How Situational Awareness Can Take Your Business and Life to the Next Level

Have you ever heard the term “situational awareness”? I simply describe this as being able to see the big picture and understanding what is going on all around you. When I flew the F-14 Tomcat for the Navy, I had to understand both what was happening inside my airplane and outside of it. To lose your situational awareness could mean loss of life. Inside the cockpit, I had to keep an eye on radar displays and gauges, listen to the radios and my RIO in the backseat, and process information. I also needed to keep track of my wingman and be aware of any other aircraft that may come in close proximity to my aircraft.

You can apply this same level of awareness to your business and your personal life as you strive to move forward and accelerate your performance in both areas. If you have a specific goal, what do you usually do? Do you break it down into steps? How do you know if you’re on track and progressing towards it or falling short?

In Chapter 1 of my book PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: How to Think Like a Fighter Pilot in Life and Business, I talk about the impact of situational awareness and how to apply it to all aspects of your life.

Getting Started

What is your situational awareness right now? Are you aware of all that is going on around you? What about the inside of you? What are your mental state, emotions, and thoughts? In fighter pilot jargon: Where’s your head at? Until you understand these items, it is hard to come up with a flight plan to get you from Point A to Point B.

Are you letting your life and business just happen? Wouldn’t it be far better to take control of the plane and you be the one who decides what direction the plane flies and what’s the ultimate destination

Fly Like Sully

In my book, I talk about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the split-second decisions he had to make when he landed that A320 on the Hudson River. This is no easy thing to do. As a fighter pilot, I faced a similar situation when I had to shut down an engine over the Indian Ocean 1000 miles from nowhere. You better believe you won’t survive a moment like that by throwing your hands up in the air and letting fate take its course.

No, you have to take control of the situation and of the plane. The same is true in your business and in your life. If you have a flight plan, know your destination, and know how you’re going to get there, it becomes much easier to focus on those goals when something unexpected happens. When you’re running a business, and your engine goes out, you just don’t throw your hands in the air. You take control of the situation, solve the problem, and keep moving forward to your destination.

You’ve probably been in a situation where all hell was breaking loose, and then one person stepped up, took control, and put things back on course. Perhaps it was a death in the family, and this person made funeral arrangements, figured out how Aunt Sue was getting to town and where she was staying, and planned a dinner for the family after the funeral. Be that person. Be the one who takes control or stands alongside those who do. Your course will be much clearer.

Importance of Performance Metrics

Performance metrics let you know if you are on track to reach your destination or not. Metrics for business are pretty simple. You can look at your financial profile, the order book, inventory, and on-time delivery and see how well your business is or isn’t doing. You can also look at employee reviews and see if your employees are growing and progressing on their career paths. You can even look at your customer list and see if it is growing with the right clients.

Performance metrics in life are a bit trickier. How do you measure success in your personal life? The answer is going to be different for everyone. It all starts with your personal goals. Let’s say, for example, that your goal is to be more organized. What metrics will you use to measure that? The more specific you can be, the better chance you have at honestly critiquing your success in these areas. So, you might decide you will measure your organization’s growth with these metrics:

  • Interior of Car: Has all trash been picked up? Are there clothes or clutter littering the back seat or the floor? How clean is the car? Is everything in its place?
  • Top of Desk: Is the desk clear of paperwork? Can you see the surface? Is everything filed where it needs to be? Do you have a clear inbox and outbox?
  • Bedroom Closet: Getting everything off the floor.

You get the idea. You need to define how you measure success in personal areas if you want to see how well you are doing. Picture a person who is well organized (or whatever your goal is) and set that as your standard.

Your Tombstone

In my book, I devote an entire section to this concept. In a nutshell, you have to decide what you want on your tombstone or what’s put in your own obituary. What do you want to accomplish by the end of your life? How can you break this into smaller goals? What are the steps to get there? By going through each of these stages, you’ll have a might higher chance of success than if you just glide through life without worrying about your destination.