Self-awareness: Overcoming obstacles in leadership

“You don’t have to be a superwoman or superman all the time. Failure can be a starting point, not an end result. All you need to do is ask for support” – Serena Dell’Angelo, Contract Manager, Chelsea Group Mozambique.

Post programme, delegates are often dashing back to implement their newfound learnings in their workplace and home, making it many months before an opening can be found for them to share their experience with us. We were delighted to speak to Serena Dell’Angelo, only a few months after her completion of the Leadership in Management programme, while the experience was still fresh in her heart and mind. 

Leadership – Nature or Nurture?

Serena’s childhood was unusual; her independence came sooner than most with her family moving around a great deal and having to often change school, environments, and friends. Rather than being intimidated, Serena’s outgoing personality and ability to adapt allowed her to embrace ongoing challenges. To Serena, these character traits defined what it meant to be a leader, and she believed being both forthright and friendly were essential for leadership success. 

After university, armed with a master’s degree in International Law and Security, Serena began her career as an analyst working in the International Cooperation sector, focusing on human rights in developing countries. Her first job was in the Philippines, as a junior analyst for the Ambassador of the EU Delegation, which was followed by a stint of field experience as a human rights analyst in Thailand. 

Serena was then recruited as a business risk intelligence analyst by a security company, Chelsea Group Mozambique. A mere 18 months later, she was promoted to her current role as contracts manager in Mozambique. At the tender age of 30, she works in the challenging realm of extractive industries in a resource-rich country, where security concerns can be multi-faceted and complex. 

Facing leadership challenges

As a young leader, Serena was faced with the challenge of navigating a complex field she had limited experience with beforehand. “Being a leader, you have to be confident enough to know what you don’t know. For this reason, I was initially not very comfortable in my role of managing people, yet I did not want to show my discomfort as I didn’t want to let myself and others down.” 

Serena’s experience is made more complicated by the fact that the security industry is still very male-dominated. A woman in a managerial position isn’t always taken seriously, which can further aggravate feelings of self-doubt – often leading to imposter syndrome and the potential of doubt being sowed into a team. 

Having spoken to enthused colleagues that had previously attended a Leadership Trust programme, hearing their powerful stories and eventually meeting with Leadership Trust CEO, Léa Cléret, she realised that the programme could help her through her blockers. When the opportunity presented itself, she enrolled in the Leadership in Management Programme. 

Challenging existing beliefs through self-awareness

Whilst on the course, Serena’s fundamental beliefs about leadership would be completely overturned. As she put it, “I didn’t know much about leadership development. I thought I already had natural leadership traits. I like to motivate, I’m emphatic and results driven. But I came to understand that these so-called natural leadership traits don’t necessarily make you a leader. Leaders are not born. They learn to master traits, sometimes in very difficult ways.”  

For Serena, the course enabled her to unlock her personal power by recognising the importance of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Through this, she was able to identify her own limits and trigger points, and how these were brought to bear in pressure situations. Serena learnt the importance of gaining the trust of others to achieve the best with her team. 

Failure: the starting point for success

The programme was very draining for Serena. Being put in situations of discomfort, disagreement and failure were intense. “The military style of presentation was unlike anything that could be delivered in a classroom. Yet through this, I formed a special bond with my group and the facilitator, experiencing a level of trust and support in such a short amount of time which it is difficult to believe and experience elsewhere.” 

A crucial breakthrough for Serena was the realisation that she needed to be more open and constructive with the expression of feelings at work – her own as well as those of members in her team. She credits the course with giving her the necessary tools, and her fellow delegates in helping her to put this into practice in a safe environment. For someone who previously found flaws hard to accept, especially her own, Serena found that opening up to, and indeed owning her emotions, brought a greater level of self-acceptance and tolerance. 

“While I strive to the best of my ability, there is always a risk of failure. I’m now able to view failure as an opportunity for personal growth”. As Mike Krzyzewski ‘Coach K’, famous American Basketball coach said “In order to get better, you change limits. And when you change limits, you are going to look bad and you are going to fail. However, failure is never a destination. When you are knocked back, figure out why and then change. The other thing is you are not going to get there alone. Be on a team! Surround yourself with good people and learn how to listen”. 

Life-long leadership lessons

Going forward, Serena believes the lessons she learnt will be life-long. Not only in her career, but also in her personal life. And although the process was gruelling, it was ultimately extremely rewarding. In summation, Serena had this to say: “To anyone doing the course – be prepared, be up for it. You are going to experience some stuff that is going to blow your mind.” 

We thank Serena for sharing her insights. The stories and experiences of our alumni are invaluable in helping us deliver the life-altering experiences through our programmes. If you’d like to know more, please contact us today.


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