James Grant is best known for his pen name:  Lee Child.  He is best known for a very popular thriller series featuring a main character, Reacher, who rights wrongs as he sees them.

In a crowded thriller market, what attracts readers to be fascinated by Reacher is his observational abilities.  He will pick up on things that are there for everyone to see but they don’t.  When he points out these observations, the readers are often amazed and ask themselves:  “Would I have seen that?”  What Reacher possesses is a quality called salience.

Salience is a skill where you can identify clues from everyday situations which seem important.  All of us have some form of salience.  We can tell when there is something wrong with a loved one.  We just know that they aren’t their usual self.  We pick up on emotional clues, physical clues, or behavioral clues.

People with strong/practical problem-solving skills can identify key information that others don’t see.  When they point this out to others, it seems so obvious.  It’s like the Where’s Waldo pictures.  Once we find Waldo, we wonder why we didn’t see him before.

Salience is a trait of leadership that is rarely mentioned.  Leaders see opportunities that others don’t.  They see the root cause of a problem where others only see symptoms.  They can sense when others are struggling and reach out to help.

Is salience an acquired or innate skill?  There is no definitive answer to that question, but there are indicators which point to salience skills.

  • You are naturally curious.
  • Your focus is outward toward others and your surrounding rather than inward.
  • You are visual in that you are constantly observing.
  • You have a lot of experience and can connect past experiences with the present.
  • You tend to reject the obvious when there seem to be deeper issues.
  • You genuinely care.

Looking at the above list, are these acquired traits?  In most cases, they are.  But to acquire these traits, you must work toward acquiring them.  Salience is a skill that can only be develoepd by oneself.  There are no training programs to help you see what others don’t.  That’s why those who have salience skills make great leaders.  They have the motivation to develop a skill that few have (or even recognize).

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“Observation is like a muscle.  It grows stronger with use and atrophies without use.  Exercise your observation muscle and you will become a more powerful decoder of the world around you.” 

– Joe Navarro (author, speaker)

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