I was in a meeting this week when my leader challenged all of us to pay attention. He reminded us of the importance of what he called “Situational Awareness.” Have you heard that term before? Before we dig in to explore this critical leadership issue, let’s think about what it actually means.

For me, the essence of situational awareness is the ability to see what matters regardless of the ambient “noise” in our daily lives.

Noise can be anything that masks, or distorts reality. Examples include: our schedule, the media, our pace, miscommunication, bad information, our position in the organization (few people relish the idea of delivering bad news to senior leaders), even positive performance trends can hide underlying issues.

You’re probably way ahead of me on this – the implications are staggering. If leaders can’t see past the noise, we are in serious trouble. If our view or reality is distorted, our decisions will be too. If our decisions are ill informed, our organization’s health is in jeopardy. This is a big deal!

So, how can we get better at seeing what matters? Here are a few ideas…

Decide what matters – What are the metrics that matter most in your organization? You should know the answer to that question. And, it should not be a long list. Yes, we count, weigh and measure scores – no hundreds, even thousands of activities and outcomes. Very quickly, the tsunami of metrics becomes noise. The best leaders know what matters.

See for yourself – Go to the field, go to the factory, go to your outlets, visit with your customers. Don’t rely on reports and metrics alone. Go see your competitors, go visit other industries who have processes and systems you might learn from. Some of my most productive trips over the years have been to Starbucks, Pixar, Google, Disney and FedEx; none of them sell chicken.

Listen like you want to know – Are you really listening? Or, do you think you’ve got the answer before you ask the question? When you talk to your team members, your customers, your suppliers and outside consultants, do you really want to know what they have to say? The better questions you ask, the better answers you’ll get. The more open you are, the more valuable the answers you’ll receive.

Value truth over emotionsThe truth is not always what we want it to be, but it is always the truth.tweet_bird There are many people who, quoting Jack Nicholson, “…can’t handle the truth.” You can never let that statement be said of you as the leader. Truth is a leader’s best friend. The truth enables appropriate action. Without it, we are literally driving blindfolded in a blizzard – disaster is eminent.  Be careful… emotions matter but they also create noise. If emotions are high, be prepared to dig for the truth.

Some might think this ability to see what matters is nothing more than a sixth sense leaders possess. Perhaps it can become second nature, but it can also be honed over time with concentrated effort. What may ultimately become instinctive can begin today with conscious effort.

Pay attention. [GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.