Ready, Set — Perform!

I watched as the preacher walked through the church, talking about a Scripture reading related to the Ten Commandments. Things went south when it became evident that he himself didn’t know the Commandments.

Oops, minor detail!

We saw the same thing during the SuperBowl earlier this year as Grammy-winner Cristina Aguilera tanked on the national anthem. I can imagine her embarrassment afterwards, wishing that things had gone differently.

What the preacher and Aguilera had in common was talent, charisma, and a platform on which to showcase their talents. What they also shared on that particular Sunday was a lack of preparation. It’s not that they didn’t prepare; I’m certain they did, but their readiness wasn’t deep enough for the moment of action.

Leaders know that practice makes perfect. (And more practice, and then some more.) They are humble enough to prepare, etching their rituals into their minds and bodies. No one does this better than championship athletes.

Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics is a classic example. He’s 34 years old, and just became the all time three-point scorer in NBA history. What’s just as impressive is his stamina and workout schedule, which have actually gotten more intense as he’s aged. While many would get soft in their post-prime years, Allen still shows up four hours early for games and is said to be in the best shape of his career.

The preacher I saw wasn’t into it. Not enough at least to take 10 minutes to revisit the Commandments.

Some leaders prepare and rehearse in order to save face. This may seem self-serving but if you’ve ever sat through a board meeting and not had the answer to a question you were asked, you know why preparation is critical to strong leadership. Similarly, when your boss has a question that you don’t know the answer to, you better rebound–and fast. When you don’t prepare, your leadership takes a negative hit. People think that you’re less intelligent or worse–lazy.

Here are some ways in which we can reclaim preparation as a leadership principle:

  • Write out your thoughts. Avoid the temptation to wing it. By outlining your thoughts on paper, you’ll think through issues on a deeper level. Writing helps the brain to be more comfortable with content.
  • Rehearse with someone else. Role-playing is a powerful vehicle for precision and confidence boosting. Find someone you trust who can be a sounding board and potential acting partner.
  • Anticipate questions that others will ask. If you’re going to be in a meeting, this step is vital. Which questions will people ask you? How can you respond?
  • Be honest when you don’t know the answer. Nothing covers for a lack of knowledge like an honest response. ”I don’t know but I can definitely find out…” is valid (once or twice, anyway). Just make sure that you follow up and eventually provide the data that was requested.

Nothing is better than preparation. Whether you are getting ready for a meeting or about to give a speech, 20 minutes of preparation will ensure that you not only look professional but perform as a leader.

Isn’t your career worth it?

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