“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put a division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected”-
Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’
The story is recorded of a group of people who were expectant of the rains. There had probably been drought for a long time that they were eager for the rains. You can imagine some of them praying, making heat to engage the scientific process of condensation associated with rainfall. The story goes further to narrate that their deity heard their cry and settled on a day with them for the rains to fall. You are likely to think that these natives were excited and looked forward to a great down pour. O yes, they were. But on the set day they moved about in their daily routine, business as usual. They went about without umbrellas, no water carriers were placed outside to receive the water. Unbelievable isn’t it. It is understandable when you realize these indigenes have been in their condition for solong to the extent that, they hadreceived so many promises and prophesies to expect rains that now they more than doubted it will rain. Heavy downpour started almost noon, following a sudden change in clouds color and a windy atmosphere. The hosts of people were terrified, the rains were so heavy. They had no umbrellas or water basins ready for the rains. The farmers did not plant new seeds in expectation. Alas the rains have come, but one thing is obvious there was no preparation.There was obviously a lack of leadership at play. Internationally acclaimed organizational consultant and author, Idowu Koyenikan believes that“Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.” Certainly opportunities can pass you by if you are not well prepared for them. The natives in our story had opportunity but did not benefit from it.
A classic story of preparation is captured in the Gospels. Matthew tells a story in Chapter 25 of his book with lessons highly applicable for leaders worldwide. He illustrates ten virgins who were to meet a bridegroom. It happened that this activity is done in the evening so these virgins took lamps and filled it with oil ahead of the festive occasion. It is revealing to know that the groom tarried and did not show up until late. Now as you will have it, the ladies grew tired and their oil started running out. It was interesting for the writer to mention that there were 5 of these damsels who took along extra oil before proceeding to meet the groom. Now as the other five found themselves wanting they politely asked that those that carried extra oil will share but in as much as the ladies wanted to share they were unable to because it would have resulted in all of them loosing oil and hence brightness much quicker.
The two stories I have shared above has imbedded in them profound lessons on the subject of preparation. Personally I am of the conviction that preparation shapes our destinies. Starting a project and ending mid-way because you did not evaluate the process well and not putin place all that is needed, is obviously not a good attribute of a leader.
Preparation is guided by a goal. What is it that you want to achieve? How will you get there? You response and attitude to the second question bridges or widens the gap between you and your response to the first question.
What inputs are you willing to make to take you closer to your dreams? Your level of preparation is seen during your moment of truth. Back in school, we were often made aware of the school calendar in advance and in most cases, the academic calendars clearly spelt out the period for examination, but as you can relate most students enter the exams hall finding themselves wanting for lack of preparation.
How relevant is preparation in this fast-paced world where almost everything occurs at the speed of time? I dare respond that we are in the generation that makes preparation more crucial than ever. What makes me say this? This generation arguably has more opportunities than any other. And opportunities are indicators for one to prepare.
To begin with, it was not long ago in Ghana when oil was discovered on our coast. I kept wondering is the country prepared to harness this valuable resource, are there skilled people available to bring their skill to the job? It is amazing to note that there have been many students who have been pursuing courses in oil and gas, so at the scent of the discovery, their greatness was birthed. Some people define success as when preparation meets opportunity. And herein are prepared students who have studied for the opportunity of oil discovery. They did not wait for oil to be discovered before studying on oil. They unveiled the truth in the popular saying, “don’t wait for your ship to come, swim out to it”
American inventor and business man, Thomas A. Edison summarized this when he remarked“Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability…. We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”
Closely related is the fact that preparation is the bedrock for performance. Before His ministry on earth Jesus spent 40 days and nights in preparation through fasting. In fact the first 30 years of His life on earth was for preparation for His 3 years of ministry. It is recorded that Nelson Mandela engaged in sports activities, as a country runner and as an amateur boxer. Mandela worked for a law firm during the day and studied during the night. He exemplified sacrifice and discipline which were all underscored in his long journey towards freedom for South Africa. Leaders are not without pain associated with preparation. Imagine the 27 years Mandela spent in prison. This was coupled with pain, anguish and long periods of difficulty but instead of the legend to see it as a period of hopelessness; he appreciated it as the price he had to pay before his performance for leading the country into independence. Leaders understand that preparation is necessary for their effective performance.
It is knowledge of this that made Abraham Lincoln once remark: Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Preparation builds confidence. When boxers walk into the ring literally pouncing and throwing their hands skillfully, their confidence and readiness is due to the fact that they have made the necessary training they perceive to help them defeat their opponents. As a manager and recruiter sitting on many interview panels, it is nothing new to see a candidate who walk in for an interview totally unprepared. Such people show no or little knowledge on the job they are going to do or the company they will be working with. They premise the conversation with timidity and it is even worse when they are poorly dressed or show up tardy.
The inputs to make for one endeavor differ from the other. The time and effort you spend in preparing for the global Olympics competition as an athlete is markedly varied from the inputs you make for an inter school’s athletic competition.
American statesman, politician and lawyer is noted for the saying “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Preparation is remote. You do not prepare on the day of execution. You prepare way ahead. When your exam is in April or May you do not wait till end of March before you start looking for your notes, preparation is distant. Leaders are visionaries, they do not only think about the now. They project into the future. Leaders do not wait till there is an opportunity before they prepare. Way ahead of opportunities they enroll on online courses to study something new. They subscribe to a newsletter or magazine on defined areas to constantly engage their thoughts. They are of the view that, learning does not cease and the more they practice lifelong learning, they avail themselves to opportunities ahead of them.
Leaders admit that preparation is repetitive. When actors are on set, you will hear the director on top of his voice ‘Cut’, ‘Action’. They start, it’s not good; they cut and do it again. It is only at the time of preparing that you can do this. You don’t get to the interview room now trying to recall the information on your CV or the exams hall upset that you did not memorize a definition. Success is anchored on several trials and repetition. It is difficult but yes as the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt advises “… if you really want it, it’s possible. It’s all about consistency.”
“There is always a part of my mind that is preparing for the worst, and another part of my mind that believes if I prepare enough for it, the worst won’t happen” Kay Redfield Jamison
Genevieve Pearl Duncan, MCILG