The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

17 Self Aware Leadership with Sophie Bryan, Ordinarily Different

March 27, 2023 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 17
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
17 Self Aware Leadership with Sophie Bryan, Ordinarily Different
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Show Notes Transcript

Sophie Bryan is an executive and transformational coach working with professionals who find themselves feeling like they are stuck in their careers – or their lives in general – and want to move to a more fulfilling, expansive and enjoyable career & lifestyle.

Sophie’s website

Sophie’s podcast - Rebel Ideas

Sophie’s TEDx - here

Sophie tells her story…….

“As my personal story will attest, I know the “stickiness” of doing a job that doesn’t truly fulfil you and the impact it has had not only my life, but that of my family and friends too.

At the age of 32, I quit my job as a HR Director in London – which gave me a lot of stickiness – high salary, stability, and status – all things that I had been working hard for all my career.  I also had a young daughter to raise and a mortgage and bills to pay.

And I was miserable… unfulfilled, stressed, anxiety ridden, working long hours, 4 hour commutes a day, no social life, lack of family time and stressed out. Eventually, these feelings overruled the stickiness and I could not deny my true feelings.  I craved FREEDOM!! I wanted to have complete control over my day, I wanted to be my own boss, and HAD to break free of the confines of an office. When I could see the world carrying out life outside the office windows – what was I missing out on?!

So I quit. With nothing but my drive, passion, goals to make my dream of being my boss a reality, and my desire to shift my life to a space that was dramatically different from the unfulfilling job that I currently held.

Eight months after quitting, I found myself standing on the TEDxFolkestone stage, delivering a talk about an idea that I am so truly passionate about, with 7 clients under my belt, a whole new network and community of friends and clients who truly inspire me, and I felt like I was making a real valid contribution to the world. I have found my freedom, I’m acting on my passion, and I’m living my purpose.

Now a further two years on, with significant business success, health, happiness and an abundance of new knowledge and focus, I am here to help you discover what your freedom, passion and purpose is – in whatever shape or form that may take – to become the best version of yourself you can be, and to live your best life.”

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NT  0:08  
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

a very big welcome to today's guest. Today I'm joined by Sophie Bryan, and it's absolutely brilliant to have you here. Thank you so much for finding the time, because I appreciate you're very busy with podcasting and and all sorts of things. This Sophie has a background in HR. And really her experience is very valuable in terms of our conversation today when we're talking about self awareness and leader effectiveness. Sophie's a speaker, a consultant, and a podcaster. She runs her own company ordinarily different. And her podcast is called Rebel work, you may have already been listening to it. I certainly have. And Sophie has done a TEDx talk, so is already very well known in this field. But Sophie, I will hand over to you to introduce yourself.

SB  1:19  
Thank you so much, Nia. So yeah, my is interesting, because my TEDx talk really is based around three fundamental feelings, freedom, curiosity, and play. And so I guess that's the best way of introducing myself is to say that actually, they're my personal values. And they come out to play in my work life, they come out to play in my professional life. And what I've come to learn is that in the work that I'm doing with helping organisations to change their workplace culture, and that's centred around, creating happier, healthier, better performing, and more purposeful organisations, those three words still play true, creating more freedom, your book for us to play. So I guess that you gave such a great introduction of all kind of all the accolades that I have. But I guess that's the best way of kind of introducing myself in that. I'm a workplace change consultant and trying to help organisations shift their workplace culture, so that we do have happier, healthier, more productive and more purposeful work experiences as employees, as well as leaders in organisations. And so I guess that's the best way I can kind of kind of summarise myself in kind of a few short sentences.

NT  2:41  
Fascinating, and most definitely coming to this conversation from that place of experience. And I'm really looking forward to hearing how you're answering these questions.

How do you define self awareness?

SB  2:59  
Self awareness, for me is an introspective activity, it's, it's shining that light on the mirror on yourself, and actually really noticing, not just maybe how you showed up at that meeting, or how that conversation went. But engaging the threat to you, they say there's free brains, but I believe there's four brains actually, you know, engage in the you know, the heart, the mind and the soul. But I also think there is this this additional energy, this passionate, this fire, burning energy that goes beyond being in the gut. And I think that self awareness is really to feel into that. Because I believe that the body tells a really great story of being able to help us make decisions that help us to be aware of not just ourselves, but how other people might be feeling or reacting to how we are coming across. So I guess that introspection isn't just a thought process. It's about actually, what's my body telling me now? And how are all these brains connecting with each other, to help paint a picture of what that self awareness might look like?

NT  4:09  
That's a really interesting way of describing it. What when I came to the research, self awareness, there was this notion that is self awareness, a part of emotional intelligence, or is emotional intelligence, a part of self awareness. And my view is that emotional intelligence is a part of self awareness. And that actually, it's bigger than that. And I think the way that you describe it's a whole body, it's physical, it's emotional. It's mental. It's all of your capacities brought together so that you can reflect introspection, as you say. So I'm really interested in that description. I guess

SB  4:48  
part of that new year is I omitted this from my introduction, because there's so many more things I could have added by also a yoga teacher. And part of the work I do Around happier, healthier, more productive and purposeful, the healthier piece is around? How are we using our bodies at work? How are we fueling our bodies up? And how are we powering down at the end of the day. And so a big part of that is feeding into the body and having a more of a somatic experience around not just theorising around how something made you feel? Or how you think somebody else might have received your communication. But what does it feel like in your heart? What does it feel like in your gut? What does it feel like in terms of your values, and that passion, that fire you have in your belly? It's, it's that that really drives my view of that is to bring it back into the body, which sounds a bit weird in a workplace context. I'm talking about something that perhaps people may think is a bit woowoo. But I think there's a big, big place for this, because mental health issues are on the rise. And we're concentrating on is the mental aspect of it. But actually, if we think about it as a full body experience, then we can get so much more self awareness from all of these different messages that our body's giving us.

NT  6:14  
I really do agree. It's interesting that you say that you're also a yoga teacher, I'm a qualified reflexologist. And it's very, very different to the day job. However, the number of conversations I have with colleagues and I have had over the last 20 years about how their physicality impacts their work, and that we know you can't separate it, you are one whole being and as the race goes, you bring your whole self into work. Yeah, absolutely.

Unknown Speaker  6:51  
Do you think there's a

NT  6:51  
relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?

SB  6:55  
Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, the most effective leaders are the ones that have the most self awareness, the ones that genuinely care about how they're showing up, how they give messages, how they engage, how they create psychological safety, how they create space for people. That only comes from being self aware, you don't you don't get those qualities in leaders that just they just do it without, without being conscious mean, it may become an unconscious competency eventually. But that is driven from being self aware to know that you're in a team meeting, for example, especially in the way we're currently working right now, where we're very digitally minded. So we can't see everyone, we can't necessarily feel the energy in the room, we can't really notice that someone's not engaging, but to have that ability as a leader to notice. Some was not spoken up today, or I haven't heard much from that person has something I've said or done, make that person shut down. What did I How have I shown up? What's my role in that person's communication? How would they receive that is, is is a very powerful leadership trait. And I think it comes hand in hand that in order to be a powerful leader, you absolutely must have that sense of introspection around how you're showing up and continuously. So you don't just establish a role of I'm a good leader, and that's it, your your development is done. It's a continuous cycle of always checking in with yourself, how can I show up better, how can I better serve the people that I'm leading. And that, for me, only comes from that self awareness?

NT  8:41  
A number of people I've spoken to have said, leaders, powerful leaders, as you said, great leaders versus people who have leadership because it's a title because it's a role that they've been given. And that actually, the great leaders are the ones that have that self awareness, and that emotional intelligence and that ability to establish relationships. However, there are some leaders who are just very good at getting the money in or achieving the KPIs. And they still succeed with a little less as leaders, however, they are not referred to as the great leaders and the powerful leaders.

SB  9:18  
So my response to that is what people really want from work. I mean, there's many things but if I just pick out two is results, and relationships, so they want to feel like they're contributing towards something, there's nothing worse than going to work and not knowing what your work counts for. Like, why are you doing the thing. So being able to see a tangible result come in, that you've participated in, in whatever way big or small that's been that you've contributed to that result is critically important. And the second thing is relationships, that you have friendships at work, you have connections, you're, you're able to collaborate with people You can confide in people. And that relationship piece links back into that psychological safety there. If you're my leader Nia, and I have got that freedom and that space to call you out on stuff and say, You know that thing that you did, actually, this is how it landed with me, that's critically important at work. And so when we think about the kind of leader you just described, about the profits, the numbers, the pushing things, that's only one side of the story, because that's the results piece. But if you if you don't have self awareness as a leader, and you just stick to being the analytical technical pushing the numbers concentrating on the bottom line, there's a whole element which is missing, which, if you think about you wouldn't get in the results. Imagine how many more results you would get how much more exponentially you could grow your business, you could expand your customer base, your service could change your, your recruitment rates, your retention rates, your staff happiness, then imagine how much that would change if you have the relationships piece as well. So it's, it's not an either or it's an absolute necessity that both of those go hand in hand.

Unknown Speaker  11:15  
Do you think effective leaders can be found

NT  11:17  
at all levels of organisations?

SB  11:20  
Absolutely. So you know, when you repeat it back to me that I said, powerful leaders, I thought, You know what, maybe I've made that a bit hierarchical, because my first thought is actually a great leader can be found anywhere, anywhere, in any circumstance in any space. And of course, we're talking about this from a very occupational perspective of leadership, but they are leaders in our everyday lives. You know, our family members, may my daughter, she's 10 years old, and already, she's a leader. She shows so much empathy, to have friends. She's the gatherer she collaborates, she brings everyone she helps people expand on their ideas. And, you know, even in a very, very early schooling, her teachers actually said to us, you've got you've got a leader in the rising here. So if we can see that in children, we can absolutely see that in anybody at any level leadership. Leadership, for me, is not a hierarchical thing. It's not about having the, you know, the corner office with the glass window that looks over the VISTA. It's not about the grade that you have, or the amount of money or the private health care and you know, the company car leadership is, are you able to inspire people? Are you able to help motivate people? Can you help someone move from that sticky spot? You know, that that for me is leadership and that happens in all organisations at all levels. It's just we don't sometimes don't choose to reward and recognise that, especially organisations that are very grade oriented and hierarchical. But yeah, leadership can be found anywhere.

Unknown Speaker  13:04  
Do you think leaders at the most strategic

NT  13:05  
level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organisations?

SB  13:12  
Oh, my gut reaction to that question is no. Okay. I guess I'm basing that on my own personal experience of being in a senior leadership role myself as a as an ex HR and workplace culture director. So I've been in the C suite been part of those discussions. And I also work with the C suite in terms of shifting workplace culture. So I really hope none of my clients are listening to this, my response to this, but I think, by and large, the higher up the organisation you get, the more this personal piece is kind of squeezed out of you, it becomes more about the results, you know, that you and I were just talking about. Okay. It becomes more about the let's talk about the statistics, how are we performing what the shareholders need from us where wherever we are, you know, your private sector or your public sector? What do our residents want from us? You know, it becomes more about the numbers game, more about the financial profits game, all of that. I think this is more seen you get the bigger that piece of work becomes, and the amount of times new I can't I can't even tell you the amount of times I've gone in to those conversations. And I've Yeah, this is wonderful, but how are your staff feeling about this? And when we talk about feelings, we talk about staff happiness, we talk about engagement. It seems like the pink fluffy, nice to have, and not the absolute essential. And so just based on my own interpretation of that, and I don't mean to alienate anybody who's listening to this that is in that space. I think kudos to them. They've managed to retain some With that, because it's very easy to have it squeezed out of you, the higher up you go. But I think it's the, it's the lack of those conversations, one potential client of mine has just said to me that in their in their 50 years of the organisation, this is the first time their board has acknowledged the conversation around employee engagement. And I don't think they're unique. I think that's quite, you know, unless you've got a really strong HR presence on your board. And your culture is very, very open to people discussions, and you are prioritising equals happiness over customer happiness, which again, bit controversial here, but you prioritise your people first, and then by default, your customers will then be happy. And a lot of the cultural shift here is the other way round, that you serve the customer, you serve the stakeholder first and foremost. And with that attitude coming from the top, culturally, that is where I then feel that self awareness gets stripped away. Because if you are focusing on the numbers and the bottom line, why do you need to be self aware?

NT  16:11  
Isn't that an interesting thoughts, and I have some colleagues and people that I link with who are in retail, and that is exactly what they they talk about. And when they reflect on their experience in the world of work, it's very much about the customer is always right. There's no right to reply from members of staff, there's no, there is no access route to the senior members in the organisation to provide any feedback. But as you say, maybe doesn't matter. Because if the money is rolling in, and the KPIs are being achieved, do we care? Yeah,

SB  16:48  
but I believe they don't. And I think what they're doing there is, interestingly enough, retail is one of the biggest areas of highest turnover. So if you think about it from that perspective, if all they're focusing on is the bottom line, the profit and the customer is always right. They're alienating the voice of their employees, which means their turnover is going to be higher. And I often have a little chuckle, I shouldn't have to It's not funny, but in my head, you know, when I see lots of data around, you know, retails in crisis, you know, people that there's nobody working in stores, that they can't keep their staff, etc, etc. I'm like, Yeah, because your workplace culture sucks. That's why, but if you keep doing the same thing you've always done, you're always gonna get the same thing you've always got, you're gonna have that high churn. And similarly, customer contact centres have an incredibly high turnover, for the very same reason. Because it's all about metrics. It's not about feelings. It's not about emotions. It's not about leaders, being very aware of the psychological game they are playing when they're dealing with people. And I think if we, as leaders all have that more switched on psychological awareness of ourselves and others, then I don't think they would be in this position. You know, retail wouldn't be the way it is, Customer Care wouldn't be the way he is. So very long winded answer to your question. But I do believe that to be the case,

NT  18:16  
when we were in lockdown. And during during the pandemic, the policies, procedures, and focus around staff well being really did rise to the fore. And what I'm hearing in my discussions with people is that there's been a real rewind on that people have really gone backwards in the focus. Yeah, is that what you're seeing?

SB  18:41  
I'm seeing lots of tokenism. I'm seeing lots of false gestures. And this, this is coming from a place near of knowing that, you know, one quarter of the work I do 25% of my of my focus in my business is around health. And so I often get asked by my clients to come and help them shape their workplace culture to be a more healthy based culture. And the way they do that, and they come to listen to us, if you can, you can do this for us if they want me to run workshops, on how to be more resilient, how to handle stress, how to how to avoid burnout. And my argument with this is why are we having the workshops to mop up the mess you've created? Why not not burn your staff out in the first place? Why not not have stress, then I haven't got to run these workshops on how to deal with stress how to be more resilient. So it's a bit like prevention is greater than the cure. And what we're doing right now is we're throwing out cures all over the place. But we've still got this epidemic of mental health in the workplace. People are burning out, they are stressed. Even today I've had two conversations with two very senior people. are both in different organisations who've just come back off of long term sick leave, because they are absolutely burnt out. And and what we're our solution to that is, well, let's just send them on a course, so that they can learn to handle these situations better. Let's give them some counselling. No, there's something fundamentally wrong in your organisation around the leadership around organisational design, around job design around job structure. That's the problem. So that's what I'm seeing is we're throwing out these gestures and these tokens of were really health based organisation because we run these workshops we have Sophie come in, and she teaches our so corporate yoga, we've got the smoothie bikes where you can pedal on the bike, and it makes a smoothie for you. We've sent out care packages, but that doesn't remove the fat your people are working 60 hour weeks, but they're burning out. They've got no outlet for raising any of these issues. And that's that's the primary issue I think we have here.

Unknown Speaker  21:05  
Do you think effective leaders

NT  21:06  
have more self awareness than ineffective leaders?

SB  21:11  
Yes, absolutely. Ineffective leaders are ineffective, because they don't have that self awareness. Because actually, there's many, many leaders who become leaders, because they are good at the subject topic, the technical area, but they are not good at the people piece, you see time. And this even happened to my husband, when he was working in manufacturing, incredibly skilled at working the machines really understood the mechanics of the machines. He was his manufacturing plant was making plastics, so he understood the chemical compounds, the plastic, so really, really skilled in that space. And their way of recognising him, was to give him a team leadership responsibility. And then it went from team leadership responsibility to being a supervisor. And at that point, he was like, I hate this because I'm now responsible for dealing with shifts and rotors and people sick leave, and this person is not performing and this person that I just want to do my job, I don't I don't want all this people stuff. And I think the problem we have is we create ineffective leaders, because somebody has a talent, but it's not in the people space, is the talent lies within that subject knowledge, that area of expertise. And I think the way we go around that is we actually devise two different types of roles. We have technical expert roles, and we have people expert roles. And we should never ever, I don't know where this came from years and years and years ago, we should never have merged the two together, because they require two completely different sets of skills. It's like asking an analyst to go and have a bereavement conversation. Remember, star, like someone who is analytical needs to stay good and play to their strengths at being analytical. And I'm not saying analyst can't do that. So if you're an analyst listening to this, I'm, I'm not saying you can't do that. But if that is your area of strength and your expertise, what we should be doing is building on that making that bigger and stronger, rather than going, Oh, I have this really complex piece now of now dealing with the human brain, the human psyche and human performance, don't deal with that as well. And it doesn't work like that. So I know I've got around the houses here near with your question. But to go back to self awareness in effective leaders and effective leaders, an effective leader is someone who sits in that people space really easily really naturally, and equally has the self awareness to know when they don't sit in that space naturally. And it isn't them and it is a bit like a square peg in a round hole. And they are able to notice that and do something with that either upskill themselves or go to it hands up. This isn't for me, like my husband. So actually, in a way he wasn't effective leader because he had that self awareness to go, This isn't working. I need to hand that baton on to someone else who's better skilled than what I am in this space. And eventually, eventually he resigned from the role because he knew that he wasn't best place for that. But that came from a place of self awareness. So yes, you asked your question the best leaders do absolutely have more. So

NT  24:33  
it's very interesting, that idea of two different types of knowledge. So as part of my research, I looked at first order knowledge, which is what that technical that when you you talked about your husband being very technically minded and technically capable. And then the second order knowledge which we tend to call relational skills or soft skills or those people's skills. And absolutely there is that constant tension of when if you're good at one, you must be good at the other If you're good at people, you must be technical or technical. And it just doesn't work that way. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

SB  25:07  
I've actually just to pick up on this because I think this this is language we use all the time, around, you know, the soft skills, the people skills. And I think, Where did where did managing people and leading people to become soft? So they'll say to you, but you know, you know, when I was talking about, you know, having leadership conversations and see leadership, and if that's the pink and fluffy stuff, but from my perspective of having led really big teams over the past 20 years in my career, and now leading my own team in my business and helping other organisations with their team leadership, dealing with the people bit is the most complex, hardest part of the business. Because it's so unpredictable. You are you are not just dealing with one personality, depending on how big your organisation is, you're dealing with 50 personalities, 500 personalities, 1000 personalities, and their backstory, and what's made them who they are, what triggers them, what they love, what they don't love, what motivates them, what doesn't, all of the trauma they all have that is a one big melting pot. And that's supposed to be soft.

NT  26:22  
It's no I agree so,

SB  26:24  
so incredibly hard, which is why I feel like the to the separation of the two roles has to happen, because it takes a very, very skilled practitioner to step into the space of being an effective leader when it comes to people. It's it's not something you should get because it's time time honoured or it's next grade up on the rung within the hierarchy. This is something that has to be earns and evidenced through self awareness.

NT  26:53  
And on that note, brilliant note to end on. Sophie, thank you so much for joining me, it's been such a great conversation. And I've learned so much and my brain is now absolutely sparking and I think I need to go away and reflect on it being a reflector as I am and come back and think more about it. Sophie, Brian, thank you so much. We will make sure that links to your TEDx talk, your podcast and your website are all in the show notes so that listeners can find out more about you. Thank you so much once again.

SB  27:27  
You're very welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

NT  27:35  
Thank you for joining me your host Nia Thomas of the knowing self knowing others podcast. If you'd like to know more about self awareness, leader effectiveness and leadership at all levels, please take a look at my website. Knowing self knowing others doc code at UK. You can also join me on YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter. Make sure you bookmark the knowing self knowing others podcast and tune into the next episode in two weeks time. I look forward to having you on my learning journey.

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