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Opinion: Thoughts on Leadership - Failing to Prepare Is Preparing to Fail

Preparation3 long

If you can’t be the best version of yourself, then don’t try.


Earlier this summer I attended RGA’s Big Ideas competition (about startups and talented
entrepreneurs). When I arrived at the venue I noticed a guy sitting in a corner and speaking without sound, rehearsing his pitch, over and over. He was one of the contestants; he turned out to be one of the winners, no coincidence. He was well prepared.

Autopilot is useful when flying planes, but it kills authentic leadership. In this article, I’ll share my personal experience and what I learned about the power of preparation.
It happens to all of us. You speak at client meetings, present your business plans and ideas, update your teams in town hall meetings, and afterwards get polite responses: “Really good” or “Thank you for the information.” You get the nagging feeling that you failed.

The question you should ask yourself: “Was I presenting the authentic me, or was I on autopilot?” In other words, were you employing all of your experience, expertise and skills in an effort to deliver a seamless presentation?

Many of us have had the experience of exiting a stage with a sinking feeling after delivering remarks. A while ago, I had to present at a client event on innovation, industry trends and the speed of change. After the presentation, a longtime colleague came to me and said it was one of my best presentations in many years: “The others were good, but now you were on fire!”

The difference? I prepared like I had to present for the first time. I invested time to ask myself: Who is my audience? Is my message clear and meaningful? What are the key questions to address? I spent most of my time on the needs and demands of the audience, and much less time on the actual PowerPoint slides.

My takeaway: switch off the autopilot. Don’t simply deliver standardized, predictable presentations anymore, as these don’t add value. If you don’t have a meaningful message or point to make, please move on. 

Switching to the broader topic of leadership, the lesson above applies to much more than presentations. Think about internal meetings, management teams, whatever.
Be brave, and ask yourself the question: am I on autopilot or am I really adding value? If the autopilot light is on, don’t waste energy in meetings; put energy in growing your business and your teams.

Consider this comment from an outsider who was part of our team meeting:
“You do have an agenda, but you don’t seem to use it. And yet the meeting is very efficient. From the outside it seems like a conversation….” Spot on! If you prepare well for meetings and presentations, they can look easy, almost casual, but you will get things done. If you fail to prepare and the autopilot light is on, you will end up with those lengthy meetings where everybody walks away scratching their heads wondering what was accomplished.
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