This was brought to mind this week when I heard in a radio broadcast a saying of US President, Abraham Lincoln:
· “Preparation is the key; if I am to chop down a tree in a week’s time, then I must take six days to sharpen the axe”
Remember the witty rewrite of “Ready, Aim, Fire” to “Ready, Fire, Aim”?
All too often we tend to shoot from the hip without much thought as to the consequences and worse still, to unintended consequences.
Take a look at the success of the Team GB cycling team over the past five or so years. Every time anyone from the team is interviewed about its successes, the word “preparation” is invariably brought up. This can be translated as a ferocious attention to detail and planning of every possible facet of activity and performance.
Great leaders know how vital it is to prepare meticulously beforehand, be it for a battle, a project or indeed any activity where the team is involved.
This is not to say that the leader should be involved in the detail planning. One of the functions of the leader is to encourage any method which will lead to success and which certainly should not include being personally deeply involved in the detail.
Again, just watch the great sportsmen and women before their explosion of energy; watch how they visualise what is about to happen and their part in the procedure.
Top downhill skiers, for instance, visualise the whole of the track, the changes in terrain and the bumps and curves that they have to negotiate. See them just before the run, often with eyes closed, hands waving, seeing themselves on a successful run.
It is the result of planning and preparation which undoubtedly takes a great deal of time prior to the event and every minute spent is another step towards eventual success.
It is always preferable to achieve the “finished early and below budget” result than “sort of finished and late and over budget” which is the invariable result of a lack of preparation and planning.
There are so many techniques available to us these days in the form of project planning software, critical path analysis, PERT and so on, all of which can take the uncertainty out of any project, or at least minimise it.
The “shoot from the hip” syndrome can be exciting and shows a measure of decisiveness but much better it is to take time out to think first, talk it over, decide what to do and then fire; it’s a far better way to hit the target.