Leadership / Self Improvement

How to Gain Situational Awareness at Work

Listening as a superpower.

Mark McMillion
6 min readMar 19, 2021


Pow — Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay; Suit — Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989, more than 30 years ago. His fifth habit, seek first to understand, then to be understood, is as relevant today as it was then. I would argue even more so.

You can’t understand someone else’s perspective unless you listen to them. Today’s world is a non-stop clamor of voices with everyone vying for your attention. There’s never been a more chaotic environment for everyday living and working. We’re just too busy to listen to anyone.

Therein lies your potential competitive advantage as a leader. One that costs nothing but effort and will. Unfortunately, too many people indulge in counterfeit listening. That’s what Stephen M. R. Covey calls it in his phenomenal book, The Speed of Trust. Counterfeit listening is when you are waiting your turn to speak, or perhaps thinking of what you want to say next. You may be hearing but you’re not listening.

Listening seems like it’s a natural function, akin to breathing, right? It isn’t and most of us aren’t doing it well. We get so focused on our personal goals and objectives we forget to tune in to others, even when they might positively impact us!

Ram Charan wrote a terrific article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about listening. One of the great takeaways was from his work with Larry Bossidy, a long-time GE exec under Jack Welch. After he left GE, Bossidy was the highly successful CEO of AlliedSignal, then Honeywell after they merged. Charan and Bossidy wrote a phenomenal book titled, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

In the article, Charan wrote about how Bossidy would take notes during conversations. He divided his notepaper into two unequal parts. On the larger portion, he took detailed notes. On the smaller portion, Bossidy captured the key highlights. These were the points he used to sharpen his questions and ensure he understood.

Charan calls this sifting for nuggets. Just like panning for gold, you go through everything looking for the golden tidbits. These are where the value lies. When you use these as Bossidy did to focus your…



Mark McMillion

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Works available on Amazon.