You've boarded your flight ready for an on-time departure... and the inevitable happens. The last guy to board is dragging an XXXL-sized rolling bag slowly down the narrow aisle, running over all feet along the way. He pauses and looks around. Reopening full bin doors, he hoists his bag and attempts to stuff it so hard you hope the overhead will respect him in the morning. Thanks for the departure delay.
Whether on a crowded flight, in the boardroom, cockpit, or battlefield, situational awareness is being savvy about where you are and what's around you in order to make the smartest decisions at any given time. It's an advanced leadership skill, one that usually comes with experience and maturity. Yet it seems to be lost on Mitt Romney.
For the GOP presidential candidate, offending the British and Palestinians, and threatening Iran, all on his first campaign swing abroad, are rooted in the same problem as the so-called "cookiegate" incident, when Mr. Romney accused the person kindly feeding him at a campaign stop of shirking her cooking duties and buying cookies at 7- Eleven. Whether at home or abroad, the issue great or small, his actions show a glaringly repetitive lack of situational awareness.
When England throws down the welcome mat during an event of massive national pride, it seems obvious you shouldn't spray it with lighter fluid and fire it up. A visiting aspiring candidate for the highest U.S. office should show enough savvy to be gracious and grateful. A tad of awareness would also help him avoid blabbing to the press he had a great meeting at their spy agency, the one that is never mentioned.
With similar feedback in hand, coaching a young executive client, I would certainly point out the need to develop these skills. Specifically, I would suggest s/he understand their role in the situation, the intentions, hopes, and concerns of others, the type of moment it may be, and the impacts they want to leave behind -- and to avoid.
Yet somehow Mr. Romney is a "mature" leader with a puzzlingly dangerous deficit in this area. Given his vast corporate experience, situational awareness should come as second nature. Is it possible he's sat in hundreds of board meetings and community forums (during his stint as Governor), with the proverbial XXXL "carry-on," and failed to read the room, missing what's at stake, and/or offending attendees? Perhaps, or maybe he was more tuned in to his impact on others as a younger man.
Regardless of November's outcome, situational awareness needs to be standard equipment -- and not a learning journey -- for the leader of the free world. This is doubly important during such challenging economic and geopolitical times. Luckily, we already have a presidential candidate who shows considerable strength in this important area.