Motorsports Hall of Fame race car driver Bobby Unser once said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
It’s hard to imagine that someone who’s passionate about speed thinks about methodical preparation, but after closer consideration, it’s easier to understand given how quickly a racing event passes. It’s all about what you do before the big moment.
Leadership also presents big moments in the workplace, and like one of Unser’s laps, your performance can change what’s at stake in minutes. There’s often a great deal riding on whether your presentation, announcement, or organizational change goes smoothly. Podcast host Sam Wilson recently asked me in an interview what I do well. That’s always a tough question to answer because we tend to be our own worst critics. Preparation came to mind because it’s something I learned in my twenties when I went back to school for my MBA.
In every single class, it was expected that you had read and thoroughly analyzed the assigned twenty- to thirty-page case study. Each lecture began with the professor calling on one of the students to stand and deliver a fifteen-minute presentation about their thoughts on the case: what worked, what didn’t, and what were their recommendations. When my first semester began, I was called on in my second class, which was marketing. Wishing this was a finance or accounting class instead—my comfort zone—I stood up and got myself through it.
With that day permanently etched in my brain, I diligently prepared for the possibility—and likelihood—that I’d be called on again. If you take that experience and multiply it over the classes, weeks, months, and years of being ready to lead the class in my analysis, you can imagine how it’s a practice that today feels essential for many events in my life.
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Before I took a leadership position at Prologis, my regimen at school had already influenced my desire to learn different aspects of our business model—from leasing and development to acquisitions and construction management. By the time I was CEO, I had experienced all facets of our services. When it came time to interact with investors, it was immensely helpful to be able to speak from firsthand knowledge about the inner workings of our company.
Mentoring others can also be a great form of preparation. Guiding others causes you to break down what works for you and reinforces beneficial practices. Consider how you might help your colleagues or people on your team have experiences that will allow them to develop good habits and later draw on those productive behaviors when the situation calls for them. It’s not unlike the business model of a nonprofit called Colorado Uplift, where I serve on the board of directors.
Uplift teaches character and life skills for urban youth from fourth grade through college. Staff members mentor high school students, and high school students mentor grade school children in the Little Lift program.
Learning by teaching others has proven to be highly effective. When these young adults discuss how to share the practices they’ve learned from staff in a context that children can understand, it reinforces their leadership journey and personal performance. Standing in front of a classroom of thirty children, answering what courage or integrity looks like in fourth-grade terms, and taking on the role of mentor nurture a transformation from the inside out.
If you’d like to experience more success, think about your knowledge or competency gaps and how you might bridge them with preparation. Are there people with whom you can have an informational interview or shadow on the job to learn more about your organization? Would you benefit from training or an online course that pushes you to develop good habits? Or would mentoring someone else and showing them the ropes cause you to improve your game? There will always be opportunities to experience success in your future. Why not prepare like Unser and deliver a Hall of Fame finish?