Perspective: on being observant

  • Published
  • By SMSgt Benjamin Seekell, First Sergeant, AF Life Cycle Management Center
“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe”— Marilyn vos Savant.

Sounds simple enough right? In truth, if the concept of being observant is so simple it almost begs the question as to why we need to be reminded of it at all.  All one needs to do is see and hear what’s happening around them and presto! -- we are "observant!" But humans do need reminders.  We are a dynamic force, using our knowledge and skill to constantly strive for progress and accomplishment and because of this we may lose sight of the little things. To Savant’s point, the possession of knowledge is just one piece of an equation, but in order to have the wisdom to lead our people to success we must also be observant.

Our failure to be observant is not an indictment. We have all found ourselves in a position where we might have missed the mark because we failed to observe the very things that are right in front of us on a daily basis. What’s the old phrase again?  “If only I’d seen/heard.”  Hindsight being annoyingly 20/20 as it is, never fails to show us where we went wrong or where we could have been better.  Good! It’s through the failures that we learn the most, not the victories. So how then do we improve and become more observant? There are multiple ways of course, but at its core we need to reevaluate the way we view and internalize the concept. 

The word Observant by itself is just a word and won’t do anything for us on its own. Just understanding the definition and general application of the word isn’t enough.  It’s what we DO with its meaning in real life AND how we incorporate it into our relationships that brings the word to life.

The good news is that there are opportunities all around us to exercise this skill, and thus I want to share my three key concepts for being effectively observant.

Being observant is a conscious muscle movement:  

Practice makes perfect. What do we do when we want to improve our run time?  We make a conscious effort to run more often! Making a deliberate effort to be present in the moment and notice things we might not have before is the most important step. It won’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it you will reap the rewards. Also remember that observing is more than just absorbing information. What we observe should translate into discernable action. This is not to say that everything we observe should dictate our decisions, but they should influence them. Otherwise, there’s really no point in the exercise.

Observe YOURSELF:  

We often think about observing as it applies to the things and people around us, but this scope should also include ourselves. If we don’t take the time to examine our own thoughts, biases and actions then we are missing 50% of the equation. Take the time to observe how your leadership style affects personnel and productivity. Odds are that you may discover some things you don’t like…don’t be afraid of that, embrace it!

Take the time to listen

Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey once said, “I’ve never regretted taking the distinct opportunity to keep my mouth shut. You’re the Sergeant Major, people are going to listen to you.”  As leaders we have tremendous influence, but must also be cautious that we are not dictating and dashing. Taking the opportunity to use our eyes and ears just as much as we use our voices can open up a whole new spectrum of understanding.