Preparation…..The Mission Critical Leadership Trait

I heard a story recently that legendary Cowboys football coach Tom Landry used to tell his players.  The message (and I paraphrase) is that “doing the things you don’t necessarily want to do five days a week prepares you to do your best at what you’ve wanted to do all your life.”

In Landry and his team’s case, the WANT was Sunday afternoon.  Game time. That’s what the players lived and prepared for.  Though our lives as leaders may be different than that of the millionaire pro athlete, we all can understand how so much of our life’s work is about behind-the-scenes effort. That’s the non-sexy, far-from-glamorous and exceedingly mundane preparation. Not appealing? Yes. But without it, we’re never going to be equipped to shine when the spotlight’s on.

This Sunday, the spotlight will be on the best of the best, competing on one of the biggest “stages” of their career during the Super Bowl. For these athletes, a Super Bowl win is the pinnacle achievement. Yet, for those 60 minutes of game time, endless hours, no, years have done into preparing the players on those two teams for what will equate to 12-13 minutes of action. 

As a leader, how do you prepare for that pinnacle or pinnacle-worthy achievement? Treat every day as you would “interview day,” “board meeting day” or “strategic planning day.”

What are you doing that will ultimately make the company, your team, yourself shine? Are you working on a financial analysis for your department? Are you working to improve the culture dynamic? Each meeting or conversation or interaction is an opportunity to refine your form and practice technique.

Look at your professional development and education as the NFL athlete looks at nutrition. After all, you’re both putting these elements into your body to achieve top performance. In your case, fill your mind with journals and case studies. Give your attention to industry knowledge.  Invest your time in networking and be present at conferences and seminars—all ingredients you can use to bulk up your leadership skills.

And, just as game film provides perspective for the pro athlete on his own performance or his competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, feedback is critical to provide leaders with much-needed perspective.  Be proactive in seeking out conversations with your boss or mentors who can offer insight on your performance, traits and aptitudes. Listen to your peers, colleagues, supervisors and direct reports to understand how others perceive you. How does what you’re hearing from others stack up to your expectations for yourself? How does it compare to the cultural norm for your organization or industry?

The best leaders treat every day like training camp. How are you preparing yourself for the “Big Game”?

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