First Principles Based Leadership – Raising Cultural Awareness


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In this series of posts about First Principles Based Leadership, we have already covered the importance of and how to improve our self awareness and social awareness.

In this post, we will explore the importance of cultural awareness and how can we become more culturally aware. Any and all deep dive into cultural awareness can only start by having worked and improved our self and social awareness. Without high levels of both self and social awareness, it is very difficult to improve our cultural awareness.

Before we start delving into this, let’s first understand what is culture and what do I mean by cultural awareness.

What is Culture

The best definition of culture according to me is from Seth Godin. He says,

People like us, do things like this!


I would only add one more component to this quote, which makes it the following:

People like us, do things like this, in a given context!


People like Us” refers to everyone on our team.

Do things like this” refers to the activities that we do on a regular basis as part of our jobs. These include the technical or functional work that we do as individuals and also how we interact with each other while doing the work.

In a given context” refers to the environment that we are working in. In my experience, the context or the environment has a significant impact on how people show up and interact with each other.

A calm environment can bring out a different set of behaviours than when the same team is put in a high stakes or a stressful environment, which means that the culture is more nuanced than we are led to believe.

What is Cultural Awareness

Cultural Awareness is our ability to be aware of how we come together and interact as a team in different contexts. How each individual will respond to a given situation and what impact will that have on the others. This awareness can give us the opportunity to shape these interactions.

Cultural awareness is all about understanding the nuances of the interactions amongst the team and then find a way to influence them so that we can ensure that we meet our objectives as a team, and do so without burning them out.

Improving our Cultural Awareness:


We can put our powers of observation to good use and observe how people interact with each other, how they show up, how they make decisions as a team and if there are any rituals being observed or practiced.

We need to observe how we show up as leaders and how does that influence the interactions. How do people interact in our presence vs in our absence. How do we make our decisions? When do we speak – first or last? Does that change how the team responds?


We don’t have to wait for interactions to occur naturally to observe them. We can use every opportunity to pair people up or create groups to accomplish some task and observe how they perform.

For example, ask two of our team members to work together to plan and execute a team offsite or create a small team to put together a proposal for a project. Never miss an opportunity to bring people together to work on something.

Stress Test:

One of the things that teams that are required to deliver high performance in stressful environments or high stakes situations do is to practice for such situations. Whether it is a drill in a submarine or a fire drill or a sports team playing practice games to run their plays.

We can use the same and sometimes manufacture such a high stakes situation and see how the team responds. How each individual shows up and how they interact. How do decisions get made and who makes them and on what basis do they get made.

We need to be careful not to overuse this or we would burn the team out. However, it will give us a great understanding of how the culture of the team shifts when put under pressure.


In conclusion, it is important to understand the prevalent culture of our team in order for us to be able to influence it.

As leaders, it is probably our most important responsibility – to create and maintain a healthy culture where we achieve high performance as a team by performing as a collective (team) rather than as a group of individuals.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mukesh Gupta
I currently work for SAP as Customer advocate. In this capacity, I am responsible to ensure that the voice of the customer is being heard and play the bridge between customers and SAP. Prior to joining SAP, I have worked with different organizations serving in different functions like customer service, logistics, production planning & sales, marketing and business development functions. I was also the founder-CEO of a start-up called "Innovative Enterprises". The venture was in the retail & distribution business. I blog at


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