Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • February 6, 2021
  • minute read

The 3-Word Sentence That Gets Stuff Done 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

Does your project list look like an airline departure board during a snowstorm… 'Delayed', 'Delayed', 'Delayed..’?

Are your managers constantly committing to stuff that just doesn’t get finished? 

Here’s the single sentence – with just three words – that will clear that departure board and Get Stuff Done:

“You have control.”

Simple as that.

Let me explain: The phrase comes from flight training.

When you’re receiving pilot training instruction, on say, a glider, you will at some point reach the stage where you and (more importantly) your instructor agree that you are ready to take the controls yourself.

No Room For Confusion

Up until that point, you will have been ‘following through’ the instructor’s guidance – the instructor may say something like ‘Follow me through on the rudder’.

This means you will mirror the instructor’s actions, to get the feel of piloting the craft, but that the control has not shifted to you – the instructor is still in control.

Obviously, when flying an aircraft, there is no room for any confusion about who is in control at any point, so when the scenario shifts from ‘following through’ to ‘having control’, there is often an explicit, audible exchange that makes clear that control has shifted.

The exchange usually goes something like this:

  • The instructor says: “You have control.”
     
  • The student places her hands and feet on the controls and says: “I have control.”
     
  • The instructor then – and only then – releases the controls.

You Must Make Responsibility Explicit

By far the most common reason for ‘stuff’ not getting done – for that growing list of ‘delayed’ projects on your departure board – is the lack of a clear understanding as to when (and if) control and responsibility for an action, a project or a deliverable has actually been transferred.

You’d be amazed at the number of otherwise competent managers who are leaving many loose ends and uncompleted tasks lying around for this one simple reason – they didn’t know that responsibility to get it done had truly been transferred to them.

Next time you ask someone to do anything, make it explicit.

Use the sentence – formally, audibly – and insist on a verbal response. When you’ve explained exactly what it is you want done, say:

“You have control.”

Then insist your manager says back: “I have control.”

You’ll be amazed at the results.

Learn it. Use it. Accelerate your Predictable Success.

What about you? How do you ensure your team knows - explicitly - when you have transferred ownership to them? 

Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. I've tried the other side of this method by eliminating the chance of excuses and not allowing anyone to be a victim, the challenge is my method takes two steps before it works. It usually takes them coming back to me and trying to play the victim before it works. This method is more proactive and gets to heart of the matter quicker. Thanks for the tip! Hope all is well.

  2. Yow! So simple, and yet … so much time is spent on "getting in touch" and "circling back around" (ughh!) and beating around the bush. You're absolutely right, Les – when people don't, explicitly, understand that they have been given control, and acknowledge that they have the control, there is no transfer made. Supervisors/owners don't relinquish, and managers/direct reports don't accept. And things fall through the cracks. Thanks for cutting through the chatter!

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