Day 1: Composition
What happens when you don’t prepare? Things you hoped wouldn’t happen do happen— and they
occur with greater frequency than the things you hoped would happen. The reason is simple: being
unprepared puts you out of position. Ask negotiators what happens at the bargaining table when
they are out of position. Ask athletes what happens when they are out of position. They lose. Prepa-
ration positions people correctly, and it is often the difference between winning and losing. Talent-
plus people who prepare well live by this motto: “All’s well that begins well.”
What process are you currently using to assess where you should be going and what you should
be doing? How has it worked for you so far?
WHY PEOPLE FAIL TO PREPARE
Spectacular achievement comes from unspectacular preparation. While talent wants to jump into
action, preparation positions talent to be effective. Talent plus preparation often leads to success.
Talent minus preparation often leads to disaster.
Are you more likely to jump in too soon or to hesitate too long when faced with an issue or oppor-
In hindsight, it’s easy to recognize the value of preparation. So why do so many people fail to pre-
1. They Fail to See the Value of Preparation Before Action
Authors Don Beveridge Jr. and Jeffrey P. Davidson believe that lack of preparation is the primary rea-
son for business failure today. “Poorly educated, poorly prepared, and poorly trained people fail be-
cause they do not have the skills or expertise to perform,” they say.
“Inadequate financing, the number-one reason businesses fail, can also be traced to lack of prepa-
In the introduction to this book I wrote about how talent early in life or in the beginning of a ca-
reer makes a person stand out—but only for a short time. Why? Talent may be a given, but success
you must earn. Proverbs 18:16 states, “A man’s gift makes room for him.”² In other words, your tal-
ent will give you an opportunity. But you must remember that the room it makes is only temporary.
Preparation is a major key to achieving any kind of success. It alone can position your talent to
achieve its potential. Military people know this. General Douglas MacArthur said, “Preparedness is
the key to success and victory.” He also stated it more bluntly: “The more you sweat in peace, the
less you bleed in war.”
2. They Fail to Appreciate the Value of Discipline
It’s been said that discipline is doing what you really don’t want to do so that you can do what you
really do want to do. A frustrating thing about preparation is that it usually takes much more time
than the actual event one prepares for. Musicians may practice many hours preparing to perform a
three-minute piece. Stage actors practice for weeks to prepare for a performance that lasts two
hours. I know that when I create a leadership lesson that may take me less than an hour to deliver, it
usually takes me eight to ten hours to write it. Discipline is required to keep preparing long hours
for something that will be over quickly.
What is your ratio of preparation to performance?
Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the United States and its first secretary of the treasury,
said, “Men give me credit for genius; but all the genius I have lies in this: When I have a subject on
hand, I study it profoundly.” Hamilton was a disciplined and highly productive man. He under-
stood that no matter your circumstances, resources, or natural talent, certain things were always
within your control—your ability to work harder and smarter than anybody else. That bears remem-
bering as you prepare yourself for the challenges that lay ahead of you.
Automaker Henry Ford observed, “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.”
Ford understood the power of preparation and all the things it can do for someone:
1. Preparation Allows You to Tap into Your Talent
While I was working on this book, I was scheduled to make a trip to Latin America to teach lead-
ership and meet national leaders in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela, Bolivia,
and Peru. I would be gone more than ten days, so before I left, I spent an entire day making sure I
had the materials I would need to keep working on the book. I reviewed the chapter outlines, gave
some thinking time to the subject of the first couple of chapters, and pulled quotes and other mate-
rials from my files to take with me. And of course, I packed several new legal pads!
I also wrote the book’s introduction. A group of excellent leaders and thinkers would be accom-
panying me on the trip, and I wanted their comments on the direction I was taking the book. I had
copies made of that introduction so that I could hand them out to my fellow travelers, and I asked
everyone to give me feedback and ideas. (I’m a strong believer in teamwork when related to talent
too. I’ll write more about that in Chapter 13.) And since we spent a lot of hours flying on a plane,
during much of that time I pulled out the materials I had packed and did some writing.
As the trip concluded and we were flying back home, one of my travel mates, David McLendon,
said to me, “I’ve learned a valuable lesson on this trip. You came prepared to maximize your time
because you knew what you wanted to accomplish. While the rest of us read and talked, you got a
lot of work done. You outlined two chapters. You even engaged all of us in the writing of your
What he observed was possible because I had prepared. “You know, David,” I replied, “I’ve found
that every minute spent in preparation saves ten in execution.” And that had been the case here. Be-
cause I spent a day preparing, I was able to work for ten days on that trip. It’s not difficult; it just
takes planning. The questions I ask myself before a trip like this are really very simple:
• What work is to be done?
• How is it to be done?
• When is it to be done?
• Where is it to be done?
• How fast can it be done?
• What do I need to get it done?
Answering these questions prepares me for what lies ahead. And when I am prepared, my talent
is positioned for maximum effect.
Apply these questions to your current project:
What exactly is to be done? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
How is it to be done? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
When is it to be done? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Where is it to be done? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
How fast can it be done? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What do I need to get it done? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Preparation Is a Process, Not an Event
We live in a quick-fix society. We think in terms of events and instant solutions. But preparation
doesn’t work that way. Why? Because it’s about you. Anything having to do with people is process-
oriented. The Law of Process in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership states, “Leadership develops
daily, not in a day.” The same can be said of maximizing your talent.
How does your daily routine incorporate your talents?
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden says that the best way to improve your team is to
improve yourself. He learned that lesson from his father, Joshua Wooden, who used to tell young
John, “Don’t try to be better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be.”
That’s good advice whether you’re playing basketball, parenting, or conducting business.
3. Preparation Precedes Opportunity
There’s an old saying: “You can claim to be surprised once; after that, you’re unprepared.”
If you want to take advantage of opportunities to use your talent, then you must be prepared when
the opportunities arise. Once the opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to get ready.
How often do you find yourself unprepared for a situation?
Never Sometimes Always
What are the recurring factors in your moments of unpreparedness?
If you study the lives of dynamic men and women, you will find that preparation for opportunity
is a common theme. President Abraham Lincoln said, “I will prepare and some day my chance will
come.” Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli of England remarked, “The secret of success in life is for a
man to be ready for his time when it comes.” Talk show host Oprah Winfrey asserted, “Luck is a
matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” And President John F. Kennedy observed, “The time to
repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” All four of these leaders had talent, prepared them-
selves, and then made the most of their opportunities when they arose. Many people believe that
their greatest barrier to opportunity is having one, but the reality is that their greatest barrier is
being ready when one arrives.
4. Preparation for Tomorrow Begins with the Right Use of Today
Recently a few friends and I were privileged to have dinner with former New York City mayor Rudy
Giuliani and his wife, Judith, in Orlando after a speaking engagement. I found the mayor to be a very
warm and personable man who was an easy conversationalist. During our conversation, I of course
asked him about his experience during 9-11. He talked about his impressions from that day and
how the event impacted him as a leader. He said that leaders need to be ready for anything. They
need to study, acquire skills, and plan for every kind of situation.
“Your success will be determined by your ability to prepare,” he said. He went on to explain that
when a situation like September 11 occurs—for which there was no plan in place—leaders must
take action and rely on whatever preparation had taken place. In his case, it was the emergency
drills they had followed. Both helped during the crisis.
Preparation doesn’t begin with what you do. It begins with what you believe. If you believe that
your success tomorrow depends on what you do today, then you will treat today differently. What
you receive tomorrow depends on what you believe today. If you are preparing today, chances are,
you will not be repairing tomorrow.
5. Preparation Requires Continually Good Perspective
When I was a kid, my first love was basketball. From the time I was ten until I graduated from high
school, I was shooting hoops at every free moment. One thing that I still enjoy about basketball is
how quickly one player can change the tempo and momentum of a game. That’s true not only of the
stars and starters, but also of the players who come off the bench. That’s why the “sixth man,” the
player of starting caliber who is often the first substitute in the game, is so important. Former Bos-
ton Celtics coach Tom Heinsohn observed,
“The sixth man has to be so stable a player that he can instantly pick up the tempo or reverse it. He
has to be able to go in and have an immediate impact. The sixth man has to have the unique ability
to be in a ball game while he is sitting on the bench.” What makes the sixth man capable of that?
Perspective. He has to have both a coach’s mind-set as he watches the game from the bench and a
player’s ability once he steps into it. If he does, then he is prepared to impact the game.
Howard Coonley, the executive after whom the American National Standards Institute named its
award honoring service to the national economy, stated, “The executive of the future will be rated by
his ability to anticipate his problems rather than to meet them as they come.” Perspective can not
only help people to prepare, but it can also motivate them to prepare. I love the quote from Abra-
ham Lincoln, who said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.”
Lincoln had split rails with an ax as a young man, so he knew the value of a sharp ax. Perspective al-
ways prompted him to prepare—whether he was getting ready to cut wood, study law on his own to
pass the bar, or lead the country.
Who in your organization or field displays the abilities to anticipate challenges and to effectively
react to them? How does he or she do it? How can you learn from this person?
6. Good Preparation Leads to Action
What value has preparation if it never leads to action? Very little. As William Danforth, former chan-
cellor of Washington University in St. Louis, noted, “No plan is worth the paper it is printed on un-
less it starts you going.”
People who enjoy preparation sometimes find themselves caught in the trap of over-preparing,
and they sometimes do so to the point that they fail to act. Kathleen Eisenhardt, professor of man-
agement science and engineering at Stanford University, studied the decision-making process at
twelve technology companies. She found that the fast deciders, who took two to four months to
make major decisions, were much more effective than their slower counterparts who wanted to get
all the facts of their situation and create consensus. The slower group took up to eighteen months
to plan and decide, and by the time they did find resolution, the decision they made was often irrel-
How do you determine how much preparation is needed?
Preparation does not mean mastery of the facts. It does not mean knowing all the answers. It
does not necessarily mean achieving consensus. (Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
remarked that “consensus is the negation of leadership.”) It means putting yourself in a better posi-
tion to succeed.
TALENT + PREPARATION = A TALENT-PLUS PERSON
PUTTING THE TALENT-PLUS FORMULA INTO ACTION
Sports have always been an area in which you can see the value of preparation. It doesn’t matter
what sport—good athletes talk about it all of the time. Tennis champion Arthur Ashe explained,
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is prepa-
ration.” Quarterback Joe Namath said simply, “What I do is prepare myself until I know I can do
what I have to do.”
Friend and fellow golfer Rick Bizet once told me that his golf coach taught him that the only thing
that relieves pressure is preparation. If you want to see that preparation in action, observe any pro-
fessional golfer’s pre-shot routine. I particularly appreciate the routine of professional golfer Tom
Kite. It contains three main steps: assessment, alignment, and attitude. In fact, I use it as a guide-
line, not only when playing golf, but also in other situations when I need to prepare myself. I believe
you can do the same.
1. Assessment—Am I Evaluating Correctly?
Good preparation always begins with assessment. If you don’t accurately evaluate where you need
to go and what it will take to get there, then you’re likely to get into trouble. In golf, good players
typically ask themselves these questions to assist in the assessment process:
• Where do I need to go? The process begins with finding the right target. That target must be
appropriate to your talent. You don’t want to be like the Miss America contestant that Jay Leno
quoted as saying, “My goal is to bring peace to the entire world—and to get my own apart-
• How far is my goal? Next, a person needs to assess the distance. I enjoy telling my fellow
golfers that I have a great short game—but unfortunately only off the tee! It may sound obvi-
ous, but you’ve got to know the distance to your goal to have a shot at making it there.
• What are the conditions? Good golfers always take the wind into account. The conditions make
all the difference in the world. One of my personal highlights related to golf was the
opportunity to play at St. Andrews in Scotland. And I shot really well that day—a 79. How did I
do it? There was no wind! My caddie told me, “It’s a whole different game with the wind.”
• What will it take to get there? The final step in the assessment process is knowing what club to
use. Gary Player says that bad club selection is the number one error of amateurs. They hit the
ball short. It’s important to know your skills and limitations when making your assessment.
How would I translate these questions for non-golfing situations? I’d say that you need to know
what exactly you should be doing, what it will cost you in time, effort, and resources to get there,
what obstacles you are likely to face, and what your personal limitations are. If you know these things,
you will be well on your way to preparing yourself to achieve your goals.
Answer the following questions as they apply to your own situation:
Where do I need to go? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
How far is my goal? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What are the conditions? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What will it take to get there? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Alignment—Am I Lined Up Correctly?
A good golfer can perform the assessment process flawlessly and still miss his or her target hor-
ribly. How? By lining up poorly. Psychologist James Dobson said, “What is the use of climbing the
ladder of success only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong building?”
When I first started playing golf, I tried to teach myself the game. I held the club with a baseball
grip and lined up in a baseball stance, and more often than not, if I hit the ball any distance, I sent it
into the woods. To improve my game, I had to change the way I played golf. I had to relearn the
game, and that meant getting help.
If you want to take your game to the next level—personally, professionally, relationally, or recre-
ationally—you need to find someone who is better than you to help you with the preparation
process. Be open and honest with that person, and he or she will be able to evaluate your “align-
ment” and help you get on course.
Find a mentor to help you check your current “alignment.” Here are some questions you can ask
him or her to help you get started:
• Am I looking at the right “target”?
• Am I seeing the potential problems?
• Is where I’m headed going to put me in the best place for my next step?
• What strengths do you see in me?
• What is the potential downside of where I’m headed?
• What is the potential upside?
• What is my most urgent need?
• What am I missing?
3. Attitude—Am I Visualizing Correctly?
The final step after assessment and alignment is attitude. In golf, after you select a target and line it
up, it’s really a mental game. You’re not just training your body—you’re training your mind. But
that’s true for any endeavor. You have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. You have to be
able to see yourself doing it with your mind’s eye. If you can’t imagine it, you probably will not be
able to achieve it.
Trainer and consultant Dru Scott Becker says that one of the best ways that people can prepare
is to make use of the “Grab 15” principle. Whether you want to improve your garden, learn a new
language, or get ready to start a new business, one way to accomplish what you desire is to find
fifteen minutes a day and work at it. She says fifteen-minute blocks add up fast, keep your head
continually in the game, and often lead to even more concentrated time working on your goals.
But even if you don’t go beyond the fifteen minute blocks, stick with it six days a week for a year,
and you’ll devote seventy eight hours to your goal.Where and when can you grab fifteen minutes
every day? Identify a goal you desire to accomplish and lay out a plan to achieve it—fifteen min-
utes at a time.
Preparation is one of the most obvious choices you must make in order to maximize your talent
and become a talent-plus person. Sometimes the preparation process is long and slow. It may re-
quire formal education. It may necessitate your finding wise mentors. It may mean getting out of
your comfort zone. Or it could mean simply fine-tuning a skill you’ve nearly mastered. But whatever
it requires, remember that you must be ready when your time comes. People don’t get a second
chance to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
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