I believe the sentiment behind that helpful but crass phrase is true. As I wrote in my book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace, an incident took place early in my career at a Fortune 50 organization that taught me to make preparation one of my core values. Our staff was to meet with a few new mid-level managers to give them an overview of our department, with each supervisor covering information about their specific area of responsibility. As I recall, we pretty much all just “winged it”, and it showed. It embarrassed our leader, and he really let us have it afterwards (which we deserved). I learned from that incident to try my best never to “wing it” on anything that was important in the future.
A definition of preparation that I like is “The action or process of making ready or being made ready”. I want to “be ready” for what I have to do in order to best use the gifts that God has given me.
The Bible has much to say about preparation. Here are just a few verses to speak of being prepared in different contexts:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. Proverbs 6: 6-8
Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:44
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3
Not everyone sees the same value in preparation. Perhaps it is a matter of personality type, or just “how we are wired”. I worked with many who worked better “under the gun”, and wouldn’t start working on an assignment, studying for an exam, or writing a paper, until the last minute.
I have to admit that part of my desire to be prepared is a fear of failure. That is a fear that I have dealt with for as long as I can remember. Part of that stems from a lack of confidence. I’ve written previously about a comment I received on a junior high school report card more than fifty years ago that stated “Bill lacks confidence”. By preparing myself for the task ahead, I can go into it with much more confidence that I will do my best.
Some of the specific areas that I think about preparation are:
- Speaking or teaching. Whenever I have occasion to speak or teach, I try to develop my content as early as possible so that I can thoroughly practice ahead of time. That gives me confidence to deliver the message and enjoy doing it.
- Before an important meeting. Whenever I have a “crucial conversion”, I sit down and jot down some important speaking points that I want to make sure and cover. If I don’t do that, I risk missing an important opportunity to communicate something that I needed to.
- Studying for an exam. For whatever reason, I never developed good study habits in high school. That carried over into my undergraduate days, and my grade point average reflects that. Later, that changed in seminary, and I applied myself in preparing for exams and starting early on papers I needed to write. That carried over into the workplace as I prepared for IT certification exams that I needed to take.
- Playing golf. Prior to playing golf, even when I am playing on a regular basis, I always hit a bucket of balls on the practice range. Failing to do so, would result in my working through some bad shots through the first few holes of a round, ruining my score for that day and also my attitude.
- Travel directions. I give a lot of thought to making a trip, even if it is to a destination that I’m familiar with, such as a baseball game in St. Louis. For example, I think through where I want to park so as to make the best “get away” after the game.
These are just a few of my thoughts on preparation, and why it is a core value of mine. Are you someone who prefers to prepare ahead of time, or do you work better when you are “under the gun”?