The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

31 Embracing the Power of Quiet Leadership with Megumi Miki

September 18, 2023 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 31
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
31 Embracing the Power of Quiet Leadership with Megumi Miki
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Are you ready to uncover your hidden leadership potential? Join us as we explore the world of quietly powerful leaders with Megumi Miki, a speaker, consultant, and author on leadership and culture. Megumi introduces us to the concept of quietly powerful leadership, which transcends introversion and includes various leadership styles, cultural backgrounds, and social anxieties. Discover the importance of self-awareness for successful leaders, and how it's essential for influencing others.

Dive into the power of quiet leadership and learn how these understated yet impactful leaders listen well, hold multiple perspectives, and empower others to thrive. We discuss techniques for introverts to make their voices heard in noisy meetings and delve into the significance of self-reflection in cultivating self-awareness. Don't miss this opportunity to expand your understanding of quiet leadership and its relevance in today's ever-changing world. Tune in now and unlock the quietly powerful leader within you.

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Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Knowing Self-Knowing Others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that talks about self-aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. If you want to be a better leader and a better work colleague, then join me, your host, nia Thomas, as we talk to today's Knowing Self-Knowing Others guest Listeners. I'm absolutely delighted to be joined by Megumi Mickey today, and I'm delighted because Megumi is in Australia and any of you that know anything about the world clock will know how difficult it is to get interviews with colleagues in Australia, so it's currently 7.30 in the morning with Megumi and 8.30pm in the evening with me in the UK. Megumi, it's lovely to have you here. Thank you so much for joining me.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much, Nia, for having me.

Speaker 1:

Megumi is a speaker, consultant focusing on leadership and culture, and author of the quietly powerful book Megumi. please do introduce yourself to the listeners and tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Speaker 2:

So I am a leadership consultant and I have been doing so for about 20 years or so maybe a little bit more like I'm feeling the age now But I started off as an economist, so it was a different sort of background, worked in strategy consulting And I had an epiphany when I went along to a cultural change program that I really loved learning about self and others and people and what makes humans tick, and so that's how I ended up in this field and loving it ever since, and I've been doing my own business for just over 11 years and I've been working on this quietly powerful idea for just over six years.

Speaker 2:

What I have discovered is just doing the work of leadership and organizational culture, we just need more diversity in leadership styles, not just, you know, diversity in other sort of aspects. In fact, if you diversify the leadership styles, actually you get different types of leaders in any case, whether it's gender And I just did an international women's day talk yesterday about that, and so we were discussing all those. So, yeah, well, only thing is I'm Japanese by background, but I am Australian, as you can probably tell from the accent.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much. When I started reading the book, i assumed that quietly powerful meant introverted, and it wasn't until that, i think. I got to chapter two and I suddenly realized that actually, when you're talking about quietly powerful, it's far broader than introversion. Thank you for pointing that out And you in the book you talk about some extroverts who actually need quiet time and quiet reflection.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for pointing that out, because a lot of people assume that I'm talking about introversion And I think there's a big danger in assuming that somebody who's quiet is an introvert, because it's not necessarily the case. As I mentioned, extroverts who might have come from a cultural background, for instance, that has has a has a norm around respecting elders or people in authority, they might go quiet, for instance, because there's somebody senior in a room, and I know that that's that happens. I've seen it happen to my extrovert colleagues, i've seen it happen to some of the program participants, coaching clients, and so that can happen. Or it could be just that anxiety Some people get really anxious whether you're an extrovert or an introvert, that whenever they need to speak they they worry about what other people might think, and so on. So there's a whole range of reasons And I think this is also about a feeling like a person on the margin.

Speaker 2:

So if you are the only woman, and maybe the only woman of color or maybe of a different gender, gender identity, whatever you know, if you're the only, whatever it is, then you feel a little hesitant to speak up. So I think that also plays a part. So, when it comes to diversity. I think if we tapped into why are some people hesitant or quieter, then then we might be able to unlock something. So that's why I wanted to expand it beyond introversion.

Speaker 1:

How do you define and what does self awareness mean to you?

Speaker 2:

So I think of self awareness in three different ways actually. One is about awareness of self, understanding of self, So you know, understanding personality, but also things like what triggers you and what kind of things excite you. You know all those things, motives and various things. So I think it's not just about personality, there's quite a range. What's your cultural conditioning? How does your, your history and genetics, and as well as ancestry, affect you? You know there's a lot of talk now also about trauma, or kind of trauma in a large scale and a small scale. How does that impact you? You know there's a whole range. So that's about self. The other one is about your impact on others, So you can be aware of yourself but not care or not notice what impact you might have on others, And that's not necessarily helpful. And I think in the latter questions about leadership that becomes even more important. And then the third one is sometimes I find you can be really aware or understanding of yourself, but not in the moment.

Speaker 2:

I've come across people and I know I can do this too that I think I'm pretty self aware, but in the moment when you get upset or when you're triggered, or when you're, something happens and you just react in a way that you didn't want to, you lose that awareness in that moment. So this I have come across one person who says she's very high on self awareness and then she goes up and lashes on everybody when she gets upset. So you know, you just go. There's a lack of self awareness there.

Speaker 1:

Ah, now that's really interesting. so something about situational self awareness and reflective self awareness aren't necessarily the same thing, not always yeah, because you can understand yourself really well, but in the moment you just lose it.

Speaker 2:

And it's just that, that ability to be fully present in the moment and by moment by moment, you're noticing or in observation of your actions and thoughts and reactions and emotions. What are your?

Speaker 1:

thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness.

Speaker 2:

I think that's where the impact on other is such an important aspect of leadership, because, particularly if you're talking about people in leadership positions which I think again is a different thing to being a leader of some kind When you're in a position of leadership you do have an outsized impact On people, simply because of the positional power that you hold, and so if you're not aware of the impact you may have from your behaviors, from your reactions, but also from simply being in that position, then you can do a great deal of damage.

Speaker 1:

I have not heard anybody use that phrase, but an outsized Power differential and you're right that as you go up the management hierarchy, there's that exponential level of power that you have and if you don't have awareness of that, absolutely you can be very damaging.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and, and it can be really positive if you're aware of that impact and use our well. so you can see some leaders use power really well in that way because they know that they have an outsized impact Well, as some leaders either unaware or they don't care and therefore they can cause a lot of damage.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely that. Aware, don't care which I've seen picked up from Tasha. You're a guy. I love that phrase and I use it regularly. I think it's brilliant. Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels and why and I think you've alluded to this in terms of leadership versus leaders in roles?

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, absolutely, and I'm sure you can guess my answer on that absolutely can find leadership at all different levels and all different places in and forms, because and also you see people in leadership positions who are not leaders, leaders as in their imposition, but they don't behave with, with as a leader or with great leadership. So I guess I think people who demonstrate leadership without positional title, so leading without formal authority, even greater leaders because in a way, they don't have that given power or externally given power, positional power, and they can still influence people, people follow them and so on. So that's quite an amazing thing, because that people don't have to follow them, but they do because they want to, and to me that's really leadership.

Speaker 1:

So, in terms of being quietly powerful for listeners who haven't read your book yet, what does a quietly powerful leader look like? What is their ammo? if we want to observe someone who we think might have some potential, what might we be observing?

Speaker 2:

I would say, they're probably the more understated, quite humble. they're not one to attract attention. You know you might not necessarily see them as leader-like, but when you give them the opportunity, they absolutely are amazing leaders. So these are leaders who listen incredibly well, they're present and they're also very comfortable in their own skin. so they're happy to say that they don't know something and they invite input And, as a result, they really empower others and they let others shine because they don't need the attention. You can also see them in action in meeting rooms, where they may not say a lot, but when they do they make a huge impact. I'm sure you can think of people like that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, when I spoke to John Renny he was saying something similar that actually you have to leave space in a conversation for the quieter voices to come through, because sometimes when they speak they have a negative goal to share.

Speaker 2:

Yes, absolutely So. these leaders use that quieter nature as their leadership strength, so they might be in a meeting room listening to everybody synthesizing, thinking about all the different ideas. they can hold multiple perspectives, which often doesn't happen because we live in a world of either or and black and white. These leaders can hold multiple perspectives and have that more nuanced view of things, rather than just, and I think in this world of complexity, these are the sorts of skills and natural tendencies that can really shine.

Speaker 1:

How do we create greater space for individuals who are quietly powerful within our organizations? What can we do as listeners if we want to help our organizations become more aware of the quietly powerful? How do we start that conversation? How do we start those policy changes, strategy changes?

Speaker 2:

It's probably. the first thing is just being a little bit more observant and noticing who are the ones that are taking the floor overly and who are the ones that are not saying a lot and listening into them, asking them questions, inviting them in. Sometimes that can have an unhelpful impact because people may not like the being put on the spot, but that's just working with them. So that's just simply being more observant is one. The second thing is not making assumptions. So what can happen with people who are quieter?

Speaker 2:

People make all sorts of assumptions about why they're quieter and also assumptions about their capability. So if you were to hear about, let's say, megumi is oh, she's a bit quiet, what sort of words come to mind? And I ask this question quite a lot in presentations and people say, oh, not confident, or maybe she's unsure of herself, or maybe not confident enough to think of what to say, or there's all these assumptions And it's not till later that people go. maybe she's a bit more thoughtful, maybe she's a bit more reflective and maybe she's very polite and doesn't want to interrupt or whatever. So that assumption, initial assumption, can be very wrong. Somebody can be quiet and very confident on the inside that they just don't show it in a way that we typically think a confident person shows up. So I think challenging those assumptions is important.

Speaker 1:

I'm just thinking. While I have you here as an expert, i'm going to ask you the question This is something that, as an introvert, i struggle with, and I'm an assistant director in a children's charity and I still struggle with. If I have something to say, how do you get the room to stop for that split second so that you can get that word in edge race, i think. As an introvert, i'm always thinking about I don't want to speak unless it's my turn or it's right for me to speak, but sometimes there's just no space and you either talk over somebody or it just gets messy and it doesn't work out right. What are your thoughts on how, as an introvert, you can help others? give you space?

Speaker 2:

There's lots of different techniques and answers to that one. So if it's a really important meeting, particularly and if you know it's going to be a noisy meeting to talk to the chair or facilitator or whoever's convening the meeting beforehand and say I struggled to get my word in these meetings and they'll probably notice that. So if I do have something to say, would you help me? I'll just put my hand up or just signal to you that I have something to say.

Speaker 1:

So that's quite a Yeah, i like that idea and I think by doing that, it also demonstrates your confidence in saying I don't have all of the answers to this, but I have a thought and I'd like your help, and all of a sudden you've built an ally and somebody who starts to recognise that there's diversity in the room.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, and so it might be the chair, or it might be somebody you really trust in the room that might be able to help as well, maybe somebody who does have quite a voice in the room. so it could be any of those things. The second one is sometimes if you can get in first, i suppose, whether it's raising your hand or you know some way getting some sort of attention sometimes slowing down causes people to listen more.

Speaker 1:

That's so true and I had a really good piece of advice from. She was a chief executive of a local authority for many, many years and I asked her, as a woman within a very male orientated sector, how did she do that? and she said low and slow, and that's something that I've always remembered, which absolutely reflects what you just said.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah and for sure. So I guess the first thing is to get in somehow, so that that's going back to the first answer. But also, if you, sometimes groups are observant enough to go, okay, nia's got her hand up or you know, she's been trying to say something for a while. So that's a self-aware group if you like, but if it's not, then you might need some help. The third one that I know works quite well is, once you get in, again to keep the attention of people, to prime people, to what you're about to say. So something along the lines of I've got two thoughts about that.

Speaker 2:

People can stand not hearing the second thing, if you've said that Oh, brilliant, i like that.

Speaker 1:

That's a good idea, and I think Zoom calls and team calls have definitely helped the quieter voices because you can put your little yellow hand up and you're just brought into the conversation. The chair works down the list, so I think they have definitely helped Absolutely. On page 57 of your book there's a phrase that I highlighted. There appears to be a pattern skills that are visible and action based are valued. Those that are quiet and internally based are undervalued, and I guess this fits with the quietly powerful conversation and the introversion conversation around the extraversion bias, the need for greater neurodiversity within organisations. In terms of the organisations that you're seeing, how are they starting to value these differences?

Speaker 2:

It's a mix, i think. When people are reminded, they go of course. So it's a bit like your comment about you know, make sure you create space for the quieter voices. People say of course, because they get reminded, but it's easy to forget, And especially when you're caught up in your own ideas and you want to say something and you know all of that, then we forget. Yeah, so I think that's what I meant by the things that are less visible, just gets forgotten and so less valued. You know things like listening, you know the impact of listening and you know the impact of poor listening, but how often do we think about it? And particularly when we think about leadership and when thinking about appointing leaders, speaking is so much more valued than the listening.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you're right. Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self-awareness than leaders at other levels of organisations? And really, what's your experience to inform your view?

Speaker 2:

Hmm, so when you say strategic levels, i'm assuming more senior positional levels.

Speaker 1:

And I guess I use the term strategic very specifically because I don't want to necessarily connect them to a leadership role because, as you said earlier, they may be leaders or they may not. Just because you've got the strategic position doesn't mean that you're able to bring followers along with you.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, okay, okay. So that answer depends on which one we're talking about, i think. If we're talking about senior leadership levels, as in positional title, leaders, i actually think it's very mixed. So some leaders and I would include some of the quietly powerful leaders in here they can be highly self-aware because they're much more observant and they notice how other people respond to them And so they are conscious of the impact that they have on others. So that aspect of self-awareness has to be high as a leader. The challenge with being in a senior leadership position and this is what I was talking about earlier about the power impact is that people tend not to give you honest feedback, so it actually is harder to be really self-aware when you're in a position of power.

Speaker 2:

That's certainly what I've noticed, because some leaders would be quite courageous and say you know, i need some feedback, i want your honest feedback, and you know people hesitate And so do you get the full picture? It's pretty rare, and even with the quietly powerful leaders who are very open to feedback and very trusting of their people and so they have that really great relationship. Even then there can be little bits that's missing because, almost out of respect, people may not give complete, honest feedback. So I think it's a lot harder, but I know that some leaders can be really, really good at it, while as a strategic leaders, i suppose that's a different story Leaders who can lead without positional titles. They must be higher on self-awareness, because how can they influence people without that positional title where people don't have to follow them but they still do? there must be something that they know really well about themselves and their impact in order to do that.

Speaker 1:

What do you think is an effective way to develop self-awareness?

Speaker 2:

I think, pause and observe definitely, and this is the in the moment self-awareness that we were talking about, where, if you're in conversation, if you can observe and sense and notice how the conversation is happening and how other people are responding to you, that helps with really noticing what impact you may be having or not having that you want. And so that's one thing. Seeking feedback, or building the trust enough to get that feedback, honest feedback, is really helpful, and it takes a lot of courage, though, to do that, of course, because some people may be really scared of getting that. I get anxious about feedback too, but I know that if I don't ask it then how am I supposed to improve or improve self-awareness So definitely that.

Speaker 1:

If you're in an organisation and this is something I've been thinking about over the last couple of months where you have organisations with high psychological safety, do you think the feedback is still filtered, even to a very small extent? Reflecting on what you said earlier, do you think that the feedback is 110% open and honest, or is there some reticence there to be completely honest, Because does that fear still exist? Does that maybe, as you said, is there some respect that you don't go all the way in terms of your giving feedback?

Speaker 2:

So I think when power differential is involved, it's really difficult. Having said that, i think there are some incredible leaders not many of them, but there are some incredible leaders who create an environment where it's okay And you read books like Radical Candour and things like that but I think it's really hard to get there.

Speaker 1:

In your book there is a section that talks about self-reflection And I guess this question in terms of how do you develop self-awareness? I was really interested in this section And I like the self-reflection is hard work is how the paragraph starts. So listen, if you want to find the one that I'm talking about. There are two paragraphs at the bottom of page 50. So this is the last paragraph. Self-reflection is hard work. It requires you to challenge your own thinking and assumptions And sometimes these are deeply held beliefs about what has made you successful so far, and I think that real unpicking of who you are, going back to your values, as you said at the very beginning, that we lay a definition that you have of self-awareness, that what do I think, what do I feel that that is so important in terms of developing your self-awareness and being self-reflective to be able to do that.

Speaker 2:

I would agree with you. it's hard work. One, because you do need to create space for it. You can't just be doing things. it's not something you do as a on the side, and it may help to have somebody work through with you, because it's very hard to see blind spots. because they're blind spots, sometimes you need somebody to put up a mirror, and sometimes it's really hard to see the mirror too, because it's scary.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it is scary, i would agree definitely.

Speaker 2:

Sometimes it's also helpful to work with somebody who's very different to you. That gives you an insight into oh wow, i am different to somebody else And therefore gets you outside of your usual way of thinking, and so that gives it's a little bit like when you go overseas you learn more about your own country. Have you noticed that when you've been to Japan?

Speaker 1:

Yes, that's true. Yes, because you're in a position of describing it to others and you certainly have to reflect on what is it that makes your? country different.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, and the difference actually highlights what you are and a bit more awareness about that.

Speaker 1:

Megumi, thank you so much for joining me. Arigatou gozaimashita. No, i'm glad you're a person. It's been great having a conversation with you and, all the way from Australia, it's been brilliant. Thank you so much.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much, Mia.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for joining me. Your host, mia Thomas, at the Knowing Self-Knowing Others podcast. After every podcast, i'm going to be doing a top takeaways review of the things that I've learned from my discussions with guests, which you can find on my website, knowingselfknowingotherscouk, linkedin, tiktok and the other main social media sites. Rates, reviews and recommendations from you are the best way to get the word out about the Knowing Self-Knowing Others podcast. Open your favorite podcast app, find the Knowing Self-Knowing Others podcast, take a listen to some episodes, give it some stars and write a little review. A little word from you means a big deal to me. Make sure you bookmark the Knowing Self-Knowing Others podcast on your favorite podcast player and tune in to the next episode in two weeks time. The Knowing Self-Knowing Others podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, spotify, google Podcasts, stitcher, good Pods, podchaser, amazon Music Podcast Index, podcast Addict, pocketcasts, deezer, pilsen and So on.

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