Sally talks Self-Leadership with Sally Graham

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Sally Graham

National Manager, Professional Development at Governance Institute of Australia

I am an experienced educator and facilitator skilled in driving organisational impact and aligning educational programs with professional development needs. I am proud to work at Governance Institute of Australia, a national membership association, advocating for a community of 40,000 governance and risk management professionals from the listed, unlisted and not-for profit sectors. We are the only Australian provider of chartered governance accreditation, and offer a range of short courses, certificates and postgraduate study. Our mission is to drive better governance in all organisations, which will in turn create a stronger, better society.

 

#leadership #courage #confidence #influence #selfleadership #association #governance #learninganddevelopment #L&D #boardeducation #boards #australia

I wish I had more self-belief, but then it is something you develop with time and experience.

 

What I wish I knew about self-leadership before I stepped into my first leadership role.

Sally referred to the book by Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.

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Interview Transcript

Sally Foley-Lewis

Hi, Sally Foley Lewis here with another episode of the spark leadership video series. I’m absolutely delighted to be with Sally Graham, who is the national manager professional development for the governance Institute of Australia. So welcome to the series, Sally.

 

Sally Graham

Thank you, Sally. I’m very pleased to be here with you.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. Great name had to sign it. I think I say that every time I speak with you, because I’m, uh, we’re rare breed

 

Sally Graham

Sally to Sally, isn’t it? Yes.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, definitely. So, um, well, before we jump into these questions about, self-leadership just, uh, just a quick note, what’s the Governance Institute of Australia?

 

Sally Graham

Well, we are a membership organisation or association, and we represent about, um, the community of governance professionals across Australia and internationally. Um, so company, secretaries, governance, professionals, risk professionals, um, and we offer education advocacy, um, policy advocacy, um, all types of, uh, professional development, which is what I’m in charge of there. And, um, you know, events, networking, lots of training education, all of that. So, um, we’re a wonderful organisation and we represent something that’s extremely important to many organisations. In fact, all organisations, whether they be, uh, ASX 200, whether they be not-for-profits small to medium organizations, governance and effective governance is extremely important. Um, and I think we see a lot of governance failures. You look at the media, that’s why you don’t want to be. So being part of our organisation keeps you understanding what best practice looks like and also participating in activities that improve both individual and organisational governance practice.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

And when you said that, when you said it’s about all those risks, we know about the governance that’s gone wrong, it’s almost like staying off the front page of the paper or staying off the, off the field,

 

Sally Graham

Being there for the right reasons.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Yeah. Thank you. Um, uh, and I, I love what you do and I admire your work. So thank you. And I really appreciate you spending a little bit of time with us to talk about, you know, your perspective as a senior leader on senior, on self-leadership. So now let’s go back to basics over to you. What’s self-leadership in your definition.

 

Sally Graham

So I, um, I’m an educator, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time in teaching and learning. And to me self-leadership is really about thinking about your own thinking. So it’s a metacognitive process. Um, so you need to be aware of how you understand things of your own thought processes and how you take that and manifest that into actions and implementation. So it’s really, um, quite a reflective process. So teachers are quite good at reflective thinking and self-reflection because we have to take what we’ve done and think about how it worked, analyse it, wasn’t effective. What do I need to do differently next time to make it effective or more effective? And I think that’s something that you need to bring to your understanding of self-leadership. You need to be continuously thinking about how, what you’re doing is having an impact. If it’s not having an impact, you need to change what you’re doing.

Sally Graham

If it is having an impact, is it the right impact? Is it heading to the strategic outcome you you want to achieve? Um, it really does enable you to be a continuous learner. When you have reflective practice, you need all those things. We do, we read professional reading, we observe what’s going on and how people who do things really well do them. So we learned from that, we questioned people on boards, for example, need to understand how to ask the right questions and the best questions we listen. And then we reflect on all of that. And that then turns into how we actually practice ourselves. That’s a really a continuous learning objective that is that you need to, can keep learning, um, keep thinking, am I doing this the way I should be doing it to get the best outcome? Um, if we were all doing the same thing, we were doing five or 10 years ago still, uh, we wouldn’t be having much progress.

Sally Graham

So to me that self-leadership is really about that. It’s also about motivation though. Um, you need to understand why you’re there, what you’re there to achieve and how are, how are you motivated yourself? And to me, that’s a lot about my internal voice. You know, what, what gets me up in the morning, what I want to achieve in the next 24 hours or the next week, the next six months, the next year. Um, but it’s also about your external voice, what you’re presenting to others, especially when you’re a manager or the leader of a team, how are you communicating? What’s motivating you to your team so that your team and yourself and the organisation are all on that same journey, because if we’re not, we’re not really an organisation, are we, we’re just a whole bunch of individuals with our own ideas.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Mm yes. And what starts from within like your motivators and your self-talk and which are driven by your values and beliefs that filters through to the, your actions and your behaviours, which are, you know, how you speak with others and how you’re going to lead your team or how you’re going to participate on a board or lead, or be the, the, the chair, the chair of the board. So, yeah. Yeah. Um, yeah, I, I, um, I’m loving that, that distinction as well around, um, it’s a meta cognitive process about thinking about how you think about yourself. Um, uh, I it’s taken me a long time to get my head around what the meta has actually meant and, um, okay. I’m good looking, but I’m a bit slow. Um, but, but it’s said that when you, how do I think about this thinking that I’m doing and how do I think about myself leadership in the way I am leading oneself and therefore how that shows up in the world? I think that’s incredibly important, um, piece for people to get in a big way. Yeah.

 

Sally Graham

Yeah. It certainly is. I think there’s not enough of it. And a lot of us do it without realising we’re doing it. But I think when you formalise the process of that self-analysis, that’s when you start to get real outcomes.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Definitely. Yeah. And sorry, go on.

 

Sally Graham

Well, it’s something we use. I was an English teacher and you teach this with, with students, you know, they write journals for example, which are a reflective process. And so it, it is something that forms part of the school curriculum. So it’s not an accidental process. It’s something people do learn.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Um, yeah, I’ve had some connections with early childhood education and I know that the, the ECE leaders are required and to do reflective practice. So I think there’s something in it really isn’t it for that, that process. So, yeah. So let’s, let’s keep going with that. What do you think the impact of self-leadership has on anyone sort of confidence, influence or courage, uh, particularly as a leader,

 

Sally Graham

Um, it’s enormous. Um, you really, you need to believe in yourself before others will believe in you. So if you have no self-belief or you have self-doubt, um, or you don’t really articulate or understand what journey you’re on, it’s a bit hard for you to be a leader. And I’m not saying that all leaders do that perfectly or that I’ve ever done it perfectly. Um, I think when you’re initially appointed as a leader, you have a lot of that self-doubt and, um, and it is, it’s a learning process itself, but, um, to be a senior leader, you do need to come to a position where you’re comfortable in your own belief self-belief and self-awareness and your ability to lead. So without that, um, you know, people will sense that you’re not comfortable and they themselves will then not be comfortable because they’re looking to you for their own journey in terms of their development and their developing their self-leadership. Um, I think it’s very true that people do leave jobs because of other leaders rather than because of the organisation. Um, I certainly have done that in the past. So it is an extremely important thing for organisations to develop their leaders. Um, people have potential, they might have great skills, they’re appointed to leadership roles, but that development is only just beginning. It’s not something that wow, you’re related now that sit on where I need to be. It’s really just the start of that journey.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. And that’s a fixed mindset right there, isn’t it? Yeah. Yeah. You don’t want that sort of thing.

 

Sally Graham

And, um, I think it comes back to that. You know, the, as I mentioned about self-leadership, it’s continuous improvement. You need to be on a journey of continuous improvement. The world is extremely dynamic and change is rapid. Um, particularly where I am in the education space. And you just can’t be static. You can’t be static in your attitude, your practices, you need to be adopting new technologies, for example, which you know, are changing as we speak. Um, you need to learn how to improve, um, students look to educational institutions for best practice for, um, tomorrow’s skills and abilities, not for yesterdays. So we need to make sure that, um, that type of thing is part of your leadership mantra as well, that you, you yourself continually improve. Um, I get a bit lethargic if things are static, I like, um, the pace of change to be reasonable.

Sally Graham

It doesn’t have to be too rapid benefits, really slow. I find that frustrating. There’s no win or there’s no, if there’s no or a sense of achievement, even in, you know, sound bites and little chunks of achievement, then I find that really doesn’t motivate me. So, um, we need to, we need to just keep that it’s a bit like a, you know, a cycle that cycle just keeps moving. So, um, I think, you know, if you can see the purpose, you can share the pathway with people, and then everyone’s on the same shared vision. I think that’s important. That’s where you need to be. That’s lacking then one or more of those components needs work. And that’s our job as leaders to figure that out. Um, but also make sure everybody has an input to that. And everybody understands why, um, a bit like adult learners, you know, they can’t see the relevance. They can’t see what, where it’s taking them, then they’re not going to be motivated to continue for sure. Yeah.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. Life’s too short until you, unless I know why life’s too short. Yeah. Kind of. Yeah.

 

Sally Graham

And they’re busy, busy people, professional people, you know, I’m devoting it three hours to this class I’m in, you know, there better be relevance.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yes, yes. Or the phrase is one of my dear old colleagues in this industry said “dance monkey”. So I can prove it to me that this is worth my time. And I thought that’s harsh, but, but, but at the essence of it, it was like, you know, make this good, make it worth my time and make me understand why I’m here. Um, yeah, totally. Yeah. And I liked the point that you also said about, um, that self-belief, that the, when you get into a leadership role, that you can actually handle things. And I, I think that, I agree and I want to build on that because I think there’s sort of two bits to that. There’s, um, we don’t know everything and we certainly can’t always predict the future unless we’re making the future. Um, you know, unless we are the inventor of the new thing, that’s coming down the pike, but, uh, we also don’t know how the market might react to it. But as a leader, it’s that confidence to know that I’ve got everything on board and around me to handle what comes, even though I don’t know what’s coming. Um, and I think that slight distinction might provide that a little bit of confidence and even a bit of courage, um, to be, uh, to be an even more effective leader. Um, and belief in yourself that, that you’ve got the skills, even the, the experience that’s coming at you as new.

 

Sally Graham

Yeah. And another really important component of that is myself. As a leader, I have a leader as well. Um, so there leaders above me and those leaders instil in me the confidence to make those decisions and also support those decisions in terms of budget, in terms of, um, resourcing. That’s extremely important because if you have great ideas, but you can’t do anything about them. Um, and no one really believes that what you’re saying is worth pursuing, and there’s a gap there in terms of influence or in terms of that shared vision. I talked about that’s really important. You know, my leaders are very supportive and that enables me as a leader as well, and therefore enables my team. So that’s extraordinarily important.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yes, definitely. You can see where it would stifle and strangle and bottleneck otherwise. So yeah, I think your point there is absolutely needs to be taken into account. Yeah. Yeah.

 

Sally Graham

Well, part of my job is to make sure that I can articulate, um, what I need or what I want to achieve, um, appropriately, so that the leaders above me do understand why, how it fits into the strategy, uh, why it’s important for our membership, for example, or our events, and, um, really to influence and sell that. So that’s, that’s part of my job as well.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Thank you. So, um, you know, maybe I want to hear from sort of when it hasn’t gone so well, that doesn’t necessarily mean, um, you know, if there is a scenario or a situation or maybe it’s even been, COVID where we know we get knocked sideways a little bit and we’ve, we need to reignite that, that spark within us and really reignite our self-leadership. I’m wondering, is there something, um, or, you know, there’s a story or an experience and it doesn’t have to be your own, but just something that you could share where you could see the self-leadership need to be re-ignited: how’d you do that? Or how, how did it happen and say maybe one or two lessons from that?

 

Sally Graham

Um, I guess for me, um, I was working in the finance industry for quite some time before I entered education. And I was offered an opportunity to go on a certain career pathway within that industry and that involved some further study. Um, and I had to make a decision. Um, do I want to do that? Or if I’m going to study, do I want to study something of my own? So that was a bit of a crossroads for me. Um, I could sort of take up this opportunity and it was reasonably safe. Um, you know, it was something I was interested in, but it wasn’t particularly passionate about it. What I’d always really wanted to do was to intake education. So I’d found myself in training roles in the finance industry, but I wanted to understand education more. So that was my tipping point.

Sally Graham

I decided I would go to uni and complete an education degree. Um, my kids had gone to school, you know, it was a little bit more achievable. So that’s what I did. Um, I, I thought I’m going to study, but I’m going to study in the area I choose. Um, so I went with what my original career choice was, um, was to go into education and be a teacher. And so that, that was a pivotal point for me. Um, and I found that taught me an awful lot, and it helped me a lot about how people learn a lot about the barriers that exist. It also taught me about once you achieve a state of, um, I’m a big fan of Peter Senge, gaze discipline, big fan of his writing. And I found that you get to this state where you think, you know, something well enough, you’ve got that state of personal mastery.

Sally Graham

That’s what he calls it, but there’s a lot beyond that. And going into study education really taught me about how others learn. So how teams learn, how you really need to have people focusing in on the same thing about setting goals and moving towards that state where organizations actually know collectively what they want to achieve. So that was extremely valuable, um, process for me. And, and I continued that with further study in education. So to me that was the big change. Um, and that, I guess that’s where I got to a point in my, my career where I felt I didn’t have a career. I felt I had a job and I wanted a career rather than a job. It was a pretty good job, but it wasn’t in my view, something that was going to take me through my career stages. So I guess that was my, um, wake up call.

Sally Graham

Uh, and I’m really glad I had it cause I’m much more fulfilled where I am now than where I probably would have up. Um, so for me, that was it. Another really important thing I learned was that, um, that self-belief, again, I had, uh, someone I admire greatly who I worked with, um, got a position in a very male dominated area. And she was actually asked, um, in the interview, how are you going to cope in this male dominated sector? And her response was I have every right to be here. And so I learned a lot from that. I think you really do need to believe that you have every right to be there and you need to strive to make sure that you’re the right person there. So, um, those two things taught me an enormous amount about myself and about teams and about leadership.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. And, and that, it sounds like it’s that reconnecting to your values, which were education and then, um, allowing yourself to, to go down that path, um, and

 

Sally Graham

Enabling, yeah. Enabling yourself really. Yeah. And having a go, I mean, you don’t know when you set out on a four year study journey, how you’re going to like, and how successful you will or will, or won’t be, um, you’ve got to allow yourself to fail. You’ve got to allow yourself to be challenged. Um, and you know, you, I often get asked by students or is there an exam because they don’t, you know, people don’t like exams. I don’t like exams either, but exams challenge you and they force you to prepare for a particular goal. And that’s something really valuable. So, um, facing up to those sorts of fears and challenges is what makes you a better operator, a better leader, a better employee, you know? So that’s, that’s really important not to see, um, potential failure as something that’s a problem.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Mm. Yeah, definitely. It’s I know there’s a lot more talk about failure being, uh, a worthwhile part of the life process and, and, and it’s, and there’s a lot of, you know, the social media memes about failure is, um, you know, it’s only part of your journey when you all need to fail to learn, um, fail fast, fail, often, fail quietly, whatever, the, whatever, whatever you want to call it. I just wish we, I don’t know that we always take that all the way in though. Um, there’s still that thing isn’t there. Um, but you know, most of the time I’m on the other side of that failure is a whole lot of growth and a whole lot of opportunity that we’ve been gifted if we’re open to it too, to learn about ourselves and our process and, and whatever it is we’ve been.

 

Sally Graham

Yeah. And a lot of it is, um, framed in the language itself because no one wants to see fail on their academic transcript. No one wants to say fail, you know, sorry, you failed. I mean, if you think of yourself as not yet successful. Yes. Well, you’re actually still learning. You’re still on the journey and there’s still potential for success. So sometimes the language we use is extremely important in terms of how we frame people’s attitudes. Yeah.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Well, definitely thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. So when it comes to your own people, um, you said the people, uh, the, um, the Governance Institute, you know, how do you, how do you help others in the team or across the organisation, far up their self-leadership?

 

Sally Graham

Well, um, I like to think about it in terms of how I like to be led. Um, everyone’s different though. You need to figure out your people and it really comes down to, you know, a sales person needs to understand their, their client, you know, um, a presenter needs to understand their audience, an educator needs to understand their students it’s the same across many professions. So you need to understand your team members and you hired them for a reason. You know, they got through a selection process because they had particular skills or abilities qualifications. So, um, you need to then build on that. Um, I do feel a little bit, sorry for young people these days, I think sometimes employers want you to come with the full package. Um, and there you go, you’re ready to go. Um, there’s still a lot of development and training required once you get to a role, everyone.

Sally Graham

Um, so once you’ve hired those people, you have a duty of care to them to develop them. Um, most people like a bit of autonomy. They don’t want to be, they want you over their shoulder. They want to be able to display their strengths. Um, use their skills effectively, contribute, they want to be challenged. Um, and they have certain responsibilities. And my view when I start a new job is I’m responsible for this. So let me do it. I often use that and say, well, these are your responsibilities. I’m here to support you, but you need to achieve this. So let’s, let’s work together to see how you’re going to do. And at some point you step back, yes, people do that themselves. And I think the greatest compliment is when you develop people, um, to a point where they go on to bigger and better things, or they achieve a certain level of mastery so that they then become leaders themselves.

Sally Graham

So, yeah. Um, you know, um, people have apologised to me in the past for leaving, um, because they’ve got great promotions and I say, that’s a compliment, you know, and I feel hope that I’ve contributed in some way to you getting, getting there. Um, and I think that’s important as leaders that people are, they’re on a journey with you. You’re not there to keep them where they are. You’re there to ensure that they become leaders themselves. Now, whether that’s a titled role or whether it’s a leader within the organisation, in terms of their area of specialty, that’s what you’re there for. If you’re not doing that. Um, and people aren’t really excelling in their own roles with their own strengths in, under your leadership, perhaps you as a leader need to do some work, you know, and it comes back to that. Self-awareness, you know, am I motivating people? Am I supporting them sufficiently? Are they excelling? Um, you know, a school principal I once knew who was amazing. He said to the parents at parent teacher night, he said, if you can’t see anything positive about your child, there’s something wrong with you. So I was think, think that way in terms of leadership that, you know, if I’m not seeing those things, then, um, I’m not looking in the right places.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. That’s great. Yeah. And what you were talking about with allowing people to be developed and leave, um, and to continue on their journey. It’s that old? I don’t know. I don’t even know who first said it anymore because it gets attributed to so many people, but it’s that, that what if we, what if we train them in their leave? And so what if we don’t train them and they stay, you know, that old Chestnut, um, but it’s a, it’s a cliche for a reason. It’s, it’s nowadays, because it’s so true. And, um, you know, if every organisation through their leaders saw that as, as an obligation to some degree that, that we need to develop our people, but as people move around this world and around their organisations, then surely we’ll, we’ll, we’ll be, we’ll be reaping the benefit as people come in and as people move out. So, yeah.

 

Sally Graham

And I always lived that nobody is indispensable. Yeah. Some people are more difficult to reply, but, um, the new person will always bring something different, a new perspective, a new way of doing things, new ideas, and that’s always positive. So, um, yeah, that your job as leader is to create other leaders.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely. Thank you. So what’s the last question for you? What’s the one thing you wish you knew about self-leadership when you first stepped into a leadership role?

 

Sally Graham

Well, I, I guess it comes down to, I wish I had more self-belief um, but then it is something you develop with time and experience. So I do admire a lot of young people, um, these days and our organisation is fantastic. We have people who are in their twenties and people are much older than that. I won’t mention age 21. Yes. So, um, it’s fantastic that we have so many different demographics across staff, and we learn so much from each other. You know, I learned so much, for example, from the marketing manager who knows all the ins and outs of social media channels and things like that. Um, and you know, it’s not something that comes naturally to my demographic. I don’t think anyway, I shouldn’t say that cause lots of people, my age probably embrace it. Um, but I think that developing that self-belief, um, for me was quite a long journey, but I think younger people and I look at my own daughters and my son today, they have that self-belief much earlier, which is a great thing.

Sally Graham

Um, some of it might be my parenting. Some of it is their education systems. Some of it is the way things are communicated today. So, um, that would have been great. And I like to think we can I be now if I had that self-belief a lot earlier. Yeah. That’s important. But also, um, I wish I’d known that I should be telling myself that I should be there in that role. Um, because, and that’s, once again, self-belief, um, you really do need to understand that you need to tell yourself that before you can tell others. So, you know, when you’re being interviewed and you’re telling others that you really should be getting this job, if it’s not something you’ve, you’ve told yourself and really have a confidence about, it’s not going to be believed, comes down to what my friend said. She said, you know, I have every right to be here.

Sally Graham

Yeah. And if you don’t believe that yourself, then you’ve got to put some processes or some learning or something in place to get yourself to that state of belief or that you can then have the confidence to take on those additional roles or to even apply for them. Traditionally, statistically actually women will make sure they’ve tick off, you know, eight out of 10 boxes before they’ll apply for a role. Whereas it’s not quite the same statistically for men. That’s right. So I think answers might be different to this question between males and females. And for me it was different. And it took me a lot, a lot longer to develop that self-belief.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. And I think if you’re, you know, if you look at where your kids are now, you need to take all the credit. So

 

Sally Graham

Yeah. I might give some to my husband maybe. Um, yeah, sorry. I was, I think the education system takes a lot of credit because it’s very different from when I was a student.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Well, you were talking before about doing some reflective journals.

 

Sally Graham

I never had that.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Um, and that’s, you know, we’re at the we’re, we’re at the receiving end of the current days thinking of press of best practice and, and I’m okay with that. You know, they, I don’t believe that our education, particularly, particularly in Australia, well, I’d, I believe any way that any education system sets out to ruin someone, you know, I’m pretty sure that’s not their ethos, but, but again, you know, one of the things that I think now my, on the other side of the, sort of the primary and secondary side of things, you know, you look at what the, what what’s being offered now. And I think this is great. This is awesome. They’re knowing better they’re doing better, you know, and yes, I get a little bit jealous and yes, I get to have a little bit of FOMO, um, cause I’m not a kid anymore, but at the same time, thank goodness they haven’t stood still. And thank goodness that young people today, I’m not getting what I got, today, you know?

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Um, so I think, I think that’s, that comes back to that point. You said before, as well as, as a leader, how am I evolving? How am I continuously improving myself and, and not being in a fixed state. So, um, coming back to your original part or part of your original definition of self-leadership. So yeah. Thank you for that. I think your points about self-belief and, and saying yes, sooner, and I should be in that role, uh, really great lessons that hopefully others will hear from this video. So thank Sally.

 

Sally Graham

Thank you. Enjoyed speaking to you. Any last words you want to share last? Um, continuous learning, lifelong learning is very important, um, for leaders, uh, the leaders of our society and the, and the policy makers, um, may have done significant learning, but it could be quite some time ago. Um, and my view is that if you, if you did those hard yards, 10, 20 years ago, or even more, um, congratulations for doing it, that’s fantastic, but the world has changed. You probably need to think about what you’re going to do next. Um, I like to have mid to long-term plans in my life. And so I’m always thinking where to next. And I think that’s an important mindset if you’re a leader for me, where to next for my team, where to next for my organisation.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Oh, I love that. Thank you so much. And, and so Sally Graham, thank you so much for your time and your wisdom today on the spark self-leadership video series. I really appreciate hearing your perspective on this from an educator perspective. So thank you so much. Um, this is Sally Foley Lewis. Thank you for being on another episode of the spark, a self-leadership video series. There’ll be a lot more to come. Thank you and bye for now.