A leader can adopt a servant leadership style, or a steward leadership style, or a transformational leadership style but if they are not a prepared leader, they may not be very effective. This blog underscores the need for the leader to bring his/her A-Game every day in every setting. A popular saying (possibly attributed to Ben Franklin and definitely incorporated into the leadership philosophy of John Wooden) aptly pertains to prepared leadership: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
So, let’s take a step back and consider what preparation means. To give a little structure to the definition of this concept in the context of leadership, I would present six boxes of preparation for the leader to check off.
Box 1– Be ready with what you know. Preparation involves research and networking. Collect as much data as possible so you can interact with knowledge and understanding. Preparation involves study and communication. The effective leader learns about the many perspectives that make up an issue. Networking with management, upper-level leaders, stakeholders, venders, competitors, and employees allows the leader to see the various sides of the diamond and the values that participants in the organization place on the jewel under consideration. Preparation means to know what you can know.
Box 2 – Be ready for what you do not know. Even more important than what you know is the unknown. This aspect of preparation involves reflection and developing probing questions to answer the unknown dimensions of the issue at hand. We have the money to build the cafeteria, but what are the monthly costs of maintaining the cafeteria? What is the life of the equipment/furniture and the replacement dollar needed? Did anybody price plates, silverware, glassware? Do not assume anything – question everything – be prepared for the unknown.
Box 3 – Be ready with an adaptive plan. It is rarely (maybe never) a good idea to go into a meeting with a blank legal pad or an empty planning folder. The effective leader should have a potential plan for every agenda item. On the other hand, every plan should reflect an adaptive flexibility. A concrete plan, complete with re-bar, can miss a great idea or an exciting alternative. When the unknown is probed and the answers are provided, the plan might just morph into a super plan that goes beyond the expectations of everyone around the table.
Box 4 – Be prepared with an open mind and carefully tuned ears. This preparation is personal. This preparation challenges the leader’s ego. The leader typically believes that he/she knows the best direction, the best decision, and the best road to take. The most effective leaders also recognize that blinders exists and that blind spots can cause huge accidents. Take the keys to your thinking and unlock your pride so that you can consider the ideas of others. Open up your ears and listen before you engage your tongue to pontificate. Be prepared to listen twice before you decide – measure twice, cut once. Pride sometimes gets in the way of the leader and without this preparation of openness, the bull is set loose in the china shop.
Box 5 – Be prepared to change. Similar to Box 4, this box is a mental and emotional one that prepares the leader to think and consider ideas outside the box. The small sphere of knowledge (no matter how thorough Box 1 has been completed) can always be expanded. New ideas and creativity might be found from any member around the table. Invite novel thinkers and trusted confidants to interject challenges and resistance to the momentum of the meeting. Resistance can be a friend if it prevents a pothole decision or a journey into quicksand.
Box 6 – Be prepared to act; be prepared to table; be prepared to do more research; be prepared to debate; be prepared to think, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate; and most important of all, be prepared to pray. Decisions must be made. Be ready to make a decision. Your organization looks to you for decisions. But be wise and be proactive. Be prepared so you may know if the organization should move forward, sideways, backward, or if it should stand and wait. Discernment is a key element to preparation and the effective leader must learn to discern.
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