Sunday, July 29, 2007

Be Situationally Aware

This is the 5th in a series addressing the key elements of a leadership philosophy. I call them the “7 BEs of a Leader.” Before assuming a new leadership position, Army pre-command training includes time to create one’s personal leadership philosophy. This is a great exercise, one that I have done deliberately many times. I have found that articulating my beliefs, my core values, and what exactly makes me tick are critical elements to share with my subordinates. Doing so, from the beginning, eliminates uncertainty – with subordinates and those whom I serve (customers, stakeholders, etc.) - and helps define the culture and leadership climate that I seek to create. It, like me, is a work in progress. So let me know what you think.

Be Situationally Aware.

Situational awareness (SA) is the ability to understand one’s environment and to be able to make decisions and take actions that impact not only current activities but future operations as well. It is the leader’s unique ability to see first, to understand first, and to act first that keeps him one step ahead of his subordinates – and his competition.

Fighter pilot James Murphy, in Business is Combat, describes SA this way:

"Situational awareness is the God-given ability to make critical, timely observations; to anticipate the opponent’s next move; to think three steps ahead; to make adjustments; to update the situation in the cockpit on a second-by-second basis. Situational awareness is the ability to be here-and-now, and project into the future, without forgetting where you’re going."

Leaders cultivate SA in their own personal and professional lives as well as in the organizations they lead. It is no accident that the best companies are rarely surprised by an opponent’s move, by a legal or legislative decision, or by an industry shake up. Situational awareness is enhanced by applying time and effort to the following:

· Continuous “scanning” of diverse information sources to include industry and trade journals, “friendly and enemy” web sites, and a variety of information streams that help the leader understand her subordinates, her customer base, and her operating environment. This information must be readily and willingly shared with teammates to create and enhance understanding.

· Maintain a quick access source of 5-7 key information areas and ensure your subordinates know the importance you place on the data on your dashboard. It must be readily available and constantly updated in order to feed the type of decision making that SA enables.

· Seek new and relevant experience – wherever it can be found. Seek out opportunities to broaden your knowledge base. Be willing to accept new positions and duties that further expand your skills. Volunteer for leadership opportunities.

· Conduct rehearsals and practical exercises to build up the decision making “muscle density” that comes from multiple repetitions. Place yourself in “game” situations to be better prepared when real action is required. James Murphy talks about fighter pilots and their practice of “chair-flying:”

“We practice a mission with imaginary radio calls, imaginary bandits, and imaginary refueling. We “fly the mission” in our chairs and “see” our three-dimensional environment the way we see it in the cockpit.”

SA is not reserved for individual leaders. Organizations must have a level of awareness that results in continuously updated products and services that meet customer expectations. Leaders must invest in their team to keep all of their respective heads in the game. This is the source of organizational flexibility and change.

SA is also not an end state but rather a means to victory. Leaders who cultivate SA within each member of the team are able to leverage awareness into action, making SA the first step toward SU (situational understanding) and SD (situational dominance). But it begins with the key elements of awareness that inform this enhanced level of personal and organizational success. Thus the charge to be situationally aware.

That’s Leader Business.

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