Did you just realize you snapped at a team member and need to know how to apologize?
How do you let go of a team member?
Did you just have a difficult conversation with a prospective client and don’t think you can work with them cause they don’t align with your values?
How do you deal with all these difficult situations? Situational awareness may not sound like the most glamorous of skills when it comes to leadership, but it’s an essential skill in the professional workplace. Especially for women of color in leadership positions–those of us who already have to navigate systemic barriers and obstacles in the professional world–it’s a skill that boosts our longevity and success in leadership roles.
What is situational awareness? It’s the ability to stay mindful of the environment around you including people, objects, and events, and the ability to anticipate and prevent potential hazards and issues from arising or escalating. While it may tend to be associated with physical dangers, it also applies to emotional intelligence and communication in the workplace. Being a situationally aware leader means you are aware of my subtle forms of underlying issues going on in the professional environment.
Before I was an executive leadership coach for women of color and allies, I worked in different industries (political and nonprofit) prior to starting my business. Those experiences resulted in so many lessons learned.
An example from my own experience of situational awareness? I remember at a former job I was regularly yelled at and bullied–NOT professional behavior under any circumstance. By looking at those patterns of behavior from leadership within that company, I realized I was in an unsafe environment. When I was eventually fired from that position, I wasn’t surprised at all because I had picked up on the behaviors and manipulative strategies of those around me. This is why I decided to get trauma-informed certified so I can have a higher level of self-awareness when communicating and connecting with my own team and clients.
Anticipating and preventing is key to mastering situational awareness. Great leaders are themselves situationally aware and inspire their team members to be also. Let’s get into why this skill is so essential, how you can make it a habit, and how to encourage your team to anticipate and prevent issues through situational awareness.
How does situational awareness benefit leaders of color?
When you prioritize the work to improve situational awareness in the workplace, you gift yourself a massive amount of benefits. As a woman of color in the workplace, becoming a physically, socially, and emotionally aware executive leaders means you are always perceiving the next step. How does this benefit you and your team? Let’s break it down.
Situational awareness can help leaders detect communication breakdowns before they turn into bigger problems. As a leader or supervisor, when you’re aware of changes in how your team is communicating you can pick up on cues that someone is struggling or needs extra support. You can address the issue proactively, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working together effectively.
Leaders who are situationally aware can identify performance issues early and take steps to address them before they escalate. By monitoring team members’ behavior and patterns of work output, you can provide coaching, feedback, and support to help team members improve.
Situational awareness is a key component of emotional intelligence–an often overlooked skill that the greatest executive leaders value and prioritize. Leaders who are situationally aware are better equipped to create safe spaces where team members feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts and feelings. They also recognize that team members are human beings with unique needs, and they respond accordingly.
For example, I remember once noticing a team member acting frustrated with me at a meeting where she snapped at me harshly. The next day after some time had passed, I approached her 1:1 and shared:
“I noticed you were frustrated with me at the meeting yesterday. Did you have any feedback you wanted to personally share with me?”
I quickly learned that her dad was in the hospital, and it wasn’t about me at all. We may never know what someone is going through, and it’s so important to assess our interacts calmly without reacting impulsively. Because I noticed a behavioral change, gave time to cool off, and calmly gave my co-worker space to address it, she didn’t feel attacked by my inquiry.
4. Understanding Cultural Differences
Women of color may face unique challenges as leaders due to cultural differences and values. Situational awareness can help you identify these differences, create space for differences, and work to understand and respect them. By doing so, you can improve communication and better understand decision-making processes within your teams.
5. Mitigating Risks
Situational awareness helps leaders anticipate and prevent safety hazards in the work area, both physical and emotional. Leaders who are situationally aware can identify potential safety hazards in the work environment and take steps to eliminate or mitigate them. You can also identify and address interpersonal risks in the workplace, such as conflicts or toxic behaviors.
Strategies to Improve Situational Awareness
Improving situational awareness requires intentional effort and practice. Here are some strategies to consider:
- Be Present and Practice Mindfulness
Being present in the moment is critical to situational awareness. Whenever you can, practice mindfulness techniques to hone your skills and help you stay focused and aware of your surroundings.Need inspiration? You can download my free 5-minute mindfulness meditation here.
- Monitor Your Environment and Limit Distractions
I know, we’re all attached at the hip to our electronic devices–literally. But whenever you can, be aware of your surroundings and minimize distractions to help you stay alert and focused.
- Notice Patterns
Pay attention to patterns in your environment, such as recurring issues or challenges, to help you anticipate potential hazards or issues.
- Seek Out Information and Feedback
Stay informed about what’s going on in your workplace, and seek out feedback from team members to help you stay aware of potential issues.
- Seek Out Diverse Perspectives
Make an effort to seek out diverse perspectives, both within your team and outside of it. Doing so can help you broaden your understanding of different cultures, values, and communication styles.
- Learn from Experience
Reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why. Take note of what you learned from past experiences to help you improve your situational awareness going forward. PLUS, this Harvard Business Review study shares that 15 minutes of reflection a day can improve happiness and productivity by 23%.
- Work with an Executive Coach
An executive coach like myself can help you develop your situational awareness skills and provide support and guidance as you navigate leadership challenges.
Encouraging Situational Awareness in Team Members
As a leader, it’s not just important to develop your own situational awareness, but to encourage your team members to do the same. You can help your team members improve their situational awareness and overall value to an organization by:
Leading by Example: As a leader, you can model situational awareness by being present, engaged, and attentive to your surroundings. When team members see you practicing mindfulness and being aware of potential hazards, they are more likely to do the same.
Provide Training: Offer training opportunities on situational awareness, safety meetings, and cultural sensitivity. These training sessions can help team members develop their skills and improve their ability to recognize potential issues in the workplace.
Encourage Active Listening: Encouraging team members to actively listen to each other can help prevent communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. This can also help team members pick up on potential issues that may arise. Need a free resource to help you navigate challenging conversations with your boss? I have just the thing!
Provide Opportunities for Feedback: Encourage team members to provide feedback on potential hazards and safety concerns in the workplace. This can help leaders take proactive steps to prevent issues before they become larger problems.
An example of how this can look? At each meeting, mirror back what you hear by saying something like, This is what I heard and my takeaway from it….anything else? Or did I misinterpret?”
By encouraging team members to develop their situational awareness, leaders like you can create a culture of safety, inclusion, and productivity in the workplace.
Ultimately, the goal of situational awareness in the workplace is to create a safe, productive, and inclusive work environment for yourself and your team members. By being aware of potential hazards, communication breakdowns, and other risks, you can take proactive steps to address these issues before they become larger problems for your team or organization. This can help improve team morale, productivity, and overall job satisfaction for everyone.
Want someone to guide you through the tough conversations with team members, and celebrate small victories throughout the process? My leadership development coaching sessions are designed to help guide top executives like YOU through challenges and opportunities. Let’s connect for a Leadership + Executive Review Call to see if it’s a good fit to work together.
If you would like further support in your career, business, or leadership, my team and I would love to support you in creating a sustainable life! You can schedule a 30-minute legacy business or career review call with me to see if it’s a good fit to work together, and you’ll receive 3 action-items from me.