This article was originally published here on Forbes.com.
What’s Within Your Span Of Control?
You’re used to thriving in a high-pressure, high-performing business environment, but what happens when there’s even less time, even more stress, a workplace that has grown more chaotic, and goals that seem more complicated and difficult to achieve? If you’ve felt the extra pressure of rapidly changing circumstances, economic upheaval, and increased limitations on your day-to-day activity, you’re not alone. Surviving and succeeding during times like these requires you to have a steady awareness of what’s within your Span of Control.
I recently faced a set of crises that challenged my ability to be present and functional at my high-profile job and for my family. At home, I was negotiating my family’s grief over losing several loved ones in a short period of time, including my mother, my father-in-law, an uncle and a treasured aunt. At work, I faced a relentless travel schedule and massive job upheaval.
Taken together, those events formed a perfect storm with the potential to blow me off course. I would have been blown off course, if I didn’t have a skill set to fall back on that I acquired in one of the most demanding and high-pressure environments on earth—the cockpit of an F-14. My journey to that cockpit gave me indispensable insights that have helped me regain my bearings in situations that should have overwhelmed me.
As an F-14 pilot, I learned a framework that I call Span of Control. It has three simple but distinct components:
- focus on what matters most,
- formulate a flight plan for success, and
- communicate clearly and concisely.
In essence, your Span of Control is what you can, and should, control at any given time—and nothing else.
Surprisingly, naval aviation and high-performing business environments have a lot in common. In both, leaders must perform complex and high-pressure tasks amid constant change. People are counting on you to make the right moves, because mistakes can result in huge financial losses as well as damage to your career and wellbeing. In both environments, successful teams require fearless and focused leaders at all levels of operation.
The Span of Control framework kept me alive as I operated under dangerous conditions and in life-or-death situations on the flight deck of that aircraft carrier. It helped me through that perfect storm of life crises. And it’s what keeps any leader relevant, respected, and moving forward. If you’re able to shape your greatest challenges into something productive, you’ll be unstoppable.
Succeeding when the pressure is on comes down to knowing what we can—and cannot—influence or manage. In order to honor our commitments, solve new problems, and achieve our aims, we’ve got to be able to gather ourselves and our teams around clearly stated and achievable goals.
What’s within your or your team’s Span of Control right now is no more complicated than your answers to these three questions:
- What three things matter most?
- What’s your plan for achieving them?
- What do you need to communicate so that everyone understands?
Every morning, I take out my Sharpie and write my top three things on a big Post-It Note, then stick that note where I’ll see it multiple times throughout the day. When a hundred other tasks and people reach for my attention, I can review my top three things and execute the plan for achieving them.
Especially in situations that challenge our ability to get and stay focused, control comes first from identifying—and holding onto—what’s truly most important.