Flying a couple hundred feet above the ground at velocities approaching the speed of sound was exactly where I started my career as a fighter pilot. In our training, we were taught a simple term to successfully aviate, navigate and communicate while flying over the terrain at 1000 feet per second –‘Near Rocks, Far Rocks.’ The concept centered on prioritizing the numerous tasks an aviator had to accomplish to successfully get to and from the target successfully. The highest priority was always to clear the rocks closest to his flight path. Only after you were assured of safe passage over the immediate ‘Near Rocks’ could the pilot then perform secondary tasks of flying formation, working the radar, avoiding threats and finding the target. These tasks, along with the assessment of navigating around the ‘Far Rocks’ were performed in a cadence, or in aviator terms "a cross-check".
Later in my career, low level flying became almost obsolete but the ‘Near Rocks, Far Rocks’ concept endured in my daily processes and I utilized it as a leadership tool to prioritize tasks and ensure attainment of objectives with my team. Let me explain.
Just as a pilot’s number one task is to not hit the ground, so too does a leader have high priority tasks, objectives and decisions that must be concentrated on and successfully completed so the team doesn’t “crash and burn.” Procuring resources, delivering product and making payroll are examples of critical, near rocks priorities for a leader to keep an eye on. Good leaders must identify the critical, near term tasks for their particular business or endeavor and must cross-check these priorities in a deliberate cadence to ensure the continued success of the team objectives. These near term tasks are core to a particular business or endeavor and usually don’t change much unless you completely change your business objectives or goals. Failure in near term tasks can have a catastrophic effect on the team’s motivation and overall success. Only after successfully clearing the near rocks can a leader bring the far rocks into his cross-check. Again, a leader must clearly define and inform the team of these far term tasks. The time between concentrating on the near term tasks should be used to do tasks like setting future team strategy, determining the game plan to enter a new market or plan how to buy out your competitor.
I imagine by now, you may be scratching your head wondering how everything doesn’t end up in the near rocks arena? The answer is a good leader ensures the near term tasks don’t get cluttered with far term tasks and the cadence of the cross-check remains disciplined. If the team takes on more near term tasks (for example, acquires a new product line or business), then the leader needs to add members to the team to be able to keep up with the additional near and far term tasks that develop. A critical mistake is to take on more tasks without the ability to handle the near term issues. In this case, one of two results usually happen: (1) the team overlooks a near term task and a critical failure occurs or; (2) the team can only focus on near term issues and it loses sight of the future path and way ahead. Either way, your competition will be eating your lunch in the market place. Flying low and fast was not only exhilarating as a youngster but it still has profound effect on my flight through life and my focus on leadership processes. Give ‘Near Rocks, Far Rocks’ a try with your team!