The Three Essential Components of Strong Preparation

A few months ago I wrote here that preparation is the new leadership differentiator. That conclusion is based on close observation of my executive coaching clients and their colleagues. In an age where just about everyone has too much input and too much to do, showing up prepared for important meetings and conversations is something the best leaders do that sets them apart from the norm.

How do they do it? I shared some of their time management hacks in the post I just linked to. In this post, I want to share how they organize their thinking around three essential components of strong preparation.

The components are It, Them and I. Here’s the breakdown on how to put them to work for your own preparation.

It refers to the issue and the preparation required to master it. It’s basically doing the homework required to be up to speed on the issue. You read the reports, think through the deck, have the background conversations, get the briefing. You know you’ve done your homework on It when you have a good handle on the following questions:

  • What is It?
  • What isn’t It?
  • Why does It matter?

Them is the component of preparation in which you consider the other people involved in or affected by the issue.  Some of the preparatory questions to work through on Them include:

  • Who are they? (In other words, who are the key people or groups involved?)
  • What do they care about?
  • What are their likely objections or concerns?
  • What do they need to know?
  • Who are the supporters?
  • What’s my strategy for engaging them?

I is about you as the leader who needs to prepare. You’ve gotten a handle on It and have thought through your approach with Them. Now, it’s about preparing yourself to engage.

That involves thinking through and, in some cases, visualizing your answers to questions like:

  • What am I trying to accomplish in the bigger picture?
  • What am I trying to do in this next conversation or meeting to support that goal?
  • If I’m completely successful with this next exchange, what happens at the end? What do people know? How do they feel? What have they agreed to do?
  • How do I need to show up to make those outcomes more likely?
  • What kind of energy should I project? High? Low? Positive? Negative? Some combination of those?
  • In my communications, am I putting more emphasis on transmitting or receiving or trying to hit a sweet spot between the two?

As you can see, none of the above is rocket science level stuff. It’s mainly about giving yourself a little bit of space to think things through before you act. It’s the little things like that that separate the great leaders from the near-greats.

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