In Beirut, Lebanon during 1973, five-year-old Elisa A. Schmitz first learned situational awareness—a leadership lesson she says is key to being visionary.
Today’s guest post is by Elisa Schmitz, author of Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
It was 1973 and I was living in Beirut, Lebanon, when that country was a powder keg before its civil war. I was not quite 5 years old. One day, my siblings and I were on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building, walking with my father toward school. We had recently moved to Beirut, and I was still getting used to the new culture – for example, women dressed head to toe in flowing black, their faces carefully hidden behind fabric – and the unfamiliar language that was so different from the Spanish and English we spoke at home.
Ahead on the sidewalk, two women approached – dressed in that traditional garb – but their eyes kept darting to the rooftops. Then they started to run. I saw the fear in their eyes and felt a chill down my spine. In the next instant, I heard gunshots coming from the rooftops. I felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle and a wave of fear crash over me as the snipers shot at a car below.
That chill and that tingling on my neck screamed danger to me, and I knew I was not safe. I felt a grownup hand yank me hard as my dad hauled us back to our apartment. Later that night, shots rang out again. I stayed up all night, thinking that if I was the one to be awake and hear the shots, I could warn everyone. I thought my being aware could help keep us safe.
Being in Beirut triggered my dad to remember the pain of his own childhood, when his family was forced to flee war-torn Yugoslavia. But at the time, all I knew was that my dad was often sad. So, I would sing and dance or tell jokes to try to get him to smile.
Situational Awareness Is Key to Becoming Visionary
Living in a war zone taught me my earliest lessons in how to read the room, how to tune into my senses, how to adapt, how to turn the situation around. Situational awareness, which is key to being visionary.
As the chaos kept coming, it became a pattern in my life. Chaos is like that; it’s rarely just one thing. Whether I was dodging bullets in Beirut or bullies at school, I learned to rely on my situational awareness.
Using my senses, that mind-body connection, I learned to fine-tune my awareness of my surroundings and detect any potential threats – and possibilities. I listened to my body and looked for its cues. If I got a funky feeling in my stomach or the hair on my arms stood up, I paid attention. What was my gut trying to tell me? When I learned to focus on these sensations, I found that they were often preparing me to deal with some impending fire – or something even greater.
That mind-body connection enables you to see opportunity. That’s what it means to be visionary. You feel with intensity, you examine your environment for information, and you see opportunities that others often don’t.
Being Visionary Makes You a Better Leader
Reading the room, tuning into your senses, figuring out what they’re telling you about a situation, trusting your instincts, then acting on them. That’s how being visionary makes you a better leader.
This knowing inside enables you to be the kind of leader who can see around the corner into opportunities, then take action to bring the possibilities to life. The more situationally aware you are, the more visionary you can be. The more visionary you are, the greater your leadership success can be.
Situational awareness was burned into me during those war-torn times, which helped me to become visionary – and a better leader. Here’s how it impacted my career:
- Situational awareness helped me envision ways to make life better: first with seeing a need for parenting information; later, with seeing a need for credible content on mobile devices.
- That awareness enabled me to see business opportunities: with my first company, iParenting, acquired by Disney; later, with my second company, 30Seconds.com.
- Situational awareness spurred me to take action, bringing the visions to life and growing them into media platforms for millions of unique users.
Taking leadership meant that I didn’t sit back and wait for someone else to find solutions to problems I saw. Once I recognized those problems as opportunities, I stepped up to find solutions – myself. The more situationally aware I was, the more visionary I became.
How to Enhance Your Situational Awareness and Become Visionary
You don’t need have to have lived in a war zone to develop situational awareness. Here’s how to enhance your situational awareness so you can become more visionary:
- Always survey your environment. Think of ways to enhance your awareness of what’s going on around you – things like tuning into your senses and being more observant.
- Think about any challenges in your life where you wish there were solutions. Come up with opportunities you may have to make life better.
- Remember times when you may have experienced vision in your life. How have you already envisioned ways to make life better, no matter how big or small?
- Look around at your friends and family, your customers, your boss. What do they need? How can you serve them better? Are there tools that would make life better? Write them down.
- Don’t just dream about a better world or making a difference. Picture what that looks like and what you can do to bring that vision to life.
- Act on the opportunities you see. Come up with actionable ideas – things like starting a side hustle, connecting with someone in the field you’re interested in, volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about.
However you choose to enhance your situational awareness, just keep at it. As you do, your vision will grow, making you a more successful leader.
Elisa A. Schmitz is an award-winning Latina entrepreneur and journalist. She is the founder and CEO of 30Seconds.com, a digital media platform, and the founder of iParenting which was acquired by the Walt Disney Company. She has been a newspaper columnist, magazine editor, radio and video host, and creator of content and marketing programs for various Fortune 500 companies. She lives in the Chicago area.
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