Notes on “Self-Awareness is Product Management”

Although the focus of the Self-Awareness is Product Management episode starts with self-awareness, it also covers communication skills, habits, and relationships between people.

The guest is Kelley Amadei, co-author of Founder of SparkShift. The rest of this blog post contains pretty much raw notes. The notes contain a mixture of direct quotes from the podcast, my own thoughts, and sometimes ideas that came to mind while listening.

Foundation for Leadership

“Self awareness is the foundation for leadership.” By being self-aware, one can be vulnerable in a good way and recognize their impact on others. Usually self-awareness is low in a person. From a cultural standpoint, people typically learn content specific for their job and push through as they climb the corporate ladder. Thus, the concepts of empathy, trust, compassion, and deeply understanding others / ourselves is weird to many.

If people don’t understand what is in it for them, they won’t do what you need. Understanding your people requires self awareness. It’s basic and foundational. It’s not even hard. One acknowledges their new found understanding externally to just trusted people initially and then expands into the “greater organization.”

If leaders focused on self awareness, they would be more effective. To do this, one needs to be a researcher and an antropologist. We should be objective. Let’s not get self-judgmental. Self-mastery is the goal. Pay attention. She teaches this to all kinds of people such as executives and people in grad-schools.

Beginning the Process

To begin ask yourself, what habits do I have that serve me and what habits should I drop?

Only choose one thing. “Identify the one thing that’s getting in your way.” Identify the thing that makes you cringe. Check it out with people you trust. Perhaps even a boss if there is a trusted relationship. “Is this the right area to focus on?”

Most common symptom of not having self-awareness is not listening. It is common with senior executives. It’s understandable though. If you’re a leader, you feel like you are supposed to know and quick to respond to questions. There are cultural things that get in the way:

  • Supposed to know
  • To appear quick, one usually is formulating a response while listening. That’s actually counterproductive.
  • You feel like you are not supposed to hesitate.
  • You feel like you’re not supposed to even take a moment to reflect.

Validate the behavior you want to work on: Don’t have to pick the hardest. Can pick the easiest one to gain confidence. Once you figured out the one thing to work on. There are strategies to apply.


For example, let’s say it has to do with eating. People usually will want to jump on the thing they want to change right away. “Don’t do that.” Don’t immediately jump into action. Watch and observe yourself. Side note: this sounds quite close to what was said on the 10% Happier podcast episode #61 titled Dr. Judson Brewer, Using Mindfulness to Beat Addiction.

When interacting with your direct reports, in meetings, and all areas of life observe yourself. Watch for when you are listening and not listening. Side note: reminds me of Stephen Covey, Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

The approach:

  • Pick a week or ten days.
  • Log it. Collect data.
  • You will see a pattern of when you are not listening and you will understand what is motivating the behavior.

Example: Direct report comes into the office. They have something to tell me. Trigger: they walk in. Response: Ready to tell them something first before listening. They are telling me and I am waiting to share what’s on my mind. Reward:I got stuff done. However, it could have been better.

Psychology and the Brain 

She is trying to drive a wedge between the trigger and response. We have less than a 1/2 second to work with. The first 1/3 second is physical. Most of what we do is an automatic response. Science says 90% of what we do is automated behavior, driving, swallowing, and so on. The brain starts on pathway and creates a groove (wrinkle). The brain says this works. So, it keeps doing it.

Another side note: This sounds similar to the aforementioned 10% Happier podcast, Stephen Covey as described by Michael Hyatt, and Dr. Victor Frankl. As said in Don’t Just React: Choose Your Response:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl

If you are trying to stop an automated behavior, you have a small fraction of a second. Side note: Nir Eyal talks about habits all the time.

We’re driving a wedge between trigger and response. You can choose to do it the old way or when a direct report comes in, one can say: “I will shut my mouth, experience the uncomfortable feeling (it’s normal), and learn from it.” Try it for a couple weeks.

From a chemical standpoint, a habit is rewarded when dopamine gets released in the brain. That’s when the habit loop starts. Whether taking a drink or exhibiting a behavior in an organization, you are fighting the same battle.

Leaders are rewarded by getting things done themselves and they stop trusting others. They stop collaborating and delegating effectively. They second guess a lot.

A habit of not trusting is rooted in the fear of being let down. If I trust you and you let me down, it reflects on me. Trust requires vulnerability and understanding. A lot of leaders don’t feel they have time for that.

New VP of Operations Example

Example: There was a VP of operations. He focused on lean strategy and efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Everything was through a very logical approach. He was 36 years old. His approach was by blowing things up (organizationally) and make things better.

When he got the VP position, he went in assuming that no-one knew what they are doing and so on. He built a habit of mistrust. He assumed that he had the only solutions. It would take too long to get things done. Now that he’s the VP he could no longer blow things up. Behaviorally, he was:

  • Too direct
  • Aggressive
  • Didn’t listen
  • Didn’t trust
  • He would second guess their solutions
  • He should have let his seasoned and senior people be part of the solution

His people went to the CEO and said this “guy’s a jerk.” He wasn’t listening and trusting. They brought Kelley Amadei in.

That’s one example of how something that serves a leader in the past can backfire later in their career.

Support the Right Culture and Also Build Authentic Relationships

Google has spent a lot of time learning about the successful attributes around leaders (related). Most psychology books would call some of this psychological safety.  Do I feel safe? Are my ideas heard? Can we have constructive conflict? Can we disagree and leave the relationship intact? One should allow constructive conflict. That’s where great ideas come from. Steps to make that happen:

  1. Encourage authentic connection between people.
  2. Never interrupt. When running a team meeting, don’t ever interrupt. Encourage team to do the  same.
  3. Allow everyone to be heard. If someone is in the corner, call them out. They are probably have something to say and are being squished by others.
  4. Known conflicts should come out in the open. Otherwise, the unresolved conflicts will waste people’s time later when talking in subgroups later.

Most people think they have a work persona. Can you get people / teammates to connect as real people?

Have an offsite and bring some questions. Examples:

  • What are you most afraid of?
  • Want do you most want out of your life?
  • What’s something difficult you have overcome?


There is plenty of great information in this podcast episode around self-awareness, communication, group relationship building, and even psychology. It’s clear Kelley Amadei is passionate about her work. She has great strategies for helping organizations improve their productivity and undoubtedly their overall happiness. I recommend you listen to the podcast episode yourself.

Sticky Notes

Sticky Notes by Gabriel Toro

2 thoughts on “Notes on “Self-Awareness is Product Management”

  1. says

    Nice summary! You wet my appetite… I’ll listen to it. Conflict resolution is of utmost import in a relationship. It’s not possible to have an authentic relationship with someone who doesn’t do conflict.