Is holding or even getting a boss’ attention a challenge?
Recently Major Gen. James A. Marks shared a “Rule of Three” that he created to ensure productive meetings with, as he described them, his “routinely distracted multi-tasking bosses.”
Almost every field or discipline has its own Rule of Three, but one of the most striking is for survival: The average person can live for three minutes without air; three days without water; and three weeks without food.
Here is Marks’ Rule of Three:
1. Determine the top three items or most-important decisions you need. With a busy boss, you never know when the opportunity will present itself to present those items: walking down the hall, in the elevator, on the way to the airport. The responsibility is yours to seize the moment. Be well-rehearsed, but you want to come across as casual and confident. Your boss may perceive your attempt to guide the conversation as an intellectual ambush, and it may well be, but it’s the best way to get what you need: timely decisions on critical issues.
2. Grab your boss’ attention within three seconds. Think of effective engagement with your boss as a “friendly” ambush. The target of an ambush goes into a panic response: blood pressure rises, heartbeat accelerates, vision narrows, and defensive barriers go up. So make the opportunity count. Get to the point–you may rock your boss back on her heels, so don’t let her fall. Offer a hand, show your vulnerability and your need for her input and the wisdom of her experience. She’ll gladly “save” you, and you’ll get what you need.
3. Be prepared to walk away in three minutes. You’ve intentionally decided to interrupt your boss’s day—or at least her train of thought. Perhaps you’ll get the decisions you’re looking for, and if so you’ll walk away victorious. If not, live to fight another day. If you don’t get what you want, create a plan to re-engage. Remember the warrior’s ethos: never quit, never accept defeat.
Military tactics don’t always work in civilian situations, but Marks’ Rule of Three applies to routine interactions with peers, colleagues, business partners, or your team. This approach is a way to ensure the right kind of focused conversation about the most important topics.
Try thinking in threes to improve your focus and improve prioritization and execution. It’s likely to be more effective and more enjoyable than three minutes holding your breath.