I was standing in the back of the room listening to my introduction, hoping the person would say something I could comment on when I took the stage. The room was full – hundreds of people. They had come hear me speak.They wondered what I would say. So did I… I was not prepared.
I hope this has never happened to you as a leader. Take my word for it; to stand and speak in front of a group, large or small, ill prepared is not my idea of fun. Now, I’m okay with making spontaneous remarks as needed – that’s VERY different than a keynote presentation, or workshop setting in which success really does hang in the balance if you’re not prepared.
Speaking in public is just one example in which we need to be prepared. We also need to be prepared before we conduct an interview; before we conduct a performance review; before we make a budget presentation, etc. The truth is we need to invest a significant amount of our time in preparation mode. How are you doing on this?
To say, leaders need to be prepared is probably stating the obvious. So, if it’s so obvious, why do we find preparation so difficult? For me, there are several primary reasons.
Everything a leader does, including preparation, is more difficult when our calendars are overbooked How’s your calendar these days? As Henry Cloud reminds us in his book, Necessary Endings, nothing that is alive will thrive without pruning. My calendar needs constant pruning. If you and I chronically have too much on our calendars, preparation is one of the early victims, not based on priority or strategy; it is ignored because of other louder voices. The loudest voices are rarely the most important.
Leaders struggle with preparation because we fail to schedule it. If you have a budget presentation on a certain date, you’ve got to also put time on the calendar to do the prep. The same is true for every activity where you and I need to show up prepared. Look at your calendar for the next 90 days – is it littered with blocks of time allocated to preparation? It should be. When life was simpler and someone would ask me to speak at an event, the test was my availability. Now, there’s a two-part test, am I available AND do I have time to prepare? If I can’t find time to prepare, the answer is no, I can’t speak at your event.
Finally, leaders find it hard to prepare because we’re really good at winging it. Often, we can just show up and get acceptable results. This is extremely dangerous. When we “wing it,” we risk not only the outcome, but we put our leadership at risk. If it’s a public event, we also risk the reputation of the organization we represent. At a deeper level, we jeopardize an opportunity for influence. Who knows if we’ll ever get another chance to impact those people or that situation? When we wing it, we can usually pull it off, but for me, it’s rarely my best work. I want to live to a higher standard, and I know you do too.
Remember, as the leader, there are people in every room you walk into who are waiting and wondering … What are you going to say? You shouldn’t be one of them.