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The Practice of Preparation

When your team shows up, do they expect to practice or do they arrive prepared to perform?

If you play in a band or an orchestra, you know full well that if you show up to a rehearsal without having practiced, you will not be prepared. One team member’s lack of preparation and practice quickly becomes apparent when the rest of the team shows up prepared.

Admit it—Deep in our hearts, we all want to perform. When our favorite song comes through the speakers, we want to sing. When the guitar solo starts, we lay down our finest air guitar riffs. Our hands, feet, and fingers tap out a rhythm that we think accurately matches the beat of the drum.

We want to experience the pleasure of performance without paying the price of practice.

Practicing anything is difficult. Malcolm Gladwell’s popular psychology theory asserts that to become an expert in anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. If you apply the math to that theory, it requires 4.8 years of 40 hour weeks to become an expert. Thankfully, the research community has debunked his myth.

Regardless, practice is not required to make perfect. Practice is required to prepare, and a leader worth following equips her team with the resources to practice (to become competent and skillful) and to show up prepared and ready to perform.

I play bass guitar in a church band and know how my preparation affects my band mate’s performance and how a lack of preparation frustrates our team leader. I realize in my role as part of the rhythm section it’s critical for me to arrive prepared: to know my part, to know the music, and to be ready to listen and interact with the other musicians. Rhythm is the glue that holds the performance together, the bass and drums must create a foundation upon which to allow the vocalists and other instruments to build.

As a leader, do you manage your team’s expectations and set them up for success? If you want your team to serve with joy, not dread, you can apply these principles to any situation.  If you want your team to serve to the glory of God, you must be intentional in how you lead.

Great leaders do two things that empower their teams to succeed:

Great leaders manage expectations

  • Great leaders create a culture of success. When you equip and manage with clearly define roles and outcomes, the result is a culture where people feel like they can succeed because they know what you expect and what the anticipated outcomes are. Don’t leave anyone guessing.
  • Great leaders make it clear that everyone needs to show up prepared. If you continually allow team members to participate unprepared, it demotivates everyone else and drags down the performance of the entire team.
  • Great leaders deal with any lack of preparation creatively and decisively while reminding their team of their unrealized potential. When a team member arrives unprepared, deal with that lack of preparation with grace. Establish a performance expectation, and remind the team member how important their preparation is to the performance of the entire team. 

Great leaders set their team up for success

  • Great leaders prepare followers by equipping them. Recognize what each team member needs to equip and prepare the team to perform at its best.
  • Great leaders give their team permission. Give them permission to lead from within their role, and to take the initiative when necessary. Help them understand the responsibility of your leadership and your expectations of their leadership. Empower and teach your team to make wise decisions. Give them permission to critique your performance, but not to criticize.
  • Great leaders don’t break their rules. A colleague reflected on his frustration: “I broke my own rule.” A team is more likely to succeed when a leader manages from his strengths and best practices through familiar processes and procedures that everyone follows. When you change the routine due to lack of time or your failure to prepare, you have set your team up for potential failure.

It all comes down to this: Lead by example. If you expect the people whom you serve and lead to be prepared, you need to be prepared. It’s going to take time, your team expects you to be prepared. A culture of success begins with you.

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