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Bo Parfet on Spider’s ‘Rule of Three’

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With the past 13 months presenting more eventful curveballs than the past 13 years combined, your “boss” may seem to be overwhelmed and, in some ways, more inaccessible than ever before. Mass layoffs and growing unemployment require organizations to get scrappy in producing the same work output with a skeleton staff that is likely more spread out due to the growing shift to remote work.

While workplace leadership may seem out of reach, many leaders still have a responsibility to manage their employee’s workload, career goals, and expectations within the organization. In a world more remote than ever, how can employees capture their managers’ attention in a way that is both respectful and captivating? For this puzzle, I suggest using Spider’s ‘Rule of Three.’ Major General James “Spider” Marks has 30 years of experience as a U.S. Army Ranger. Since retiring from the military, Spider has joined the faculty at Georgetown University while concurrently serving as a military analyst for CNN.

Recently, Marks shared his ‘Rule of Three’ on how to captivate the attention of “routinely distracted multi-tasking bosses.” More specifically, we can use the ‘Rule of Three’ to meditate on how to incorporate Spider’s insights into productive conversations with managers.

Rule one: Have a top-three shortlist of priorities

Spider recommends that professionals always have on the tip of their tongue the top-three most critical items that require a managerial decision. If your manager is busy, you’re unlikely to have a clear idea of when you will share what is on your mind with them. Perhaps you are lucky enough to both join the same Zoom call a few minutes early or to be the only two left after a lunch-and-learn wraps up. Either way, you should know your top-three shortlist like the back of your hand so that you are ready to present what is on your mind at the drop of a dime.

While this rule should be rehearsed, be sure to come off as casual and confident. Coming on too strong might be perceived as an intellectual ambush. As a result, your boss might be unwilling to provide the type of answers you seek. Since you are searching for a timely decision, be sure to be timely in how you discuss your top-three as well.

Rule two: Your introduction has a time constraint of three seconds

Grabbing the attention of your multitasking boss means that you should have an elevator pitch down pat and no longer than three seconds. Show your vulnerability and be friendly in your orchestrated “ambush” by asking if they have time for a quick chat about three priorities. The quicker you can express yourself, the more time you save in elaborating on what requires managerial approval.

Rule three: You might only have three minutes

Since you are interrupting your boss’s schedule, don’t expect to have all the time in the world to talk about everything on your mind. Of course, these types of conversations ideally lead to a more extensive discussion. But because their long list of responsibilities makes a long tangent unlikely to carry on, you should prepare yourself for only having three minutes to speak with your manager.

In advising you to prepare yourself for a conversation of only three minutes, know that I am not implying that three minutes is enough time. I wish you all of the luck in getting the decisions you are seeking from your boss, and you may walk away from your three-minute encounter with one or several wins. If that does not happen, it is still a win to have put your foot in the door at all. Should there still be a list of decisions pending your manager’s approval, create a plan to re-engage and reflect on how you can tailor this plan directly to your boss’s personality, schedule, and work style.

About Bo Parfet

Bo Parfet is the CEO of Denali Venture Philanthropy, an organization that partners with social entrepreneurs with ideas to foster positive change in the global community. He co-founded the organization with his wife, Meredith, in 2010. A resident of both Boulder, Colorado and St. Augustine, Florida, Parfet spends time working on Denali Venture Philanthropy and he is the Chief Growth Officer and DLP Real Estate Capital.  Parfet also enjoys planning his next mountaineering adventure.


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