The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

15 Policy, Politics and Leadership with Amy Gandon

February 26, 2023 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 15
15 Policy, Politics and Leadership with Amy Gandon
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
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The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
15 Policy, Politics and Leadership with Amy Gandon
Feb 26, 2023 Episode 15
Dr Nia D Thomas

Amy is a policy professional with a prize winning Masters in social policy and experience in five government departments. She is now leading the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce's (RSA) policy and participation work.

At the time of recording, Amy was  a freelance researcher, consultant and writer, undertaking research and advisory projects on government effectiveness and a range of areas of social policy.

Before that, she was Deputy Head of Public Services team in the Cabinet Office, advising the Prime Minister and senior officials on key social policy issues, and the lead for strategy and culture for Early Years, Children and Families in the Department of Health and Social Care. 

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Show Notes Transcript

Amy is a policy professional with a prize winning Masters in social policy and experience in five government departments. She is now leading the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce's (RSA) policy and participation work.

At the time of recording, Amy was  a freelance researcher, consultant and writer, undertaking research and advisory projects on government effectiveness and a range of areas of social policy.

Before that, she was Deputy Head of Public Services team in the Cabinet Office, advising the Prime Minister and senior officials on key social policy issues, and the lead for strategy and culture for Early Years, Children and Families in the Department of Health and Social Care. 

Support the Show.

Find Out More
Thanks for joining me on my learning journey! Until next time...

Rate and Review
Once you've taken a listen please leave a rate and review on your favourite podcast player. A little word from you means a big deal to me!

NDT  0:11  
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

welcome Amy Gandon, I'm absolutely delighted that we've finally been able to catch up and have this conversation. We've tried many times and failed. I'm really pleased that we've managed to come together today, listeners, you're going to be really interested in hearing what Amy has to say. Amy has a background in teaching, but also research and she's currently a freelance researcher. But Amy, let me hand over to you to introduce yourself,

AG  0:58  
banks near and before I introduce myself, I mean, it's great to be here. But I just want to say congrats on the podcast, because I've been a regular listener. And I think you were built to be a podcast host. Because obviously, you're a really generous sort of listener and you ask great questions. But I think also just your voice is probably the most lovely voice that I've listened to on.

NDT  1:20  
Oh, Amy, that's just so lovely. Thank you.

AG  1:23  
You're not allowed to cut that either. Out of humility. VSM. I'm Amy Ganden. And I am a former civil servant. And of course, that's that's how we met during the Department of Health and Social Care, both of us have since to greater or lesser degrees of relief have, I've left with the civil service. And I currently do a lot of research policy projects as a freelancer. And yeah, I'm share your real interest in organisational culture and think it's super important.

NDT  1:51  
And that's certainly how our paths crossed me. We bumped into each other a couple of times when we were in the civil service together, but really came together working on a particular culture project that I think we both recognise that we felt the same about the importance of working relationships, and how self awareness really does impact on those relationships.

AG  2:12  
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's a real personal and professional interest of of mine, and particularly having worked in policy and in close proximity to politicians as well. I find it really interesting to think about self awareness, and the impact it has on effectiveness in particularly that public sector space and its impact on citizens and the decisions that our leaders make, especially leaders in, in politics, because their roles are, you know, so important. You know, when they go go well, and when they don't go well.

NDT  2:49  
How do you define self awareness?

AG  2:52  
It's really interesting, isn't it, because it is one of those terms that you often take for granted. It's not an often sort of explored concept. But it was really interesting to reflect on this. And I suppose instinctively, when I think of self awareness, I almost visualise the ability to leave your body and sort of look upon yourself and your impact on other people in terms of your style, the effectiveness of your words and performance from a bird's eye view. But I guess I've doing a lot of sort of internal work over the last 18 months, and we'll probably talk about my experience of burnout that I spoke about quite a lot when we work together as well. But I think learning from from your work on self awareness and on my sort of own journey, I think I've been reflecting on the internal sort of self awareness as well, because that initial definition, prioritises quite a lot external perception of you and you're spending a lot of time and energy reflecting on on external perception. And I think just as important is to be able to sort of sink deeper into your own mind and think, you know, how am I feeling? What's my mood and energy levels? Like, what are my values? And yeah, and I think I think they're obviously very linked. But that internal part, I think he's probably more often neglected when you think about self awareness because I know I think our society is probably biassed and more inclined to think about what others perceive of us rather than you know, what, what we make of ourselves and, and whether we value what it is that we're doing, and whether it's compatible with our belief system.

NDT  4:31  
It's interesting as you're saying that I'm I'm thinking about Instagram influencers, and you're right, it's all about what do you look like? What do you sound like what do people think of you? But are those influencers really thinking about what they believe what they think what's going on on the inside? Because it's not just about what's going on on the outside?

AG  4:51  
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I mentioned my interest in politician stuff where it's the same thing probably applies to them, that they are professional They are occupationally wired to think about how is the outside world looking at me and responding to me. And you know, if they're not naturally predisposed in that way the media makes damn sure that they made aware of what the sort of public think of them, I think it's important for politicians to that they have the time and space to think internally, you know, actually, how is my mood, you know, or my emotional response to some sort of stimulus affecting my decision making rather than having that kind of radar. So constantly out there externally, that would be my very amateurish attempt to try and to define self awareness. But I think I've learned a lot from listening to you and reading some of your thinking about self worth self awareness about that kind of more internal reflection as well as the sort of mindfulness of others.

NDT  5:51  
Do you think there's a relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?

AG  5:55  
I think my answer is is yes, absolutely. No, there is a strong relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness. I, in fact, you know, I'd say that self awareness is probably the magic ingredient in so many dimensions of of leader effectiveness, there is about coming.

NDT  6:14  
I was I was thinking I could feel a bit here somewhere.

AG  6:16  
Yeah, we'll come to it. I don't think it's about leader effectiveness, though, I think it's probably about the personal experience of being a self aware person. And I'd be interested in your, your reflections on this having bought so deeply about self awareness during your Postgraduate study. But yes, I mean, self awareness is so critical, I think, particularly because of what it correlates with. So you know, you have to be really self aware, to reflect on and then iterate and improve your own performance, you know, at least to be able to do that independently, which is, which is really important. If you want to be able to role model that for your team as well, you need to have that ability. I think, also, and, you know, we worked in the Department of Health where there was a change of the kind of corporate values and one of them was agility. How can you be agile and responsive to I think it looking to the future of in the world of work and the sort of geopolitical situation that we find ourselves in now, being agile is really important. And you can't do that unless you're constantly reflecting on how events and yourself are in this constant cycle of change. And then, you know, finally, I mean, I know that you're, you know, an immensely empathetic person, I like to think that that's sort of that's a value of mine that I tried to bring to work as well. And I think you can't really be compassionate and empathetic as manager or a leader, unless you kind of have an imagination for the internal world of another person. And that I think often comes from having that experience yourself. The buts that I said, is that I think it depending on your psychological makeup, I think self awareness, you know, can can be a bit of a double edged sword. So yeah, full disclosure here. I think I'm someone who, I'm self aware, in that part, we spoke about it before, you know, I think I'm quite tuned in to what, what other people might be thinking in response to me, if people are unhappy or at work? I can I'm quite chin tuned into that. Or similarly, what motivates them, the internal aspect, I think, really comes in, in understanding what it is that you believe and that what you need, and what what what you want, I think, you know, I think like, probably quite a lot of people, as I said, I think this is probably a quite neglected aspect of self awareness. You know, I think if you're not going to sort of self neglect at work, and you're not going to be a people pleaser, you're not going to spend loads of energy keeping other people happy. You really need that anchor to be able to say, Yeah, I know, this is what people at work. One for me, I know, this is the kind of direction of the organisation I know, this is what success would mean. But you know, how am I looking after myself? And also, how am I standing up for my values or providing Britain the oyster as well, where that's needed? Unless I'm tuned in to something kind of more solidly internally. So I think, yeah, unless you're careful. Self awareness can be a sort of bedfellow of self doubt, self criticism, you know, it comes if you're regularly reflecting if you're quite humble, that's you're going to be constantly reminding yourself, Oh, I think I did that wrong. Or I really need to get better at that thing, which is great. But it really needs to be accompanied by self compassion and, and kindness as well.

NDT  9:33  
I would agree. And there are studies that talk about self awareness in terms of the reflection element, that reflection can become rumination, which actually takes you in a downward spiral. So yeah, absolutely. I agree with what you're saying. It was interesting what you were saying about the double edged sword of self awareness that if you have external self awareness without internal self awareness, you become that people pleaser And you forget that you need time, space, relaxation, wellbeing for yourself. And I think looking at organisations and companies as we have developed from the 80s 90s, naughties, etc, you can see that that has changed. And I think through COVID, we have really started to look at that, you must look at internal self awareness as well as external self awareness. Because unless you get that balance of those two things, right, something is going to go amiss. And you mentioned burnout earlier. If you're not thinking about that internal self awareness, that which really does potentially create that opportunity for burnout, which is not a great place to be. Yeah.

AG  10:43  
And as I hinted at earlier, so I had my own pretty nasty brush with with burnout in sort of the 2021, just coming out of having worked quite hard on the, on the COVID response in government. And yeah, I think it's really welcome that I think, as you say, workplaces are thinking more about well being, and I hope that they're sort of the types of self awareness and the manifestations of it, that come with that sort of expand. So, you know, I think we're all brought up to sort of welcome those who reflect on their performance and try and raise their performance in in ways that really help the kind of mission of the organisation and, you know, those who are very kind of on brand, with with the organisation, those who are, you know, looking after themselves are going to be setting boundaries in ways that occasionally disappoint those in positions of seniority, they might be challenging when they find their kind of values conflicted, and in some of the events happening at work. So yeah, hopefully, there's an expansion of of space and more rewards and acknowledgement for people showing up in those ways as well.

NDT  11:56  
Yeah, and I wonder if that really is linking in to the great resignation that we're seeing now with, and actually people are starting to think about that thinking about their values and saying, These are the boundaries I want to set for them. For me as a professional as an organisation, you do not enable that for me. So thank you very much. I'm gonna make my choices and go elsewhere.

AG  12:16  
Yeah, he's hoping that that, therefore makes it good business and economic sense to, yeah, really treat your employees with with respect, you know, it is about well being initiatives and great company benefits, but it's also about, you know, really realistically thinking about workload management, but also the space and the culture that you have, for people to express themselves and challenge and speak to power, you know, people need to not just pay lip service to that stuff.

NDT  12:49  
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations?

AG  12:54  
Yes, I definitely do. I definitely, definitely do. And I think one of the questions around self awareness that's really interested me is how does one become self aware is one born self aware is one made self aware, and therefore kind of what's the natural distribution of self awareness in an organisation, it strikes me that it doesn't kind of naturally cluster in particular positions. And in organisations, one of the really interesting theories I've encountered around around self awareness is, well, there's one small sort of doom and gloom perspective that I've read about and one slightly more positive, but self awareness. parently, you know, can be the result of a sort of emotional difficulty, if you've been bullied growing up, or if you kind of grow up in a family that's quite critical of one another, then, you know, self awareness is a sort of protection mechanism to preempt what someone might think or say about you and be able to alter your behaviour accordingly. Alternatively, you know, you might have developed self awareness, because you were in, you grew up in a very kind of emotionally open and mature family want to know about their emotions and encouraged everyone to reflect and role modelling by parents and figures in school, for example, but either way, you know, whether it's genetic predisposition, or, you know, experiences in life professional or, or otherwise, again, I don't, I don't see that sort of self self awareness and effective leadership being accumulating particular pockets of organisations. And, you know, we've we've worked in, in the civil service together, and, you know, you find you find leaders at all levels. I guess the question and that we're going to come on to in a moment is, do those leaders get recognised for those behaviours and for their achievements and values, or do other traits sort of prove more more important

NDT  14:59  
do you think Does at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organisations?

AG  15:07  
Yeah, this is a really interesting question. And I guess my, the short answer would be, not necessarily. Okay. Um, so I think some of the, you know, the best leaders that I've had, have have all exhibited self awareness. I mean, I don't know if that's a, you know, a personal preference or, you know, because it's such an important trait for me, the leaders that I respect, kind of really do role model that, I guess, what it is interesting to reflect those who are in positions of authority to promote people to that strategic level of an organisation, what is it that they value? And again, thinking about the world that I know best? So what is it that Prime Minister or minister or a permanent secretary, what do they look for in the most senior civil servants or a ministerial colleagues, and I suppose what place is the sort of self awareness play in the characteristics they're looking for? I think there's definitely something about the place of self awareness within what I think is unfortunately, still quite a patriarchal norm of leadership, there are those as a former teacher that you know, that always has very interesting experiments that you do, where you say, draw to a child draw doctor, join us, at least when they did this experiment, sort of 10 years ago, you'd get a male doctor and a female nurse drawn, I do wonder, and I know things that have been have been changing for the better in this sphere. I do wonder if you ask the child to draw a leader, whether or not you'd end up with a white man in a suit. Interesting. Interesting to reflect on. And I guess when I think about that patriarchal mould of leadership, I think firm, decisive, assertive, do I think someone who is has got the humility and vulnerability to own up to when they are big, feel comfortable thinking, Oh, actually, there's, this is what I'm working on at the moment I finding this really difficult, kind of, sort of see and act on mistakes they feel they've made. And, you know, I think this is definitely changing. You and I both use LinkedIn. And you see many more male CEOs, quite publicly talking about moments that are difficult for them professionally, and regrets or sadnesses to do with maybe mistakes that they've made in their business decisions. But I still think that the people in positions to appoint the strategic roles in organisations often might not come from the generation that is really embracing those changes. And while for it to filter through,

NDT  17:48  
yeah, it might be another 1015 years before we see the senior people bringing people through their organisations who have now who are of the wellbeing, culture, the let's reduce bias in the organisation culture, let's promote equality, diversity and inclusion culture. Yeah, I think you're right, we've we've probably got a little bit more time before we see the very senior leaders and organisations and organisations across the board, not just public sector, but companies tend to get those kinds of leaders through their organisations. Yeah.

AG  18:23  
And I do wonder, is there anything we can do now to accelerate that change? Because it's so important? How can you know, should we be relying on individual personalities to role model behaviours, like self awareness that, you know, we believe are effective for Positive Organisational? Culture and effectiveness? You know, how can you you know, things like 360 feedback, it's commonplace, for example, in the civil service, so is it? Is it commonplace in all organisations is self aware systems? Are they really embedded in all sectors? I don't know. So there's, there's perhaps more you could you could do to make that change, or make that future come closer in time?

NDT  19:01  
You know, I've certainly talked to other people, when I've talked about self aware leadership, that recruitment process really has a lot to answer for. And when we're talking about biases, who was on the panel? What is the recruitment process? How are we drawing in introverts? Extroverts? How are we drawing in people who have more of a focus on well being and possibly softer skills are their strengths rather than their hardest skills? How are we doing that through the recruitment process? I mean, it's a 45 minute interview, in most cases, maybe you do that twice. Is that sufficient? And I was talking to somebody talking about interview coaches. Well, actually, that means that you go in with a mask into an interview process for that to 45 minutes sessions that you you meet the panel who are particularly biassed in a particular way, and you're appointed to a role and then all of a sudden you start in that role, but how can you maintain that persona that you demonstrated in an intern view that actually isn't you at all. So yeah, that whole process of how do you get people into organisations? And is that a way that we can accelerate this change?

AG  20:10  
It's really interesting. And I wonder if, in your, in your work and your research and thought about all of this, you've thought about, you know, it's does diversity and inclusion and all of the excellent work that surrounds those initiatives? Does it rely on self awareness, because I imagine, if people aren't self aware, they probably think, or they probably look for people who have similar traits to themselves as being good and what they're after. And it takes us an awareness of, of the specificity of your own perspective, and the specificity of your own traits to be able to see, you know, the real value in the uniqueness of of someone else's skills and characteristics that are different to yours. But why they're so important.

NDT  20:51  
I think it's a difficult one because self awareness is conscious. And as we've learned, unconscious bias, how do you then bring that to the fore? In less, you are making very conscious efforts to surface your unconscious biases. I don't think you'll ever get to that point, because you might think you're self aware. But how can you ever know what you don't know about yourself? So I think there is some real difficult questions, some searching questions that you have to ask to get to that point of knowing your unconscious biases. And to be able to take you to the next step.

AG  21:29  
Yes, because you know, even the most self aware, lots of those who say, might not be operating at that, you know, that level of awareness yet it's really difficult.

NDT  21:44  
Do you think effective leaders have more self awareness than ineffective leaders?

AG  21:49  
Yes, as I'm sure you can can infer from my previous answers, I suppose when we when we're talking about the fact that lots of self aware, leaders might find the burden of leadership greater than people who, you know, who aren't so tuned in to everyone around them. And I guess the other corollary of what we've spoken about, which is that, you know, often people who end up in leadership don't have those those brilliant traits of being aware of and concerned by everyone else. So I guess, yes, I think that effective leaders have much more self awareness than then effective ones, whether or not all of those effective leaders get to the positions of power, because it can take a real toll on people and therefore get to kind of demonstrate and role model, the effectiveness, I think, is a different question. Leadership, especially, I think, you know, what you termed the strategic level of organisations, it's like a kind of pan Opticon of eyes on you and expectations of how your employees would like you to to be an act. I think, you know, this is really important. When I think about politics, I think, many sort of self aware, leaders might look at that and think, gosh, the highest rungs of leadership might might be too demanding for someone who is really reflective and insensitive. And so I think many organisations, especially at leadership, rungs But politics is a particularly acute example of this need to be kinder, more expansive spaces to enable those, you know, really effective empathetic and reflective leaders to take their rightful place, I guess, at the top of organisations and at the top of society.

NDT  23:34  
Amy, it's been absolutely brilliant having a conversation with you. If only we were in charge of all of the recruitment processes. I think we could fix it, Amy.

AG  23:41  
There's a way to travel yet but um, yeah, it's great to chat to you near and as I say, I think the podcast is brilliant. So it was fantastic to be a small part of it.

NDT  23:50  
I'm so glad you're enjoying it. Amy Gandon. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Thank you for joining me your host near Thomas at the knowing self knowing this 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 dot code at UK. You can also join me on YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter. Make sure you bookmark for 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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