When was the last time you read a book or attended a training session on Situation Awareness (SA)?
Unless you work around the military, aviation, or in crisis management situations, chances are the answer is never.
That’s a mistake. Increasingly, I see what I interpret as the skills to assess, understand, project, and act based on that analysis as a critical set of behaviors for leaders at all levels. Alternatively, the absence of your ability to cultivate SA is a limiting and even derailing factor.
Situation Awareness: Chocolate to Emotional Intelligence’s Peanut Butter
We appropriately spend a great deal of time and energy on the topic of emotional intelligence (EQ) and its impact on career success. Understanding how your behaviors impact others and self-correcting are critical for success. However, SA is a complementary skillset you shouldn’t ignore.
Consider the widely cited definition of SA (Endsley): “Situation Awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.”
Through ample experience, I’ve observed the melding of emotional intelligence and situational awareness to create positive outcomes. When one or other is missing as suggested in the example below, the results are less than ideal.
Cases in Missing Situation Awareness
I regularly encounter situations with leaders where they’ve been surprised by a particular outcome—a strategy failure in the market, a board vote of no-confidence, or teams flailing and failing with strategic initiatives. In many instances, the lack of SA served as a contributing factor.
For emerging leaders, a failed meeting or an encounter with executive management gone awry reflects a lack of SA.
In one case, an individual widely viewed as an emerging leader ended up working for a boss just hired into the organization. After a nice first few days, the wheels started wobbling on this new relationship. The individual failed to assess the issues and challenges of the new leader and completely whiffed on developing a communication process that fit the new boss’s needs.
In another setting, a new senior manager succeeded in quickly alienating her new peers by failing to tune-in to the political environment and the sacred cows in the firm. When she suggested killing a few pet projects to free up resources for her initiative, she found herself frozen out of the real decision-making process.
In yet another circumstance, the product management team of a growing tech company hosted a group of customers for their first customer council. The corporate-developed agenda translated to a propaganda event and a waste of time in the minds of the customers. The meeting turned testy, and an opportunity to strengthen client relationships crashed on the rocks of a lack of situational awareness.
How to Strengthen Your Situation Assessment Skills
In my experience, cultivating SA in the workplace is much about pausing, asking, assessing, and then planning your moves based on desired or expected outcomes. Here are three areas and key supporting questions I encourage individuals to focus on to strengthen their SA skills:
1. Always pre-assess the dynamics of meetings and presentations
- How does this issue impact those involved in the decision?
- Am I stepping on the 3rd rail of pet projects and sacred initiatives?
- How does this issue impact the people responsible for bringing it to life or consuming the output?
- What are the real interests of my audience when it comes to this topic/project?
- What’s the “psychology” of the group, and how can I leverage, manage, or change this reality?
- Who’s with me? Who’s against me? Who’s on the fence? What are their hot-buttons?
- Who has the real power here? What must I do to get them to use their influence in support of my idea?
- What is the ideal outcome of this meeting/communication?
2. Elevate your altitude
- What’s going on in the broader environment that will impact this topic/issue?
- What are the likely responses of customers, partners, or competitors?
- What are my options based on their likely responses?
- How will the issue or approach be viewed by the broader organization?
3. Plan for success
- What’s my message map that combines a clear core message, key drivers, and supporting data?
- What are the objections I will need to overcome?
- How must I adapt my communication style to succeed in this situation?
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Too many approach situations or put forth ideas, having only thought about their needs. Don’t run a meeting where you’ve not figured out the psychology of the situation and how to adapt to or adjust it. And of course, never stop studying how your approach and style impact those around you. The leader operating with both situation awareness and emotional intelligence is a force to be reckoned with.