We glorify leadership as being a special quality that only a few possess. While true some have more experience than others, it is not something magical or necessarily rare. One can learn many aspects of building leadership skills once you are aware of them.
One of the least mentioned is that of preparation. Our stories about leadership tend to focus on outcomes. Results. Grand plans that come to fruition. What is not understood is leaders are molded out of challenges, problems, obstacles, and opportunities. Confusion, opinions, biases, and quick conclusions (drowning in emotions) constitute the mud that a leader must now walk through. Making outcomes nuanced, complex, and never as obvious as others proclaim.
Yes, there are many stories of the loneliness a leader experiences during their years of service. The critical need to personally prepare creates some of this loneliness. Prior to discussions with others.
Preparation by a leader should become a tactic for discovery, fueled by curiosity, in order to find clarity and possibility. It’s important for a leader to not only have a point of view (albeit it may not be “the final” solution) but to know what the verified facts are, and where are gaps in their understanding prior to problem-solving, This clarity is the counterweight to emotion and group think that many leaders face when dealing with others. I find that preparation makes it much easier to guide and promote more effective group discussions.
It’s true. Preparation takes time. Sometimes an hour’s worth of work for a two-hour meeting. As the challenges become greater, preparation time may expand to 6 hours of pre-work before a similar two-hour meeting. Good leaders never mind taking the time to prepare. An example of this is taking raw data and transforming it into insights. Raw data alone, tells us little. Insights generated during the loneliness of preparation become a good leader’s friend in discussions infused with too many emotions and too few facts.
Even in leadership, you are only as good as the weakest team member. Making it critical for a leader to vet the information they are given by team members prior to any meetings. Looking for accuracy in both data as well as the conclusions the preparer offers when doing their assigned project work. It is tough to lead or problem-solve when facts are in doubt publically amidst a group. When this occurs, your leadership weakens.
Good leaders have a good grasp of a situation. Informed by many different points of view. Needing to be the most knowledgeable while they weigh the short-term vs long-term implications of what a person or group is about to decide. Good leaders use preparation as a weapon to detach themselves from their own emotions regarding a situation, so they too can be more objective in their problem-solving and leadership interventions.
While different from the admonition “to measure twice and cut once”, preparation is key to building a practice of effective leadership. Slowing down before speeding up, preparation is a form of “measuring twice” in order to make a group’s time together the most productive. Giving a leader a head start on both clarity and objectivity prior to engaging a group on an outcome-focused journey.