How many days have you gone to work and found yourself putting out fires all day long? It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Not to mention not very productive. How do you find time for all of your other tasks?

As the leader, you are expected to have the vision to see things from a long-term perspective and develop a plan to deal with them well before they become an issue. The Heartbeat Leader understands the power of preparation and puts it to good use. 

That’s why Preparation is the second of the Six Pulses of LeadershipTM.  If you’re serious about taking ownership of your career and serving the people you lead, then you need a plan. You can’t just drift through your day and hope things turn out well. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the higher up you go, the less preparation time you’re going to get, so you always need to be ready. The ironic thing is that if you spend enough time preparing, it looks like you are winging it because you are always ready. You’ve got something to say, so people don’t realize you are actually prepared. 

I used to be afraid of being caught off guard, so I developed some tips to be ready for anything and everything. 

Always have something written down. 

When I was a young executive in a meeting, I noticed something about the people who seemed to be the most prepared—their pens were always moving and they were always writing something down. During the meeting, they’d have a legal pad open and were jotting notes as people were talking. 

I quickly realized that these notes did two things. First, they kept them engaged with the topic. We’ve all been in boring meetings before. Writing something, anything down keeps your mind in the mix. 

Second, writing things down gives them something to talk about. There’s nothing worse than having your leader ask you about something and you have nothing worthwhile to say. It makes you look and feel like you don’t belong. When you write down the things that are happening in a meeting, you will always have something to say. 

Be ready to take your shot. 

Preparation can be a funny thing. You can do a lot of work ahead of time that never gets seen or used. The question then becomes, is that prep time wasted? I don’t believe so. 

There have been a lot of times when I’ve overprepared. When it came to the meeting or the time to act, I didn’t need half the things I had prepared for. But I’d rather be in that place all day long than need something and then not have it. 

You only get one shot to stand out. Leaders are always on stage, and you don’t always get a chance to recover from a mistake. This is especially true when you’re a minority female in nondominant situations. 

Preparedness in one situation can often be used elsewhere; it’s not wasted. If nothing else, you can share it with somebody else to help set them up for success.

Know the questions before you’re asked. 

When I was in high school, the public speaking nightmare everyone has actually happened to me: I got on stage and completely blanked. Completely. And yes, it was as traumatic as you imagine!

But I used it as a learning opportunity. In the years since then, I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people. Naturally, I’ll always remember that awful moment, but it pushed me to grow and get better. Now, I’m confident on stage because I’m prepared. 

Even to this day, for every presentation I give—even ones I might have given before—I probably spend half an hour to one hour for every one to two minutes I’m speaking. I want to over-deliver value because I care about the people who are willing to sit and listen to what I have to say.

Realize there are no perfect plans. 

Even as a planner, I’m confident that there are no perfect plans. It’s why Mike Tyson said, “Every fighter has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Heartbeat leaders know that plans are important, but they also recognize that plans have to adapt enough to take a few punches and still survive. 

Leaders lead people, and people are unpredictable. If I’m on stage talking to a room full of people, I never know how they are going to receive the message until I start talking. Then I have to read the room and adjust the plan. 

I can anticipate every question I think they’ll have, but guess what? I’m a different person than the guy in the fourth row back, three seats in. His life experiences and worldview are different from mine. 

If my plan is so rigid that I can’t adapt to his question, then it’s a bad plan. As a leader, you’ve got to use your insight, instincts, and intuition to prepare for the future. But then you actually have to push forward into the future and test it out. 

Preparation gives you confidence that you can move forward and adapt as needed. It closes the gap between fear and confidence and makes you a leader worth following. 

Want to be a leader worth following?

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