Lessons for Leaders: Situational Awareness

I have spent significant time studying the leadership challenges presented by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It started with time spent in the Gulf with my colleague, Dr. Leonard Marcus, in the early days of the spill. It continued with the writing of a case history and then a case study that I co-taught with Rear Admiral Peter Neffenger, USCG, to the most recent cohort of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) at Harvard. Neffenger was Deputy National Incident Commander during the event.

This article in Disaster Response Journal, co-authored with my NPLI colleague, Dr. Barry Dorn who also spent time in the Gulf with National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, presents some of the lessons learned specific to situational awareness in a fast-evolving incident. It explores how the meta-leadership framework developed at the NPLI can improve situational awareness and thus enhance decision making. Among the lessons:

A COP (common operating picture) ensures everyone sees a common set of facts. This is important. However, each individual will interpret those facts somewhat differently because each person has different experience, expertise, biases, and preferences. That is why the meta-leadership framework begins with the person: having the capacity to be self-aware and cognizant of others’ perceptions, the leader will more accurately comprehend the situation and integrate input from others. Being able to integrate multiple sources of information, both objective and subjective, is central to situational awareness.

Please read the article and share your thoughts and comments.

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