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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 talked today’s knowing self knowing others guest when Sally Evans, it’s absolutely fabulous to have you here with me today as my guest on my podcast. And I was trying to think when the last time we had a conversation, I’m sure it must be about a year ago, when I was lucky enough to join you and two of your colleagues on a regular discussion forum that you were having during lockdown. I’ve really enjoyed it. So I enjoyed watching and I enjoyed listening. So Sally, please tell us more about it. And please do introduce yourself.
Oh, thank you. It’s lovely to be with you here as well. Yes, you are right, right in the middle of lockdown of COVID. I got together with some colleagues, because it was quite a lonely time for us as individual consultants, just to have a chat really about how things were going, what were we hearing? What were we seeing in the workplace? And what were our What was our take on it really. And it was really popular, and it was great to have you along because of course you were very busy at that time in work. And it’s always lovely to have that perspective. So as you were saying, I’m an organisational psychologist and an organisational development consultant, which means I work with organisations in lots of different sectors. So I’m an independent consultant. And my specialism really is on culture, and strategy and executive level leadership support. But interestingly, actually, the last year or so I’ve been working with a lot of education, senior teams. So that’s been really interesting here in South Wales, working with a considerable number of schools, leadership teams, helping them think through what is culture, what’s the strategy for the school, because really, schools are organisations, but I don’t think they’ve always seen it that way. And their mechanism for leadership, and their awareness of leadership and the impact on the wider community is been really crucial. So that’s really exciting work, I think. And it really links with your topic of self awareness. Because as leaders in education, their focus is always on the children. And yet, what I’m encouraging them to do is to think about focusing more on the staff in the school, and really thinking about their relationships with parents and building connections within the community. So self awareness is really crucial. So I’m really excited to be talking about the topic.
Brilliant and have very interesting that that. Do you think that COVID has changed? How people are seeing leadership in their organisations? Do you think that’s one of the catalysts why people are now maybe thinking about themselves as a leadership team, rather than solely focusing on the children?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that question around whether COVID How COVID has changed leadership in organisations is massive for every single organisation, you know, I think in education, specifically, schools are now the centre of their communities. And as we enter into, you know, an even more difficult time post COVID, you know, with the cost of living and the economy as it is, and schools are the centre of their communities and supporting families within the communities to to flourish. And to get through difficult times, is actually now a key part of schools. It isn’t just solely about the education of children. But I think in general, in organisations, there’s been a massive shift, really, I think, pre COVID organisations, the relationship was employer employee with the power I think, with the employer, post COVID. I’m seeing a slight shift the other way, as an organisational psychologist, I think to particularly for those choosing to work from home that that 15% or so of people, where the shift now is with the employee saying, This is how I want to work, where I want to work when I want to work, and organisations having to think about how do we, how do we meet in the middle? How do we compromise? How do we work together to achieve what everybody needs to support them working? So, again, there’s that constant link always to self awareness, I think, whether it’s organisational awareness about what they need, or individual self awareness about them, having the courage, the safety to be able to ask for what they want. So COVID has been a massive disrupter in the workplace. It really has definitely
so interesting, but in that case, we will move on to our questions. So question number one. How do you define self awareness?
I think that’s so it’s A very thought provoking question. And I wouldn’t be able to answer it in a single sentence, but I was reflecting on it. And I was thinking, I see it in two ways. I see it internally and externally. And I think internally, as I see self awareness, that’s my ability to be able to look into myself and really think about what are my values? What are my beliefs? How am I behaving today? What am I emotions? How am I feeling? So that’s me looking inside, and being really clear about what matters to me. Because if I have a really good understanding about what matters to me in terms of my values, and beliefs, I can go in search. Remember, I’m an Organisational Psychologist, so I can go in search of a role. That is good for me, that enables me to use my strengths, that enables me to be around people who have similar values and beliefs, which means I’ll feel more comfortable. So So going inside into myself and knowing myself well, is really important. That’s one aspect of it. And the external aspect, is my relationship with others then. So how do I choose to adapt my behaviour? How do I know for example, how I choose to communicate? What’s my preference for? How I absorb information, how I can indicate what impact does that have on other people? And therefore, do I need to adapt how I am with them? Do I need to change? If I want to influence a relationship? If I want to improve a relationship, I’ve really got to think about how do I communicate? How do I build a relationship with this person? So that’s external to me, that’s me taking my internal thinking and applying it externally, to the outside world. So self awareness, I think, is that ability to be able to really go into myself, but then use that information outside in terms of building relationships with others.
That’s really interesting. So you mentioned the word influence. And that probably takes us very nicely onto question two. Question number two, do you think there is a relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?
I could if I could just say yes. That would be the end of the podcast. Yeah, it’s a fundamental fundament fundamental need. Leader. And I say that because I have been a leader myself. So I was a leader for 25 years in the public sector. And the last team I was responsible for was about 1000 people. Okay, so big team. So that’s it, not completely responsible for 1000, but as a director responsible for 1000 people accountable for the results of that part of the organisation. So I bear the scars of getting it wrong. And I think about my own leadership journey, when I looked at that question, and I thought, how would I answer that? I would say, Absolutely, yes. My job now, working with leaders in organisations is to support them. To hold the mirror up, sometimes I work as an executive coach with senior leaders to hold the mirror up and help them develop their self awareness so that they can really think about the impact that they are having in their organisations and the influence that they want to have with others. But I come to that from the through the experience of getting it wrong, because I think that’s where I’ve learned my very best lessons about myself awareness. You know, when there are times when I look back on the early days of my career, I think, Oh, my goodness, you know, why did I do that? And look at the impact that that had and look at the damage potentially, that I did, because I think, no, my early days of management, and we talked about management and leadership at my very early days of management, you realise that you have so much responsibility, you know, how you create the environment in work, the safety, the fun, the environment that you create the work makes a difference as to whether somebody goes home and kicks the cat at the end of the day, know, how they are in work. And obviously pre COVID That was crucial because people were together a considerable amount of time and the environment that we create. And that comes down to the leaders ability to be really self aware about how they’re behaving, what they’re asking of their teams, how they’re communicating, the level of collaboration and safety that they create within the environment is crucial. So you I absolutely believe you cannot be an effective leader without good quality, self
awareness. Fabulous, very interesting coming from it from the perspective of that insight have been there, done that. Got the t shirt and some of the scars too. Yes, definitely.
Question number three. Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations?
Yes, absolutely. But I think what it, what matters there, it comes back to your definition of leadership, I guess, isn’t it. And I always think of leaders, I would write it with a little l not a big L. Having worked in the public sector, in fact, I was going to reflect back on my 30 year career in the public sector, but I was talking to somebody actually only the other day, who is 23, and a very new in an organisation, very young in their career. And so self aware. And as I was listening to their ideas, and it was part of a team building activity that we were doing, and I was looking at the way that they were working the room, I was thinking, oh my gosh, there’s a leader, there’s a leader, you know, somebody, what was lovely is it was it was face to face, we were in a face. So it was really great to see everybody in the room together. But I could see that person already very young in their career, very junior in their role, but because I think and they don’t realise that they’ve got this ability, they were quite self aware. They knew when to contribute, they knew how to bring other people in, they were nodding and encouraging other people’s contributions. And I was thinking that as a leader.
You said that they had some awareness of when to operate in that particular way, but maybe not the awareness that you were observing and able to see, actually, I can see the direction of travel, and this individual may have skills, they have qualities, maybe that is clearly starting to show already.
Yeah, I would say that what they were displaying was largely intuitive. Think, you know, I don’t know, remember, I talked about internal self Wednesday, external server, I was observing the external self awareness. I was observing them really thinking, well, perhaps not even thinking about it. I think it was intuitive. They were collaborative. They were contributing, participating. But they were also leading a conversation, they felt they were brave in terms of the contributions that they were making the comments that they were making, there was none of this, or why new to the team or I’m young, or I don’t know what I’m talking about. They were throwing things in for other people to critique. And I, I was thinking about that that’s largely what that was doing. It was leading the way in showing a level of vulnerability that meant other people felt comfortable contributing, I wasn’t in a position to take them to a site and say, Do you know that you’re doing this? Is this deliberate? Is this what you’re doing? Because I have no idea what their internal self awareness is like in terms of whether or not that was what they were planning to do? Yeah.
Yeah. That’s very interesting of it. Yeah. As you’re saying, it’s that observation. But without sitting down and picking that with somebody who knows what’s going on in that internal self awareness? Yeah.
I mean, to some extent, I think if we were doing a personality test, or we were looking, for example, at their strengths, we’d be saying they have high levels of social intelligence, we might not, it might be measured on on that scale, if you like, there was somebody who was demonstrating a really effective ability to be able to work with others. I guess what we don’t know is what is their self awareness? Like? Absolutely.
Question number four, do you think leaders of the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organisation? And I’m not sure if what we’ve just talked about partially answers that? Yeah.
The way I’m feeling at the moment, I feel like saying they don’t, oh, my goodness, I have worked over the last sort of eight years or so that I’ve been in consultancy with well, even beyond that, you know, my 30 years in the public sector, with very senior leaders, with the most appalling low levels of self awareness thing, and it it has been painful. It has been really painful. Because when people get to very senior levels in the organisation and fail to have the ability to be able to sit with themselves and reflect on the impact that their behaviour is having, it can cause so much difficulty across the organisation. You know, there’s a famous quote is no we cast when we’re in leadership, we cast a long shadow, oh, my goodness, I have used that quote so many times. And, and I think it’s, it’s very dangerous to assume that the higher you go, the more likely you are to have self awareness. And I say that Again, from my own experience, I worked really hard with my teams over the years to encourage them to sit with me in that space, and answer my questions, which is what can I do differently? Because from a self awareness perspective, we can spend all the time we like in introspection, I could sit there and say, why did that go the way that it did? Why? Why didn’t that person do what I wanted them to to? And I used to spend a lot of time thinking that, why don’t they do that? I just, I just asked that question. Why don’t they do it that way? And then, but that’s not going to answer the question. So over the years, what I realised was actually the very best questions, or when we can create a safe environment with people were actually my questions to them are, what am I doing that’s helping you? Yeah. What do I need to do more of? What do I need to stop doing? What am I doing this getting in the way of you being great? You know, what, you know? And really, so asking them the questions, and then what questions? So I was sitting there in glorious isolation, thinking, why aren’t people doing what they’re doing? But actually, I was, I’m just going to go round in a big loop there. The very best questions were when I opened up with people and said, I want to be a better leader. But the only way I can be a better leader is if you give me information. It’s a bit like, remember, Johari Window? Yeah. I think I know about myself, you know, bits about me, but there are bits about me that you know, that I don’t know when to give those to me. And it took years, you know, it takes a long time to build up that trust with your teams, so that they feel comfortable. And then I can remember once being in a, in a leadership meeting and talking get very excited about something. And I can remember one of the one of my team, saying stop, stop enough, Sally, no, we don’t think this is we don’t think this is the right way to go. And you need to slow down a moment. And I remember the moment he said that in front of everyone else, I thought I may when my team feel able to say no in front of each other, and be brave enough to do that. I’ve got there, you know that yes, definitely. So you know that self awareness isn’t that in my mind doesn’t come from me. It grows through the feedback that we have from other people. But you have to work really, really hard to get build the relationships, so people feel able to give you that feedback so that you can grow.
So that external self awareness is a two way street that actually you can be as externally self aware as you like. But actually, unless you’re getting that feedback, and that mirror is put back up to you. You don’t know how much of that is reality or your perception, I guess.
Yeah, yeah. And there is also, you know, I’m a massive, big user of personality, psychometrics, which we use quite a lot. So they thought there is also that element, I work a lot with senior leaders to help them understand. This is your style. This is your preference. These are your traits. Now, we need to think about how does that manifest itself in the workplace, and impact will that have self awareness is our ability to be able to adapt when we’re working in a one to one with somebody and their style is different to ours, then how do we adapt? And somebody said to me the other day, well, that sounds very manipulative. And I suppose my idea around that is, what is the intent, if your intent is to build a better relationship and build an environment of trust, then as leaders, we have to adapt and change our approach in order to meet what the other person needs to make them feel safe. And their interpretation was as manipulative my interpretation of that. So using really good quality, self awareness in order to build the trust that we need in a relationship, because at some point, I’m going to pull on that lever, I’m going to ask a favour, I’m going to need you to do something that you don’t want to do. And if we’ve got a good relationship, then that’ll be okay. You will, you will accept that, you know, so it isn’t always about developing a relationship. So everything’s pink and rosy and everyone’s happy. You know, sometimes it’s going to be really difficult. So I think your question was, yeah, do leaders at the most strategic levels, good self awareness, and I think, I worry actually, that I wonder sometimes whether they had it and they’ve lost it as they get more senior because of the role that they have because of the demands that people have on them because they Busy, busy, busy. Or actually, in some cases, have they risen so quickly, that actually they didn’t ever have the value of great feedback.
Interesting. The feedback that I had, as part of my research said exactly the same as you that actually the most strategic leaders, people felt that actually they didn’t have that self awareness. And then it comes to the question of how do people get or rise to those positions when they don’t have self awareness? If we’re saying self awareness is so fundamental, how did they get there? Yeah,
yeah. And my inclination is to look at the recruitment assessment and selection process for promotion for Okay, yeah. Because that is fundamentally flawed, and quite often biassed. And, you know, you have to look then. So I work with PLCs, for example. And it schools similar structure, you’ve got an external board, appointing a senior leader in a school, it’s exactly the same, you have a school board, School Board of Governors appointing a head teacher, it’s the same in a PRC, external boards appointing a chief exec, right, look at that group who are making that appointment. They’re very senior people to Yeah, they’re going to be looking for people who are similar. And, you know, we still have interview as the primary selection mechanism. Okay, well, that’s just a conversation between two like minded people, where’s the demonstration of self awareness? Now, the interesting thing that I would say, though, in education, for example, and in some, you know, really, organisations that are really thinking about this, a colleague of mine has just gone through a very extensive two day process, where she wasn’t just interviewed by the board, that was actually the last thing that happened. But actually, now people are being brought in front of this, the pupils, the parents, in this organisation, with the staff, with their teams, you know, so that actually, there are different opportunities for them to be able to display what matters to them, their values, their beliefs, you know, what are their drivers, you know, and those sorts of group environments where people can get involved and really start to get to know that person. And just delve a little bit more into, you know, who that person truly is. And there are still issues obviously, with that, that mechanism, but that’s a little bit a little bit broader, anyway, than just a straightforward interview with the board.
And most definitely not. Yeah, I think you’re right, that recruitment processes have got a lot to answer for,
for absolutely, they have.
So our very final question. Do you think effective leaders have more self awareness than ineffective leaders? And we’ve probably already covered that as well?
Yes. Yeah, I’m thinking about some of the really effective leaders that I’m working with at the moment, there’s a couple that I’ve got in mind that I’m thinking about who are if it goes to the heart, though, of what your definition of effectiveness. So I’m thinking of one leader in particular that I work with, who is truly effective at managing external stakeholders, and really representing the organisation Well, obtaining funding, gathering strategic support for that organisation, but their self, their self awareness is good in terms of their external self awareness, you know, how they build relationships and what they need to do strategically. There are times when they’re busy, I noticed that maybe their internal self awareness could do with a little bit of work, because they come back to the organisation they’ve been so used to working in that external world, their drive, their energy, and their passion to move forward can be a bit exhausting for the people that they’re around. So again, it’s what’s your definition of effective leader? I think each leader needs to think about, you know, what is their measure of success? And actually, are they fulfilling it, because it could be around how they bring in resources, how they drive the organisation forward, or it could be around you know, how they make people feel. So another leader that I’m aware of worked really, really hard over the last five years to change the culture within their organisation really hard. So well being and staff engagement was really important to them and they shared a lot of their personal self in terms of role modelling, psychological safety and creating safe and trusting environments. There are some concerns though, with the performance in that organisation. So it’s an it’s an organisation which attracts people and retains people and it’s a If you ask people to they enjoy being there, they love working there. Their performance isn’t where it needs to be. So does the board measure them as effective? The staff measured them as effective, but the board aren’t necessarily measuring them as effective. You know, so, though I still think the really important thing is be clear. What’s the vision for the organisation? Not just in terms of where does the organisation need to be? But how do people feel being employed by it? You know, isn’t isn’t a well organisation.
It’s interesting that something else that I picked up through my research was that there, I developed a definition of leader effectiveness. And again, different people have different different definitions. But for me, there are two parts to it. One is first order knowledge of shares your technical skills. So can I fix a bicycle? Can I fill out a grant application form? Can I liaise with external partners? Then you have your second order knowledge, which is the emotional relationship, soft skills, I’m not a fan of the word soft skills, relational skills. And you almost sounded like, in the two examples, you gave that you had good examples of first order knowledge. Good example of second order knowledge of what we want is the third example where you put them
all together. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think I think they’re out there. And I think the leaders that I’m talking about that are able to do both, but I also think, so I’m, I’m studying for a PhD in organisational health and well, being myself at the moment, as you know. And my interest is in, in autonomy, in what I’m noticing is the levels of work intensification on massive organisations, people within organisations, whether they work at home or not working at home, are still working harder and harder and longer and longer than they need to be taking the time to step back and say, how do we become more effective? How do we slow things down in this organisation, so that people are making good quality decisions so that those leaders have the ability to be able to do both? I’ve seen them do both. I think the thing that sometimes prevents them, it’s just exhausted, is time. It’s stress. It’s just too much to cope with. So they have the ability, but quite often that those are the barriers, I think to displaying it.
day we’ve come to the end of our questions, and I think we could probably gone on for another couple of hours. Yeah, that was fun. Thank you. Hopefully, we will come back and maybe talk a bit more about your PhD. I think it’d be brilliant for us to hear a bit more about that in the future. But for today, thank you so much, Sally. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Thank you. Thanks very much.
Thank you for joining me your host Nia Thomas at the knowing self knowing that this podcast. If you’d like to know more about self awareness, leader effectiveness and leadership at all levels. Please take a look on my website knowingselfknowingothers.co.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