26 Feb 2020 | Learn & Grow | by Katherine Protano

Why successful leadership starts with self-awareness

Out of all the elements that make a good leader, self-awareness might be the most fundamental one: it’s the basis on which empathy, fairness and a growth mindset are built. Katherine Protano, our Specialist for Diversity and Inclusion, takes you on a journey to find out more about yourself, discover your blindspots, and learn to create a safe and inclusive space for your team to be more successful.

Defining self-awareness: What makes you, you?

Being self-aware means knowing all parts of yourself leading up to who you are today (even those parts you may not be proud of); it’s understanding your strengths, weaknesses, emotions, motivations, reactions and how you are perceived by others. We’re confronted with a multitude of situations, interactions or even conflicts on a daily basis, and often the way we respond or behave is based on patterns that are anchored in our values, experiences and beliefs.

Observing, then understanding and unveiling this link is what being self-aware is, and as you start to strengthen this skill, you will be able to make truly informed decisions in both your personal and professional life.

Why self-awareness is the key to inclusive leadership

Self-awareness is a muscle that everyone should train, but particularly leaders – who are responsible for the success of their team and the growth of individual team members – need to understand their own behaviour, emotions and biases. Unless you as a leader have already created empathy for yourself by building your self-awareness around who you are and what experiences drive your behavior, it will be difficult to create and extend the same understanding and empathy to your team – which is crucial in fostering an inclusive culture.

Self-aware leaders will create a space where everyone feels valued, trusted, and empowered to make decisions and contribute to the culture and goals. You might wonder: How does that pave the way for making my team successful? The answer is simple: You’ll end up with happy, empowered and loyal employees who live up to their potential.

Particularly leaders – who are responsible for the success of their team and the growth of individual team members – need to understand their own behaviour, emotions and biases.

When you have an inclusive culture that prioritizes psychological safety, you pave the way for growth, because diversity drives innovation. If you hire a diverse set of people that have their own ideas and input, but if you don’t create a space where they can speak up and share those without fear, you’re not going to get the best output. This is why inclusive leadership promotes collaboration, innovation, and helps your team to succeed.

3 ways to boost your self-awareness

Last year we launched unconscious bias training at Delivery Hero, to give our leaders the opportunity and space to understand themselves a bit better. This was one of the first steps towards introducing the concept of self-awareness to employees, and make clear what impact a lack of self-awareness can have both on people and the business. Following up on that, we’re implementing a series of other trainings, starting with “Leading trusting, inclusive and accountable teams.”

While these training sessions are a great way to draw people’s attention to the topic, we know that we can’t change their minds fundamentally. Instead, they have to challenge themselves constantly. There are three exercises we encourage leaders to build into their daily routine, and also share with their teams:

Just as our personalities change over the years, so do our leadership styles.

1) Practise self-observation: Training yourself to be able to neutrally observe your thoughts and emotions can lead to a more depersonalized view of yourself and a good starting point for understanding what makes you, you. Next time you’re in a meeting, explore your mind: What do you think and how do you feel while someone else is talking? Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable, patient or impatient, relaxed or tense – and what could be the reasons?

2) Think before you react: Try to put space between a conflict or emotional event and your actions and words. Use that time to ask yourself “Why do I feel this way?” three times. When we explore what bothers us more deeply, we are in a better position to reflect and develop.

3) Don’t be afraid of feedback: Ask people you trust for feedback on your blind spots! And empower them to share their true impressions. You can do this by thanking them for their feedback when it is tough to share. (Remember, if you respond negatively, your colleagues will not feel comfortable doing it again!)

Leading by example – here’s how it can work

No matter if you’re a first time manager or have been leading teams for decades, there’s always something left to learn about yourself and how you can best understand and support your team. Just as our personalities change over the years, so do our leadership styles as we gain more insights and experiences. So how can you challenge yourself to keep growing, just as you do your team?

  • Lead inclusively: your team is following your lead, and if you behave poorly, they will too.
  • Acknowledge your mistakes openly within the team. Use mistakes as an opportunity for learning, and cultivate an environment that allows people to grow after getting it wrong the first time. Everyone will feel a bit more comfortable to speak up and take on new challenges.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Encourage people to engage in dialogue and ask questions, rather than thinking they understand the other person’s actions.
  • Take time to celebrate each other’s achievements; this will bring the team closer together.
  • Be open to different working styles, environments and personalities – everyone is different, and that’s a good thing!