Have you ever marveled at someone who excels at their craft, and you just assumed they’ve always been that talented and excellent at what they do? It’s easy for us to look at their “on-stage” performance and forget about the hours and hours of practice that took place “off-stage.” Talent plays a role in their success, but preparation is what sets them apart.
As we begin this series on “7 Questions for Leaders,” I thought it made the most sense to start with preparation. Each of the 7 questions we will cover in this series is very important, but preparation has to come first for leaders. Why?
Preparation, simply put, is what separates an average leader from a great leader. When I say great, I do not mean position. There are a lot of people with great titles who are terrible leaders. I’m talking about great in the sense of positive influence, effectiveness, respect, communication, character, performance, decision-making, and vision, to name a few. Great leaders assemble great teams and pursue a vision that makes a lasting and meaningful difference in the world. Without preparation, this is not possible.
What do I mean by preparation? These are the things you do “off-stage” when no one is looking—the things that are not necessarily enjoyable, but that are necessary for success. Preparation for leadership involves practice, planning, thinking, reading, reflecting, training, and developing. It’s about making yourself better so that you can make your team better. You must set the example for others to follow.
Michelangelo said, “If the people know how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.” What he’s describing is what we all often face—the disconnect between desiring the end result (goal, vision, success, etc.) and our apathy or lack of motivation toward doing what it takes to achieve the end result, which requires hard work and effort on our part.
What is the secret to preparation? Self-discipline. Without self-discipline you will find an excuse to not do the hard work that comes with regular preparation, planning, and practice. Self-discipline requires you to work based on habit, not feeling. When you establish good habits, preparation becomes much easier.
How can you improve your preparation?
1) Clarify your purpose. Why do you exist? When you can answer this question, you obtain clarity about your life’s meaning. This enables you to focus your time and energy on what matters most.
2) Commit to self-development. Great leaders spend time reading, learning, studying, reflecting, and practicing. Leadership does not just happen—it is developed. Even those who are natural -born leaders have to expand their knowledge and improve their skills and abilities.
3) Fuel your passion. Find out where your passion aligns with your purpose, for this is where greatness happens. When you’re passionate about your life’s work, preparation becomes natural. Think about some of the great entrepreneurs of history: Carnegie, Edison, Ford, Disney, Gates, Jobs. All of them had passion for their work—they did whatever it took to achieve success, including years of preparation, and often failure.
4) Be intentional. If you are going to improve your preparation habits, you need an action plan with specific steps. Identify the areas where you need to get better as it relates to preparation, and then allocate resources and time to these areas. Maybe you need to get up earlier in the morning so that you have extra time to prepare. Perhaps you need to read more leadership articles and books. Or, maybe you need to eliminate some distractions in your life that often keep you from preparing.
So I leave you with how we started this post by asking, “Are you prepared?” If you are not prepared, your followers will know it and they will lose confidence in you as a leader. You need to make a habit of preparing on a daily basis. This is the first step to becoming a better and more effective leader.
Quotes on Preparation
“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”-Benjamin Franklin
“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” -Paul “Bear” Bryant
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”-Seneca
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” -Colin Powell
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” -Robert Louis Stevenson