• Randy Swaim

Leadership: Neuroscience & Real Situational Awareness.

Recently within the last week to 10 days, an insight occurred with a pilot client I was evaluating that greatly illustrated the involvement of  Neuroscience in decision making as it applies to flight crews and also leaders at any level in any environment.


First let me point out that from Neuroscience, the learning part of our brain is the Hippocampus in the center of our brain and is “the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain, thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system“.  What we think we learned over about 30-45 days is put into our Cerebellum as our habit pattern and becomes what we gravitate to in a situation……..whether it is right or wrong in the situation.


SITUATIONAL AWARENESS is critical to not only flight crew decision making, but also for leaders in any area to apply the right decision to the Current Real Situation.  It is key for us as leaders to understand that:


A key part of our Situational Awareness,  that is typically misunderstood and for which team members are typically unaware,  involves an awareness of where our brains are and how our brain is either getting in the way or helpful.


Our awareness of how our brain is involved is a key part of Situational Awareness and understand, it is not about selling myself and others that what I want to be the case but is based on truth.  Let me offer the quick example from a week ago.


I was evaluating a pilot client in the Learjet on a Proficiency Check.  This model of  Learjet has an autopilot/flight director that often goes into a recompute mode depending on the rate at which the aircraft is closing on the approach navigation aids.  When it does, one annunciator extinguishes even though other annunciations show it still has the approach and there is no problem.  In about 5 seconds when the recomputing is complete, the one annunciator will re-illuminate on its own.


During the client’s single engine approach, the flight director went into the recompute mode and the client panicked and reached up and was “double selecting” the button with the consequence of disengaging the approach guidance.  I could see under his hand that the other annunciations showed that it still had the approach and there was no problem.   I simply told the client ‘In the debrief I will point out to you why you did not need to do that”.


After the break when his evaluation was complete and I was debriefing him, I was referring to this and he pointed out that their autopilot is older and sometimes is in question on that so he went back to what he was used to.  I pointed out to him that he went back to his Cerebellum & comfort zone even though he had clear indications that he did not need to…..in other words “there was evidence in this occasion that showed what he was used to WAS NOT APPLICABLE.”  I pointed out to him that there are times…..and I would say in flight crews or with leaders in any area……when the leader’s Brain Frontal Lobe  must assess the factors present and assess when the Cerebellum’s Comfort Zone is not applicable to the current situation.


It is critical that our Situational Awareness is aware of when we are just going to what we are used to and our awareness is high about when we must assess and choose something different  True SITUATIONAL AWARENESS must take into account what our brain is doing right now for good or bad….and make decisions accordingly.


Randy Swaim, Coaching for Relevance, LLC

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