aware, etc, etc. They use slightly different research methods that I did. But my research said the exact opposite, which is what you have been saying and what all of my interviewees have been saying, and that again, incongruous information that I’m gathering from from the literature and from people who are actually working in the world of work right now is fascinating, and, and is quite worrying, I suppose, in that that general view of strategic Lee Leaders is that self awareness is lacking?
Do you think effective leaders have more self awareness than ineffective leaders? Yes, is the
easy answer, I don’t think you can be an effective leader without being self aware. So for me, they definitely go hand in hand, you have to be able to understand the impact of your words, your behaviour, your actions, to be able to mobilise a team to deliver on any sort of strategic goal, or local operational goals, it doesn’t matter what it is, I think you have to be able to do that. Otherwise, you just you either won’t get there, whatever that is, it’ll take you 10 times longer, or you will get there, but you will have lots of unhappy people within the team.
And that’s one of the things I was I was thinking about, what in your experience? Do leaders who are less self aware, what does that look like in the world of work? How does that manifest? Have you had that experience? Have you watched it? Have you lived it?
salutely. So I you, you can get to an end goal without that. But generally, it takes much longer, you will have unhappy people because you haven’t taken don’t get me wrong, you will always have some unhappy people doesn’t matter how much you do, because we don’t fundamentally in life all believe the same things. So you’re always going to have some people, but you, you work with engaging people as much as you possibly can. And I spoke to somebody who said, Oh, all this self awareness stuff, you know, all this sort of wishy washy, and people never make decisions, if they say yes, it’s not that at all. In fact, I think people who are self aware, are probably more confident in making decisions, but they try wherever they possibly can to take everybody with them. So that it’s a joint decision, that can sometimes take a little bit longer, but actually, then the delivery usually takes a shorter period of time. I’ve also been in positions whereby I’m going to have to make a decision, I am going to have to go in a certain direction that other people really don’t like. And sometimes that’s because it’s been dictated to me or but again, I just think if you if you would first tell people, you get to that position, and you explain why you explain why we got to make that why we have to make that change, what the implications would be if we don’t make the change, it’s some it’s okay sometimes to say, I sort of agree with you. I don’t agree we should do all of this. But this is the way we you know, it’s that sort of empathy as well. So it’s not being self aware. It’s not about not making decisions, taking forever to do things. Oh, I’ll take you forever to take everybody with you. Well, it might take me a bit longer to get back, but then we’d go for it. There’s lots of programmes that instil very, very strict timescales around things, very specific programmes of work. And I just think Sometimes you’ve just got to you got to find a way of engaging with the most relevant people and taking them with you, whatever that takes. Because if you don’t, then there will always be people who feel very disengaged. And I, my last part on this is like constantly say to people, most positive impact on this for the patient, but also probably impacted this be on staff. And I’m not sure we sometimes ask those questions. And I think being self aware is not about being wishy washy and not making decisions. It’s about how you do it.
Listen, it’s been absolutely brilliant talking to you. I’m so glad we had this opportunity to get together and I hope it doesn’t take us this long to have another conversation. As ever. I’ve learned a lot from you today. listeners. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I have listened last year once again, thank you very much indeed.
Thank you very much Nia
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 knowing self knowing others duck code at UK. You can also join me on YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter. Make sure you bookmark the knowing self knowing others podcast and tune into the next episode in two weeks time. I look forward to having you on my learning journey