The other day I went to a client’s offices over lunch to present a seminar.
I dressed the way I usually do for a seminar: Suit. Tie. Briefcase.
Their offices are in a big building in downtown Philadelphia. Lots of people coming and going.
As I walked down the hallway toward the seminar room, someone rushed into the hallway, looked straight at me and said, “Are you the pizza guy?”
I was not holding a pizza. I was not dressed in the uniform of a pizza chain. I was in a suit and carrying a briefcase.
What did he see?
What he was hoping to see, I suppose. It was lunchtime, after all.
Somewhat startled, I shook my head and said, “I am not the pizza guy,” and kept walking. And shaking my head.
This brief exchange is an example of a failure of “situational awareness.” Being aware of your surroundings.
In military settings, a failure in situational awareness can have catastrophic consequences. Is that person coming toward you a friend or the enemy? Is that object on the ground a gun or a tree branch? Are the people on your side where you think they are, or somewhere else?
Situational awareness in business is important, too. In fact, according to Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence, the ability to read the social world around us and manage that world effectively is essential for effective leadership.
You might be wondering if situational awareness is something you’re born with or can learn. It’s a mix of both, and Goleman definitely thinks that social and emotional competencies can be developed.
Is it too late for the person who asked if I was the pizza guy? Maybe after he’s had lunch.