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Rule of Three

Over the ages great leaders have used the rule of three to change their world.

Writers, officials and revolutionaries have successfully applied the rule of three to move people toward a vision. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” “Blood, sweat and tears,” “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” “Faith, Hope and Charity,” “Mind, body, spirit,” “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Jon Stewart is a comedian and the infamous TV news anchor on “The Daily Show” . Here is how Jon relies, as effective joke tellers do, on the rule of three to make us laugh and make a point. “I celebrated Thanksgiving in the old- fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

The U.S. Marine Corps have ingrained the rule of three into the DNA of their operations. In a nutshell, the rule is applied as the Marines guide for structure in effective management and mission execution. Each Marine has three things to worry about. They have three men to a team commanded by a Corporal (so there are actually a total of four on the team, when you count the team leader). Three teams to a rifle squad commanded by a sergeant. Three rifle squads to a platoon commanded by a Lieutenant. Three rifle platoons to a company commanded by a Captain. Three companies to a battalion commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, etc. The Marine’s apparently experimented with a “rule of four,” and retention and effectiveness took a nosedive.

Effective business leaders and professionals today use the rule of three in their speeches , but few consider its power to impact effectiveness and retention. When a top manager is called on to make an important speech they take time to be clear on the purpose of their presentation and use the rule of three as a structure consistently. But in the day-to-day break neck speed of business, important assignments are often made in a shoot-now-structure-later fashion. When an unclear mission is combined with an uncertain structure then multiplied by the speed of the world today, how can we expect effectiveness not to take a nosedive. Frustrated achievers often leave for a better run battlefield.

In this time of experimentation with flatter organizations, multiple reporting relationships and expanding spans of control, maybe it is a good time to take a closer look at the rule of three. Consider the possibility that adding this one consistent element to your plans, projects and processes might change your world for the better.

Working Journal Entry: How might you apply the rule of three to help you sharpen your focus, strengthen your execution and simplify your life and your leadership?

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