The definition of leadership continues to expand in complexity and focus.  This paper examines the need to expand leadership essentials to include systems analysis and environmental scanning.

When the “born to rule” theory imploded, attention shifted to developing leaders rather than relying on genetics.  Approaches varied from developing leadership style, competencies, or best practices.  These methodologies centered on a static or compartmentalized model focusing on an individual leader.  They overlooked vital factors such as the impact of the environment, culture, organizational systems, change, and followers.

Today’s more comprehensive models expand the scope to include followers, contextual awareness, and systems alignment. Success depends on agility, the ability to decipher entanglements, environmental awareness, and integrated systems.

The reference to a “health care system” does not ensure systems effectiveness.  Consider the “simple” task obtaining personal protective equipment.  Obtaining masks requires connecting with worldwide suppliers, but purchasing supplies is just the first step.  Shipment quantity and quality must be verified before safely storage and supply distribution.  Skipping one component jeopardized timeliness, staff safety, and patient care.  Agility, systems thinking, and comprehensive information are essential. Yet, professional specialization for career advancement encourages silo or narrow thinking.

Dragonflies have a compound eye employing thousands of lenses to obtain nearly a 360-degree view of their surroundings.  Similarly, leaders must tap cross-professional expertise and engage others to generate a comprehensive understanding of current challenges and triggers novel solutions.

Mental Agility

Mental agility studies what has happened, what is currently happening, and what can happen in the future.  It does not require an impressive IQ, advanced degree, imposing position, or specific personal style.  It requires a dedicated willingness to:

  • Validate existing assumptions based on dynamic environments and stakeholder expectations
  • Recognize potential distortions or bias
  • Solicit, respect, and involve all stakeholders
  • Learn from the past, understand the present, and plan for the future

A single leader, no matter how gifted, cannot accurately recognize and weigh every reality.  Leaders must ask astute questions, carefully listen to responses, assess opportunities, and gain active support for action.   Extensive inquiry identifies what is critical from what is superficial and customary.

Situational Mindsets

While looking only one way before crossing the street is foolhardy, relying on limited data invites danger.  Employing the six situational mindset framework produces a complete organizational scan.  The six mindsets include the:

  • Inventing situational mindset, which examines current products and services offerings and technological opportunities for innovation. It captures opportunities by asking: what are we doing, what will new systems and technology enable us to do, what could we start doing, and what should we stop doing.  This mindset reveals new processes, synergies, services, and products.
  • Catalyzing situational mindset, which concentrates on customers and the marketplace to improve sales. It targets competitor products, price points, and market growth.  Feedback from customers combines with an analysis of current offerings, sales strategy, and sales volume to expand the customer base.  Collecting data on customer retention figures, recognizing emerging customer requirements, and sales reports clarify opportunities and priorities.
  • Developing situational mindset, which examines organizational systems, design, policies, and reporting relationships for seamless execution. This macro inquiry uncovers systemic barriers due to flaws in compensation practices, staffing levels, capacity planning, resource allocation, or information flow.
  • Performing situational mindset, which targets maximizing workflow, operating efficiencies, and productivity for maximum return. It examines inventory levels, costs, and maintenance schedules.  This mindset monitors profit margins and explores ways to improve quality and efficiencies.  Attention to workflow variances, team performance levels, and resource utilization identifies best practices.
  • Protecting situational mindset, which reviews workforce culture, competencies, and talent retention to sustain a change ready culture. It examines engagement, teamwork, and change readiness.  Additional critical factors for the protecting situational mindset include succession planning, trust, talent development, workforce diversity, and mission alignment.
  • Challenging situational mindset, which studies operating assumptions, environmental and social trends, and strategic opportunities to enhance sustainability. Additional interests include an economic forecast, financial health, pending legislation and regulations, and potential alliances.  These factors help to revise the business model, capture a potential niche, enhance the brand’s status, and ensure sustainability.

Situational mindsets capture internal organizational and external environmental forces boosting a leader’s ability to weigh opportunities and discern what takes priority.  It prepares leaders to:

  • Adapt to new information and conditions
  • Upgrade both primary and secondary systems
  • Reallocate time and resources, and
  • Solicit, evaluate, and communicate realities and priorities.

Brokerage companies warn customers that past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Organizational leaders must heed that advice and avoid relying on their past.  Successful leaders scan their environment, explore innovative opportunities, develop dynamic systems, and align efforts.


Multifaceted crises and narrow thinking conceal critical realities and complexities.  COVID-19 confirms the need to add a dynamic perspective to our leadership frameworks.  We cannot control our environment, but we can control our reactions to changing realities.  Situational awareness enables leader to connect the dots and improve leadership effectiveness.

Dr. Mary Lippitt, author of Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters. She can be reached at