Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast

Self-Awareness for Leadership Success - with Dr. Nia Thomas

April 28, 2023 Gerrit Pelzer, Martin Aldergard, Nia D. Thomas Episode 21
Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast
Self-Awareness for Leadership Success - with Dr. Nia Thomas
Show Notes Transcript

From our experience in executive coaching and leadership development we see again and again that self-awareness is absolutely mission critical for self-development and personal growth. And of course, we can ask the question: Is there a link between a leader's self-awareness and his or her leadership effectiveness?

To help us answer this question, we have a great guest on the show, Dr. Nia Thomas.

Key moments

[05:19] Nia shares what triggered her curiosity about leadership and self-awareness 


[08:04] Most important findings from Nia’s research. The “strategic level disconnect” between what people at the most senior levels of the organizations are setting in motion and what they seem to be thinking, compared to what others are thinking. One element of this is filtered feedback, and regardless of organisation, in a senior leadership position you will get filtered feedback, which means that you are disconnect to the rest of the organisation to a greater or lesser extent.


[16:14] Identified 3 layers of  Leadership Self-awareness

  1. Reflection or Internal self-awareness, which is about me looking inward, knowing myself.
  2. Recognition or Internal social self-awareness, is about recognising that people are observing me and have opinions about me.
  3. Regulation or External social self-awareness, which is about regulating my behavior based on knowing myself, and knowing how others see me.

 [27:40] Is there a correlation between a leader's self-awareness and their effectiveness? 

The answer is a resounding yes - but. Leaders with high degree of self-awareness is an essential component to generate success. However, many organisations say it’s their aspiration, however the reality is, it’s not happening everywhere.

[31:28] What are potential dilemmas or challenges leaders might encounter when developing, or sharpening, their self-awareness?

  • Need to recognise that self-awareness is an ongoing journey that you need to invest your time and effort
  • The risk of filtered feedback, especially as a more senior leader
  • Situations of stress, when we can’t cope to regulate our behavior
  • ‘Busyness’ and seen to always be doing something, with no space for reflection

Self-awareness is a journey - “Know thyself, but ensure you keep reacquainting yourself”.

 Reflection Questions: 

  • Stop and ask: Can I describe how I think others see me?
     If I can't, how will I develop my antenna, my space, my opportunity to be able to answer that question? 
  • What are the situations where I need to be more self-aware of my own behavior and its impact on my effectiveness as a leader?
  • What do I need to focus on to increase my self-awareness?
  • What are certain circumstances, situations, or people that either enhance or deplete my self-awareness?

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Get in touch with Nia through LinkedIn Dr. Nia Thomas or email at info@knowingselfknowingothers.co.uk
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More info about us and our work on our website: secondcrackleadership.com
Do you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions for us?  Would you like to explore how we can help you to drive results in your organisations through a company-wide initiative or individual executive coaching? Then email us at  hello@secondcrackleadership.com or connect on LinkedIn.

Gerrit Pelzer
Martin Aldergård

Second Crack – The Leadership Podcast
with guest Dr. Nia Thomas (Episode 21)

This transcript is AI-generated and may contain typos and errors.

[00:00:00] Gerrit: Is there a correlation between a leader's self-awareness and their effectiveness?

[00:00:05] Nia: My research and everybody that I've spoken to has given a resounding yes, and there's always a but - yes but. If we are thinking about the world today, what we expect of leaders and our organizations and our peers, and our colleagues, self-awareness is an essential component to generate success. However, so many people that I've spoken to have said: that is the gold standards, that is our aspiration, that's where we want to go towards. However the realities of the working world currently is that that is not happening everywhere.

[00:00:45] Gerrit: A warm welcome to episode number 21 of Second Crack The Leadership Podcast. If you're new to the show, this is where we explore everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes, and where we invite you as our listener to self-reflect. I am Gerrit Pelzer, and as an executive coach, I help leaders create the conditions in which people can be their best selves. I bring to my coaching a combination of Western science and Asian wisdom. Today I'm joined as usual by my dear friend and business partner, Martin Aldergard. Martin is a leadership consultant who focuses on change and transformation in organizations, and what we both have in common is that we always put people at the center of our work.

[00:01:42] So, hi Martin. Good to be recording with you again today. 

[00:01:46] Martin: Hi, Gerrit. Yeah, a month goes very fast and it's time again to come up with an interesting topic and a great conversation. And I'm super excited because we have a guest with us today. 

[00:01:58] Gerrit: We have, and we will be talking about self-awareness, and in my experience in executive coaching, I see again and again that self-awareness is absolutely mission critical for self-development and personal growth. And of course, we can ask the question, is there a link between a leader's self-awareness and his or her leadership effectiveness? And to help us answer this question, we have a wonderful guest on the show today. It's Dr. Nia Thomas. And Nia has done something which I find completely amazing. She has written a whole PhD thesis on the subject of self-awareness and the potential link to leadership effectiveness.

[00:02:52] So hi Nia, a warm welcome to Second Crack. 

[00:02:57] Nia: Thank you so much. Hi Martin, Hi Gerrit, lovely to join you today. 

[00:03:00] Martin: Hi, thank you for joining. 

[00:03:02] Gerrit: So Nia, you have spent over 20 years working in the public sector across local government, the national Health Services and civil service in the UK. And your passion is in supporting families, especially children and babies. Currently, you are working as an assistant director in a children's charity and you are also a trustee of Young Person's Charity. Throughout your career, however, you have also been always curious about relationships at work, how the dynamics between people impact work life and work results, which then ultimately led you to exploring the subject in depth with your doctoral research to which will come in a moment. Before we go there, we must also mention that you are a fellow podcaster. You are the host of the Knowing Self, knowing Others podcast. We make sure we put a link to the show in through our show notes as well. And in your podcast, you interview experts on the subject of self-awareness and leadership effectiveness, which sounds to me like a natural continuation of, of your research, respectively so to say, taking your research from academia to the office. You also blog about your experience of the world of works through the lens of self-aware leadership on your website and on LinkedIn. That that was quite a lot, but yet near, have I forgotten anything? 

[00:04:39] Nia: My goodness. No, I don't think you have that. That's really comprehensive. Thank you for that. 

[00:04:44] Gerrit: All right, so before we take a deeper dive, just a quick reminder. If you like the podcast, you can help us grow the show. One of the best ways to do so is by telling a friend or a colleague about the podcast. And if you haven't subscribed yet, you can do so on your favorite podcast platform. Subscription is completely free, helps you not to miss any new episodes, and is also a great sign of recognition for our work. 

[00:05:11] So Nia, what prompted you to write a PhD thesis on self-awareness and leadership? 

[00:05:19] Nia: There were two things really that I can think back, uh, that, that lead to this interest in self-awareness. There were one experience that was more negative in terms of leaders in my organization. So they were my peers, they were my leaders, and they were four layers of individuals. Which has also brought me to an interest in the hierarchical conversation about leadership. So it was a negative experience in terms of how they operated, how they behaved, and really that stuck with me for probably the best part of 10 years. Then I worked in a different organization, in a very different context, where it was an incredibly positive experience. Where I was watching individuals who didn't have leadership in their job titles, but nevertheless, they were leading and people were following them, they were able to represent people. And I kept coming back to these two different experiences and saying, What is the commonality here? What is it that is drawing me back to them? What is it so interesting about these two things? And really it was about the behaviors of those individuals. Mm-hmm. 

[00:06:31] And it was interesting, as you were talking through my introduction, I suddenly realized that they were two parts to what I've been doing for the last 20 or so years. One is doing the work. The other element is how we do the work. Alright, so as I've said, my, my day job, I guess is I, I'm an assistant director in a children's charity, but I've always liked that opportunity to, if you like, look back and observe what we do and how we do it. Mm-hmm. And those relationships between individuals. If you like ,it's, it's two halves of the same coin. It's that how do we do our work and how do we show up to do our work. 

[00:07:13] Gerrit: Wow, that is so powerful. And it also reminds me of my own experience. I was a corporate employee before I became an executive coach, and I've also always seen that. I had a number of bosses in my career, and I noticed how some, I would say, brought out the best in me and, uh, let's be diplomatic, others didn't. And I, I think it's fantastic that this triggered you to take really a deep dive, and, and, and research that. But let's say if we stay on the high level view and also linking it to the practical aspects for our listeners today. Uh, what were your key findings or what, if anything was, was most surprising for you.

[00:08:04] Nia: Well, doing the literature review was fascinating. I, I, I guess I really enjoyed that element and I found a group of studies called the Self Others Rating Studies. So it's about, I rate me, you rate me. So it's very similar to what listeners will refer to as the 360 degree review. Um, and this, these studies were saying that the more senior leadership position you hold, the more likely you are to be self aware. So I went into my study with this notion that I was gonna get all of the answers that reinforce the study findings. However, what I found was the exact opposite. That the, that whether I was asking through my questionnaire or my interviews, people were saying to me, actually there is this strategic level disconnect between what people at the most senior levels of organizations are setting in motion, their behaviors, what they seem to be thinking the others are thinking, and what people within other levels of the organization. So, uh, uh, I guess it was a bit of a challenge for me because I'm not academic by background. My background is mm-hmm, in doing the work, I'm, I'm a practical leader. So when the research was saying, this is what you should expect to find, and my research was saying, the complete opposite, that for me really started this question about, oh, what, what is really going on here.

[00:09:34] And as you've mentioned, I, I have a podcast, and one thing I wanted to do was to keep exploring that to see whether if we start talking to other people in public sector organizations or we talk about private sector organizations, are are people saying the same thing? Are they saying the similar thing? Is this strategic level disconnect real, is it live, is it tangible? Are people experiencing it elsewhere? 

[00:10:01] Martin: Mm. And and what do you learn from that? Because I'm, I'm, this resonates so much with my experience as well, that in some larger organizations, the higher up you come, the more isolated they seem to be. They seem to be having, they, they don't really have this ear to the ground. But if I then visit a different company, but the same level of executives, they seems to be totally connected with, so to say reality. So is this, is this just depending from organization to organization or is it something more general?

[00:10:38] Nia: What I'm hearing is that there are, there are organizational differences and I guess we could start talking about culture of organizations and culture comes from the leaders. But there was definitely an element of this filtered feedback and that regardless of what organization you are in, that because you are in a leadership position, you will get filtered feedback, which means that your disconnect to the rest of the organization is to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how filtered that feedback is. And that takes us back to what is the leadership of that organization, how is it setting itself out, what culture is it creating, what behaviors does it tolerate and what behaviors does it support. So I think there are definitely organizations that are not interested in the emotional side of being in the world of work. But then you have other organizations and other leaders who are really cognizant of the impact that behaviors and understanding your own behaviors as has on individuals in the organization and the organization as a whole.

[00:11:46] Martin: Mm-hmm. And, and, and does this also now show at the, at the effectiveness of those leaders or the effectiveness of the organization if this strategic disconnect is there, or not? 

[00:12:00] Nia: Interesting because I pose this question quite often because we talk about leaders who are self-aware, they are making the effort to seek out feedback, to reduce the filtering as much as they can. And then you have leaders in organizations who are less effective in building human relationships. And we often go back to Elon Musk, we go back to Trump, we go back to the leaders that we all know in the media. And we know that their people skills are significantly lacking. So we talk about organizations that are successful, but sometimes it just comes back to what does success mean? Mm-hmm. And, and recently I was talking to somebody about if the KPIs for your organizations are more money, we produce more things, uh, we reach more organizations, we, we sell to different countries, we're achieving all of that. Fine. If that's our KPIs, then great. But actually, if we have an organization where there is a high turnover of staff and that is one of our KPIs, then we are not as successful. But again, it comes back to what does an organization view a success? What are the individual leaders in that, those organizations view a success. And then that filters down to what behavior is valued, what behavior is promoted, modeled, uh, leadership modeling. Leadership is something that we talk about a lot, but what do you want to model? You want to model success and therefore if self-awareness and having good relationships in your organization really doesn't matter to you because your financial situation is fine, your KPIs are being achieved. Then I don't really need to worry about the people too much. They can come and go, but actually we're still creating it, the the products we want.

[00:13:44] Martin: But I think most organizations today doesn't have that luxury. Right? Today, everything is about constant change and we have so many big challenges that we need to solve together, right. Everything from politics, to sustainability, to now the recession. I, I would guess, uh, these insulated leaders, it's, it's not going to work, uh, for much longer.

[00:14:07] Nia: Absolutely. And I think that's what I'm hearing. And I think Covid accelerated that because we had to start thinking about staff wellbeing, employee wellbeing, in a way that we hadn't before. And, um, I was talking to somebody earlier this week and we were saying that there are lots of leaders in organizations now that if they were starting their leadership journey, they would probably not reach those senior levels in organizations because our need, our expectation of our leaders in terms of their behavior is different. Um, Gunther Verheyen talks about the industrial paradigm versus where we are now in our expectations of leaders. You got away with it in the industrial paradigm because we were talking about the monies, the how many products can we get outta the door, how many countries can we sell to. But actually in the modern paradigm, we are saying actually the people that work for you are important. Unless you value and engage those individuals, they're not gonna value and engage your customers, in which case we are in a, in a different leadership context than where we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And I think our expectations of leaders change. 

[00:15:16] Gerrit: Yeah. And I, I would also add, when I hear these examples, you said there are companies that, what should I say, claim at least to be very successful. Um, and we know that maybe the leadership doesn't take too much care of, of, uh, their people. And then, you know, I always think how much more successful might these companies be, if they were more people focused. But that is also an entirely different, uh, discussion. I actually wanted to, at the risk of taking a bit of the flow of the, of this great conversation. I would like to take a step back. Because when you Nia, when you talk about self-awareness, if I recall correctly, you have three, do you call it dimensions or, uh, um, aspects of self-awareness, could, could we briefly touch on those so that also, our listeners know what we are talking about when we say self-awareness. 

[00:16:14] Nia: Absolutely. So my definition of self-awareness has three layers. And uh, maybe listeners will have heard other people talking about defining self-awareness and they will have probably heard of two layers. But for me, when I was looking at the literature, there are layers that have to build on one another. So for me, it starts with internal self-awareness, which is about me looking inward, knowing myself, and I call that the reflection layer. Then there is the social self-awareness, and for me it, it's broken down into two layers. Internal social self-awareness and external social self-awareness. Internal is about recognizing that people have opinions about me. So it's that realization that everything I do, everything I say, particularly if you're a very senior leader in an organization, every move you make is scrutinized, it's observed. Somebody saw you somewhere. And then you have the third outer layer, which is regulation. Which is about, now that I understand myself, what I think, what worries me, what triggers me, what causes me, I now understand that people observe what happens to me in those situations. I can now regulate my external social self-awareness, and I can do something about that. If we think you, I'm sure we'll have all heard the phrase "you can't do anything about anybody else, all you can do is change yourself". And if we think about self-awareness in those terms, then what we give out, we get back. So if we think about regulating how we speak to people, how we show up, how we behave, the, the model of behavior that we choose to, um, put out into the world, how we show up, that makes a difference in terms of how people respond to us. 

[00:18:10] Gerrit: Yeah, so, so three layers. The first one being the internal self-awareness, which, and I'm making an assumption here, which many people would identify with the core of self-awareness, perhaps, but then the, if I rephrase that, correct me if I'm wrong, there is the internal social self-awareness, which is like, mm, perhaps having an understanding of how other people perceive me. And the last one was the external social self-awareness, which already has an element, in my vocabulary, would perhaps say regulation, would that be correct? 

[00:18:51] Nia: Yeah, absolutely. So either I, I guess they have very academic, more technical terms when I'm describing these three layers to others, I tend to use reflection, recognition, and regulation. Cause that is, you know, it's, it's a, it's a useful, helpful way of describing it, and it's more practical and it's more accessible to people in the world of. 

[00:19:13] Gerrit: Let's try to keep that in mind. Reflection, recognition, and regulation. Wonderful. Um, just, just thinking where we left off before, so you have done your academic research, you have interviewed, I don't know how many experts about self-awareness and leadership effectiveness. Um, before we go to potential leadership dilemmas and paradoxes. Is there anything else that you would like to add in terms of important findings from your work?

[00:19:44] Nia: Interestingly, I guess from my podcast discussions, which have have, for me, it was about taking academia to the office, that that was the whole essence behind the podcast. It was about continuing this discussion. A couple of things have come up. Which are accidental leaders. They tend to be the individuals who are highly technical, highly skilled technicians. But what they may or may not have is those people skills. And there is seems to be this fallacy that if you are very good at something technical, then you're also able to pick up a team of individuals who have all of the complexities of, of their lives and their upbringings and all of their views and thoughts and opinions and strengths as well. So this idea of, of accidental leaders. 

[00:20:28] Children who are leaders. Now this comes back to this idea that, are we born leaders or is leadership a skill that we can develop? Mm-hmm. And lots of people that I talk to say that actually you can develop leadership skills, you can go to your courses, you can attend your training. But in my research, and the more and more I'm thinking about it, there has to be some innate skill that you take to your training that you then build on. And I think to, to, to consider leadership in the same way that you can maybe send somebody off to a course to work out how to fix a bicycle puncture, I, I think that they're maybe missing the nuances of what leadership and human leadership is all about. So when we talk about children as leaders, children have never had that opportunity to go to training courses or to, to, to learn about this in a, in a technical sense. But they are seeing it, hearing it, feeling it, and able to behave in that way. So it brings me back to natural born leaders. How does all of that fit together, together, that nurture, nature conversation.

[00:21:40] Filtered feedback. As I've already said, this is very much coming back time and time again, that as leaders, individual careers, individuals create long shadows, and I think leaders have to be very mindful of that when you are seeking feedback. If you are the individual who is paying these everybody else in the organization, you have an element of power over those individuals that you need to consider.

[00:22:06] Then there's that element of quieter voices. I'm, I'm very interested in what people are saying about introverts as leaders, because there's the extroversion bias that talks about people who shout loudest tend to be the ones who are presumed to be most confident, most capable, and they get up to the leadership positions. Maybe we are coming back to Donald Trump here. I don't know, maybe he is a louder voice. However, there is such a conversation now about neurodiversity and actually you need to consider everybody in your room, in your team, in your organization, because they might be a quieter voice who is a very capable leader, who is a very skilled human relationship builder, that you need to think differently about.

[00:22:54] So with those, for me, are the four things that keep coming up in the conversations that I'm being drawn to. 

[00:23:00] Martin: It's so interesting. I'm in my head now it's popping up this whole topic about uh, DEI, that is such an important thing that's driven in organizations today to just get everyone in the team included and productive and being a part of the team. And now linking this to the leader there that needs to influence and bring the best out of this diverse team, right. And how, how would you say then the self aware leader can do this in a better way than a less self aware leader? 

[00:23:38] Nia: I think if you are looking at that inclusive element that effective leaders need to consider, I think listening has to be at the very top of that list. Um, again, if we think about the extraversion bias, there is this bias about talk a lot, be loud, say something all of the time. Um, take over the airwaves. But actually I think if you're gonna be an effective leader, as we move into a, a, a different paradigm, as we talked about earlier, not the industrial paradigm, maybe that's what we needed back then, but now we need leaders who are listening, who are able to hear what's being said. They are able to draw individuals into conversations, and maybe it's about drawing people in in a different way. We are very used to hosing a question out and expecting a verbal answer back. Maybe one of the ways that we listen is by giving people opportunities to write something, to say something in a different way, to use different mediums to be able to communicate what they want to say. Mm-hmm. Um, and definitely as leaders, we are not used to doing that. I think it is the leaders who are most interested in developing their leadership practice, they are the ones who are now starting to use those techniques. Mm-hmm. Those tools to be able to include everybody 

[00:25:03] Martin: And, and, and this notion of what works for me personally as a leader, the way I communicate or process information might not be the way that you do that. I can be aware of myself, but then I can also notice that you need something different. And then as a leader, of course, I need to build the conditions and the, and the opportunities for you also to be effective. Most definitely. And not build a condition that only fits my own way. And being like deaf to the needs of others.

[00:25:35] Nia: Yeah, and I think that really fixed well with the recognition layer of the self-awareness definition, because if you don't recognize that others may need information to be shared, to be able to go have the opportunity to give information in a different way, you've missed that opportunity. So yeah, that is so very important.

[00:25:56] Um, and I, and I know that somebody you, that I was talking to on my podcast talking about giving feedback. If you give feedback in a way that you as an individual, like to receive it, there is a real potential that you destroy that relationship or that you create such significant negativity that person just wants to leave. So in order to be able to give effective feedback, you need to understand how people want to receive it, need to receive it, and how do they feel comfortable that when they do receive it, that it's constructive? Mm-hmm. 

[00:26:31] Gerrit: So if, if I come back to the beginning of our discussion where I said, uh, from the individual development perspective and executive coaching, for me it's 100% clear that self-awareness is absolutely critical for one's personal development. And also based on my experience, I'm equally convinced that, the more self-awareness a leader has, especially when I think of these three layers that you mentioned before, uh, the more effective they can be. Um, but I'm not sure if you have actually answered the question. We also raised do you Nia have evidence, be it through your research, uh, or also anecdotal evidence through the many people you interviewed, about the link between leadership effectiveness and um, uh, self-awareness, the leader self-awareness. Because I, I heard that there was some research that said, yeah, the higher the leadership level, the more self-aware. But then in your studies, you are found that is not always the case. So if I can just briefly bring back the conversation. And I, I don't know if you have a simple answer to this question. Is there a correlation between a leader's self-awareness and their effectiveness? 

[00:27:51] Nia: My research and everybody that I've spoken to has given a resounding yes, all right. And there's always a but- yes, but. If we are thinking about the world today, what we expect of leaders and our organizations and our peers and our colleagues, self-awareness is an essential component to generate success. However, so many people that I've spoken to have said that is the gold standards, that is our aspiration, that's where we want to go towards. However the realities of the working world currently is that, that is not happening everywhere. Mm-hmm. So I think it, it fits very much with our question about success. Mm-hmm. How does your organization define success? If staff turnover, high staff turnover, means that you are not succeeding in your organization, therefore, self-awareness needs to be a part of that conversation. If, however, you are more interested in, um, uh, sending more parcels out into the world, um, and you are able to do that and your numbers are increasing on a week by week basis, and you have less interest in staff turnover, does that create success in your organization, in which case, do we need to worry too much about leadership training or team development? So I think it very much comes back down to what ,organizations view as success. However, there is a default position that people are coming to when they're having this conversation with me, that says, yes, self-awareness is necessary to be a great leader versus a leader. And I think leaders in organizations that I think that you need to think of that whole conversation. You need to think of that whole systemic approach to self-awareness. But I would agree, um, I don't know, we've talked about this, but self-awareness seems to be the very bottom of the foundation when we are talking about leadership, whether we're talking about inclusive leadership or agile leadership, or um, leadership that is focused on DEI, we need to go back to self-awareness. And I always think about it, it's the bottom of the pyramid. And unless you have sure footings at the very bottom of that pyramid, all of the rest of it is, is going to to be a little bit unsecure. 

[00:30:20] Gerrit: Yeah. Wonderful, wonderful. I mean, that was such a perfect answer. We could almost end the podcast here I think. But be, before we do that, I, I, I have a very important question, or let's say, based on what you just said, I would say it's fair to assume that any leader who wants to be a better leader, or let's say the best leader they can be, they would be wise to further develop their self-awareness, right. Because you're never done, right. So, and, and again, we talk about, we talk about reflection, we talk about recognition, we talk about regulation. Most people I know say, yeah, of course I wanna be the best leader I can be. Um, what's, what's getting into the way, or maybe let me rephrase that to stick with our motto of, of the podcast where we say we explore everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes. Uh, what are potential dilemmas, paradoxes challenges that you have come across, uh, when it comes to, let's say, developing or sharpening, uh, your own self-awareness?

[00:31:28] Nia: I think firstly, there has to be the recognition of self-awareness as a concept that you need to explore and hone. It isn't something that just happens. Um, I think it's something you need to invest your time and your effort into. Filtered feedback, as we've talked about, I think filtered feedback most definitely impacts what, what you hear about yourself. Stress is most definitely one. That is an element that is coming back to me as an impact on my ability to be self-aware. So we know that self-awareness is a journey and. Our stress levels change on a daily basis. Mm-hmm. So we're having a very good day. But then the, the bus that is taking all of our people to an event that we've spent a lot of money on, breaks down. Therefore we have stress created, or we have a pandemic and stress is created and we tend to revert to type. So if, you know for me, as an introvert, if I'm stressed, I become very, very quiet. I know that, and therefore, if I'm in a very stressful work situation, what do I do about that, how do I let people know that it's not, not to do with their, the way that they're behaving, or what they're doing, it is the way that I respond. And if they need to hear what I'm thinking, how then do I process that to say, I need quiet time, but I also need to give you the information you need. So I think stress has a significant impact and level of stress, of course, because there are situations where you recognize the stress, you're able to put mm-hmm, mitigating steps in. You can go for a walk. You can run up and down the stairs once or twice. You can say, I'm leaving work for now, but I'll come back to this tomorrow. You don't click send on the email. But there are some situations where stress is so high that individuals are operating at that level constantly. And again, if you're back into, we think about an organization that thinks of success as lots of money, people who stay in the workplace for 10 hours a day, that is very difficult for you to manage your stress level and therefore to consider your leadership and be self-aware about your leadership. Busyness is certainly another element we get. We get tied into, I have to be busy doing something because I have to be seen to be doing something. If that's what your organization values, that means that you don't have time to be reflective. Reflection isn't valued. Busyness is what's value. Um, and for me, I think it's embodied in the Dunning Krueger effect. Listeners may well have heard of this, but it, it does make me chuckle, but I think it's, it's such a, an, an excellent description. And very simply, it's if you have individuals in the world of work who think they're fantastic at everything, they're quite likely to be the one who really aren't. Um, and, and if anybody wants to go onto Wikipedia and, and look up the Dunning Krueger effect, it's a really good description of it. But that's what we're saying. It's that extroversion bias. It's that, because I shouted loudest was, I shouted longest, there is an assumption that empty vessels who make most noise, are the most effective. However, the Dunning Krueger effect says they are the least, uh, well performing individuals. So there are lots of different facets, which are barriers to self-awareness 

[00:35:05] Martin: To, to me, listening to this, it's in one way, it's comforting to hear one, self-awareness is not static, it's, it's a journey. That I, of course I need to develop that. And, but it's also, its situation dependent in the way, it depends on the level of stress that I'm feeling. If I'm in the leadership retreat, I might develop a very nice level of self-awareness, we are sitting here for two days, we are talking in peers, in groups, and it's a wonderful leadership retreat and I can really get to know myself, but then when I'm getting out into the workplace, suddenly the conditions are totally different. And then my autopilot is switching on, and I'm guessing what I'm learning now is that those are the triggers where I need to be really aware. Those, those are the situations where I need to be so aware. What triggers me, when I need to pay attention to my behaviors more, uh, because my self-awareness is not as, uh, front of my thinking as it was in the nice leadership retreat.

[00:36:07] Nia: Absolutely. One thing that one of my podcast guests said, know thyself, but ensure you keep reacquainting yourself. Mm-hmm. And, and I think that really is helpful because know thyself is one of those phrases that we link with self-awareness, and it's, and it's been around for millennia, um, but reacquainting yourself is so very, very important. And, and yeah, most definitely. Once when you are in one situation, you have the tools to be able to be self-aware, but you are thrown into a pandemic and setting up the Nightingale hospitals that nobody has ever done before, because nobody's been here since the World War II, when we had to do it. And absolutely, you have to reacquaint yourself constantly. Yeah. And I think that is something that it's, it's a journey. 

[00:36:57] Gerrit: And, and, and Nia, I, I really loved your comprehensive answer to, to my previous question. And, um, just picking up on this, what you just said. Again, it's a journey. But I think what, when I think of developing self-awareness, it's like it's always on an upwards trajectory. Right? It's getting better all the time. Yeah. But then based on what you said before, there may be still up and downs and like you said, there may be stress or other circumstances or maybe people Yeah. Uh, that limit your ability to be self-aware. And I think that in itself is another aspect of self-awareness. Being aware of these limitations. 

[00:37:45] Martin and Nia, that has been a wonderful discussion so far. Uh, I wonder if we should start wrapping things up and move on to our reflection questions, or have we missed any other critical points?

[00:38:00] Nia: One thing that I'm, I'm just thinking that I would like to mention is that as you were talking about the learning journey of self-awareness, what we, what we tend to like to do is to train people or teach people on the skills, so that when you are in a a situation, you know where to go. So you either go to reflection or you go to mindfulness meditation, or you go to journaling, or you go to a mentor to develop your self-awareness. W what we don't do so well is to teach people the skills to be able to learn. And I think that comes back to when we were talking about technical skills, mm-hmm, the what we do versus how do we do things. Mm. And I think when we are in leadership training, we need to teach people how to learn. So I think we need to teach people how to learn to be self-aware as opposed to just, this is a list of tools you can go away and do. Because today I'm really, really stressed and I'm very, very busy and I can't do that thing that I learned in that particular course I attended. So how now do I think about what I need, how do I reflect on my own needs to be able to work out what else I can do to develop my self-awareness? Mm-hmm. So I think, again, there are, there is this constant conversation we need to be having about what do we do and how do we do it. So we need to learn the thing and we need to learn how to learn about the thing.

[00:39:39] Gerrit: Nice, nice. Yeah. So yeah, you would probably agree then, one aspect of developing self-awareness is, I think you said it before reflection. So moving on to the segment of our reflection questions, who would like to make a start? What, what questions could our listeners use to develop their self-awareness?

[00:40:06] Nia: More than happy to start. Yes. One of the things that I, I think leaders need to think about is to stop and ask: can you describe how you think others see you? And this is very much about, have I even thought about self-awareness before? Have I been given the thinking space, the head space, to be able to think about thinking about this. So that question of can you describe what you think others see? If you can't, how will you develop your antenna, your space, your opportunity to be able to answer that question? And I think that's a really good place to start, because then I think you start to uncover your gaps around, okay, where are the blind spots that I have around my self-awareness?

[00:41:02] Martin: Fantastic. I have a reflection question linked to this saying that you can't change others, you can only change yourself. And then linking this with the role of the leaders, like lead through, lead change through influencing others. So of course, as a leader, I'm interested to to, to influencing others to change. But, then what are the situations where I need to be more self-aware of my own behavior and its impact? Again, perhaps it's also linking to identifying blind spots, but thinking about the situations where my behavior might need to change or could change to be more effective. 

[00:41:45] Gerrit: Yeah. And, Hmm, I have so many questions on my mind, I don't know how I can keep it short. I, I would perhaps start with the very basic question that comes back to how do I actually learn it? So, what do I need to focus on to increase my self-awareness? Is that, just to illustrate it, is that more about recognizing my own emotions, do I need to practice more mindfulness being more in the present moment. And uh, then related to this, because Martin and I talk a lot about how emotions, if we look at emotions as, um, neurobiological processes, right, how do they impact my self-awareness? So in other words, coming back to what we said earlier, what are certain circumstances, situations, people that either enhance or deplete my self-awareness. So that would be something interesting to, um, explore. Uh, anything else you would like to add as reflection questions? 

[00:42:54] Nia: I would say, do you talk to your team about how you communicate or, or, or interact or behave with each other? Because again, this comes back to my idea of we do with the doing, but we don't talk about doing the doing. And I would ask leaders to, to think about, do they talk to their team about how they like to interact, how they want to receive information, how they want to behave towards each other? Because we tend to go straight in and do the behavior, but do we give ourselves and our teams the opportunity to come together in a safe space to say, this is how I would like it done, or this is how I would like it not to be.

[00:43:40] Gerrit: Excellent. Well, Nia, I, I, again, I think that was fantastic and even though we've been speaking for a while, I think we still have only scratched the surface. And I could imagine that our listeners want to get back to, you want to explore more. Um, how should they get in touch with you and also perhaps how, and, and, and when should they get in touch with you for what reason?

[00:44:05] Nia: Absolutely. I, I, I would love to hear from people who have maybe experienced self-aware leadership, both in terms of people that they have worked with and have modeled very, uh, effective self-awareness practices, and people who really haven't. Because what I've certainly learned from my research is the stories that say this went well and the stories that say this really isn't how you should do it, both are valuable in being able to help us to determine how we want to show up as self-aware leaders. Um, so whether you are a leadership consultant, whether you are a culture expert, whether you are a psychologist or a HR leader, or whether you are a senior leader within an organization and you've been on your own journey, please do get in touch. It's great to have that conversation, both from the perspective of individuals who help other individuals and those leaders who have been in the situation, have lived it and breathed it. I guess the best way to get in touch with me is LinkedIn. Um, I'm quite active on LinkedIn, but of course there is good old email, which is info [at] knowingselfknowingothers [dot] co [dot] uk.

[00:45:18] Gerrit: Excellent. Nia, thank you so much for being an amazing guest on our show today. Thank you Martin, as always. And this concludes then today's episode. If you like the podcast, remember to subscribe on your favorite platform so you don't miss out on the latest episodes. And if you would like to help us grow the show, we will really appreciate it if you tell a friend about it, post on social media and leave a positive comment or rating. More info about us and our work is also on our website, that is secondcrackleadership [dot] com, all in one word. And also we would be very happy to hear your feedback, your questions, or your comments. The address for that is hello [at ] secondcrackleadership [dot] com.

[00:46:11] Bye for now and until next time.