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
today, my guest is Jackie frost, and I’m delighted to have her with me. Jackie has a background in teaching head teaching an Ofsted inspector and now a leadership coach. Jackie, please do introduce yourself.
Good morning. Yes, as you said, my name is Jackie frost. And yeah, my background is primary education in the main and I was a head teacher when I’d been in education up until December 2016 for 28 years, and 16 of those years, I’d been a head teacher. And the types of schools I enjoyed working in were those that were challenging, challenging circumstances, you know, give me a closing failing school. And actually, I’m in my element, I love that. But around 2014, I felt incredibly overwhelmed as a head teacher, I was in a three form entry, primary school in challenging circumstances. And my work life balance had just gone totally out the window, I promised my husband, I would change it, I can do it. I said, Give me a year. And if I can’t change it, I’ll resign, funnily enough, I couldn’t change it. And I resigned without a job to go to in December 2016. I then started some work with the Suffolk primary heads Association, which I loved supporting heads in school. And then that led me on to some training around coaching and NLP and working with teams. And yeah, that’s where I am now I’m in a partnership called Leadership 43. There’s three of us with 43 years of leadership experience at point of conception, shall we say. And so now that that is the type of work I do, I go in, I support school leaders, I support leaders in the broadest sense of the word also in the in the business world as well, mainly dealing with feelings of overwhelm, and feeling lost, unable to find focus.
There was a researcher that I discovered through doing my work over the last couple of years, Dr. De Grey, who talks about overwhelm. And it was very interesting because it linked to self awareness, which takes us very nicely into what we’re going to be.
And if I’m really honest, I became a resilient leaders consultant in 2019 20. if I’m really honest, I don’t think I really, really appreciated how overwhelmed I was until I did this training. And it was sort of like a penny dropped. And then I realised if anything, I think my self awareness went through the roof, really. And then I realised why I was like I was, and why I did those things as a leader that actually, in the end, created this perfect storm for me really, I didn’t know what to do. So I left.
That’s a brave step. Yeah, it
was very scary. Because for 28 years, that’s what I’ve been
so wonderful to have you here. And thank you for being so open and honest about your journey to looking at resilience and to self awareness in particular. How do you define self awareness?
For me, it’s, it’s massive. And it’s one of those things it’s like peeling an onion, isn’t it? You know, you think it’s this and then that leads you into this. But for me, self awareness is about knowing who you are, and what you do and say, and being brutally honest with yourself. Not kidding yourself. Not pretending But accepting that actually, you know, warts and all, this is who you are. And it’s about really understanding. And this is where my work as a resilient leaders consultant has really, really helped me is really appreciating what really drives me. What really excites me were my, you know, irritating habits might be for other people, but really understand standing what motivates me, you know, my strengths, my weaknesses, or any areas of development, but in a variety of contexts. And I think for me, self awareness is also about knowing yourself well enough to know when those triggers are happening when you can feel yourself your anxiety. Tea rising, are you feeling that you’re feeling stressed, but actually to know yourself well enough to say, this is happening, I need to change, I need to change something here. So I think it’s, it’s an incredibly complex area. And once you start talking about it, you start going down loads of different avenues. But for me, it’s about being really, really honest with yourself about who you are, and what you do and say, and the impact that has on others.
And that honesty, as we’ve already mentioned, takes quite a bit of courage to even if you’re just being honest with yourself, let alone starting to talk about it with other people. So that’s a vital step.
Absolutely. I’ll be honest with you, it’s taken me ages to get to that point. I think I did it to a degree as a leader, but I think I didn’t realise that what I was doing was having a real positive impact on other people. But for me, it was quite, it was unhealthy.
Do you think there’s a relationship between self awareness leader effectiveness?
Most definitely. But I think if you are a leader, it’s not something I think it’s a journey. It’s not something where you say, oh, right, I can tick that one off. I’ve got that, I think, because I think it changes with you as you with the experiences, you have the people you’re working with the challenges that crop up on the way so I think self awareness is is linked very much to leader effectiveness. But I don’t think a leader should ever think they’ve nailed it and become complacent about it. Because what might work, how you might be, or what you might say and do in one situation might not work as effectively with a different group of people. So I think you have to, for me, self awareness is about noticing things all the time, noticing things about yourself. But noticing things about other people as well, self awareness as a leader, you it’s just evolves the whole time.
That’s an interesting concept and almost that you have to have your antenna on all of the time, as you say, I
think so I think. And I think it’s about also not not making assumptions based on previous experiences. Oh, yeah, they always do that, or that’s what I always do. And I also think it’s really interesting, because when I’m working with clients, now I sometimes ask them, you know, if somebody else in their team is behaving in a way, or doing or saying things that that they they’re not happy with, or they don’t feel it’s a positive influence on the team. One of the questions I ask of the leader is, how are you complicit in this? What are you doing and saying, which is actually to a degree enabling this person to do this? So I think you’re right, I like that idea of antennas out there all the time, you know, picking up all those signals.
And that’s definitely something within my definition of self awareness. So for me, there are three layers. There’s reflection, recognition, and regulation. And what you’re describing sounds very similar to my idea of regulation. It’s about how am I behaving that means somebody else behaves in a particular way. Am I working extraordinarily long hours, which means that other people are doing the same. They’re becoming unwell, therefore, it’s not adding to overwhelm.
Absolutely, because all of those things, they just become the norm, don’t they? Yeah, it’s really interesting, because when I work with some of my clients, I use something called the resilient leaders development programme. And that’s, it’s a bit like a three Cisco 60. But it’s not about capability, it’s about your behaviour and the things you the frequency of your behaviour. So and there isn’t actually within the awareness facet, there is a facet called self. And it’s always really interesting because they judge themselves against a continuum of never and always. And then they go out to get feedback from people who know them well, on the same statements. And there’s a statement it always sticks out in my head because it’s, it’s just always a really controversial one. It says, you know, I take time to rest, re energise and renew, and a lot of the work that the people I work with, they mark that really doubt but really low, like, oh, I hardly ever do that. But the perception the way other people see them is often quite high. And it’s like, they’re like, Well, why did he think that about me? So, so it’s a real book. So what are you doing and saying, and they’re going, is that a good thing? Is that a good thing? You know, it’s not for me, is it a good thing? Yeah. So that’s really interesting, how like you were saying, how we behave, how it lands with others, and what in a way what what expectations what standards are we setting within an organisation within a team?
Most definitely Jackie, if listeners want to know more about that programme that you’ve mentioned, can they go to a website? Or is there a session with you?
Well, they can contact me directly through LinkedIn, that’s absolutely fine. But the website is really worth having a look at. And that’s just resilient leaders elements,
we will make sure that the link to that it’s also in the show, it’s something
Hindsight is a great thing, isn’t it? But it’s something I wish I’d I’d had when I was actually in the thick of it. But I didn’t. So at least I can support other people with that.
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations?
Most definitely, I think a leader is anyone who influences another human being in whatever way. And I think it’s not a title. For me, a leader is all about behaviour. It’s what that person says and does. And if I think back to my time, as you know, as a head teacher, I could see leaders, potential leaders in five and six year olds, you know, people who have young people, young children who have those skills, and that sort of emotional intelligence to bring others in. And I always think that’s really exciting. And, and also, you know, just thinking, actually, that thoughts just popped into my head, you know, I had a team of midday supervisors at one school, a really big team, and they were just natural leaders in their people who were just checking, make sure that everybody, you know, knew what they were doing what they’re, you know what the expectation was, because I do believe that everyone can be a leader, as long as they have that, a heightened sense of self awareness, because I do believe that you can be taught and you can learn those skills that will enable you to lead people effectively and want people to follow you, and people will want to follow you.
It’s interesting. In my research, I asked that particular question of whether people thought leaders were born or leaders were made. And there was a general view that actually training can only take you so far. But actually, you have to have this innate ability, which is honed, developed through training. And as you’re saying about five and six year olds, who you’re seeing with this innate ability, because obviously, you haven’t taught them anything about leadership at this stage, that there is something in their behaviour, their communication, their presence, that allows others to feel competent enough to follow them. So it’s interesting that you’re saying that that is seen. And, and I think that that is backing up and supporting what my research found, and what
I believe that, you know, as you said, leadership skills can be developed. But I also think that if someone is going to work on their leadership skills, they need to realise that they’ve really got to crank up their self awareness, they’ve got to get their antenna out. Because it’s not all about that academic information about what a leader the things they need to put in place, I think there has to be that self awareness because you have to lift yourself up out of of who you are, to look at the bigger picture. And some people find that really hard. And some people don’t like doing that. And not everybody wants to be in that role. And that’s fine as well.
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organisations?
Not all of them, but with an eye. I’ve worked with some leaders who it’s really sort of knocked me sideways, really, when I’ve thought they you know, they’ve really not actually wants to just jumped into my head, I went to work. I was, oh, this is going back when I first started out by myself and I, this head teacher asked me to come to his school. He’d been there half a turn. And he said he wanted me to help him change the culture and ethos of the school. So I was like, so I said, Well, what I know how I normally work is if I’m going to work with someone, we have a an initial meeting to see if there’s, we can develop that working relationship. So I said, I’ll come I’ll come back to your school. So I went up to his school, and I said, you know, is there can you walk me around your school? Just so I get a feel of it? Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yes. So he walked around the school and it was massive school took us about 2025 minutes to walk around the school and on that journey around school. He never spoke to a pupil or a member of staff. Wow. Not even, you know, none of that I thought was really interesting. So we got back to his office. And I said, I’ve noticed and if that phrase, I said, you know, I’m just wondering whether this is like a typical day for you, because I noticed that there was no exchange Between you and any of the pupils or the staff. And he was like, what? I haven’t got time for it to stand around and have conversations I said, I’m not actually talking about conversations. I’m just talking about that acknowledgement of another other, you know, a chart, a seven year old walking party, you have your year six teacher walk in park, I’m not talking about stopping and have a great, I’m just talking about acknowledgement. And he really didn’t get it. And then when I said to him, because culture and ethos will start with you, and your staff, and your pupils will mirror what you’re doing. He didn’t get it. I didn’t I chose not to work with him. Really? Me and
Wow, isn’t? Isn’t it fascinating how modelling behaviour is a conversation that we often don’t have. But I’m using the word constantly about model the behaviour that you want to see. And the more I’m talking to people about organisational culture, it always takes me right back to the leadership of the organisation to model the behaviour and the culture.
Exactly. He was a leader of a really doesn’t really large school. If we were grading self awareness, one to 10. You know, I think you’d be about minus five, because he really he and he just he thought, I think he thought he was a bit mad.
I think sometimes, in organisations, leaders find themselves at the top, because of many other reasons other than being than being really self aware.
This is a conversation that I’m having with other people about, how do people who have limited self awareness rise up to these very senior posts. And there’s this discussion about being effective in technical skills, versus hard skills and soft skills. And sometimes people are promoted based on hard skills. But actually, when you rise through the ranks, the importance of soft skills increases and increases.
Exactly. Because, yeah, that’s really interesting, because for me, as you rise up through the ranks, there are other people around you who are better and more capable at maybe some of those harder skills. And I think as a leader, there is nothing more powerful, and more uplifting for the people around you, for you to say, actually, that’s not my area of expertise. But this person on my left is brilliant at that. So I’m going to hand over to them. And I think on reflection, that’s what I wasn’t very good. As a head teacher, I thought I had to be brilliant at everything, even year six algebra, which I wasn’t.
And I think there is a shift in organisation there is this traditional view of leaders, strategic leaders had to have all of the answers. But I think we are definitely shifting towards more of a leadership style, where it’s about inclusion, engagement, identifying the strengths of others, and being able to bring those individuals into that leadership group into that leadership team, and giving them that opportunity to shut out.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think a really effective leader is somebody who invests in the people around them to allow them to shine and not be the one with all the answers. I was working with a team, the other the other week, and it was just really fantastic to hear the the team leader say, when we do that, I don’t get involved. Because it doesn’t excite me. But actually, it really, it’s their niche. So I’m there to support them and give them the resources to do it in the best way that they want to do it. But it’s really not my plank.
And that’s very much complex adaptive systems complexity, leadership. Yes, that acknowledgement that ever people need to lead at that particular point in time because they are just better at something that you are.
Exactly. And I think that on reflection when I was a head teacher, and there were 590 kids in the school, that’s what I wasn’t very good at. I felt I needed to be a really good at teaching reception year one, phonics. I don’t know why I felt that because I never did it. But I might have brilliant teachers who could do it. And then I had to be equally as good as teach at teaching year six algebra, no, which is not my forte. But then what I think is when you have when you as a leader, create that I need to be good at everything. People then come and tell you that I always remember sitting in my office one day and someone coming in and saying, Jackie, there’s a dead pigeon in the playground, right? So now because people will just see that you did everything.
Isn’t that very interesting. But if people are seeing you doing one thing, I think you do everything?
Absolutely. And who can blame them? Because actually that’s what you’re modelling. If I do everything, and I want to know everything, even if there is a dead pigeon in the playground, I need to know that I don’t need to know. I thought I did at the time.
Do you think effective leaders have more self awareness than ineffective leaders?
Most definitely, I think, you know, self awareness is is like a golden thread that runs through any effective leader. But as I said before, I don’t think you can self awareness is as a leader is then utilised to build those really strong, robust professional relationships. So that when you notice things that aren’t going so well, and you need to address that you have built that relationship up and you through your, your awareness of self, but also the awareness of others, that you can actually have those difficult conversations in a professional way. And people don’t take them personally. And that takes time. So for me, it is it’s like a golden thread that should be running through any leader, you know, were they holding the mirror up to themselves? And thinking, you know, I’m really like, pre empting things. So when I say this, when I do this, how is this gonna land? What what could be the myriad of responses I’m gonna get not saying that you then start watering down a message. But I think just sort of thinking through what the impact of what you’re going to do and say on others is, is always worth considering?
I’m very interested in the head teacher that you chose not to work with, because his self awareness just appeared so limited. If you’d have been in a position of saying, Yes, I will work with you. Where would you have started, because presumably, he was a leader and therefore be viewed as effective enough to be in that position, but not as effective as he could have been? Had he been more self aware? Where would you have started with.
So if he came to me now, I would work with him, because I now know exactly what I would do with him. And I chose not to, because there was a certain type of arrogance as well, which, when I was just starting out, I could feel my shackles come up. So but I would work with him now. And what I would start off with now is I would start by looking at his values, we would do a values exercise, I would do the resilient leaders development programme, assessment with him, I’d get him to do his assessment, then we’d look at that. And then I’d get him to go out for feedback. And then we’d look at what he’s what he believes he’s doing and saying compared to how it’s landing with other people. And then we would you know, from that, we would move forward. And I, you know, if I’m really honest, if he really wanted to change culture and ethos, I wouldn’t work with him in isolation. It’s a whole school issue, you know, whole organisation issue, I would broach that, we would look at that. So there’ll be lots of work with his team, his wider team, and stakeholders as well. And you know, pupils, yeah, yeah, definitely.
They are one of the key stakeholders and the leadership of the school. So
absolutely, absolutely. Definitely. You want a bit of honesty, or always ask a five year old. So yeah, so I feel now I’ve got the confidence and the wider skills that wouldn’t have triggered me. But it was a massive trigger, because I just, it made me angry
listeners, as I said before, you may want to go back and listen to the answers that Jackie’s just given there, it might be something that you want to think about in terms of a plan for how you develop self awareness, develop self awareness in your school or your organisation. But that might be something you just want to listen back to. Jackie. It’s been an absolute pleasure and a really good conversation with you today. Thank you. So
a way to start a Sunday.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining me, Jackie frost. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
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 doc 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.
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