It’s easy to spend most of our time reacting to problems. Some of us are built for this, meant for it even, but it shouldn’t be what we do with the majority of our time—unless that’s actually our job description. (Many IT people and Customer Service reps actually have this job description and rightfully so.)
Isn’t it just better to plan? As the boy scouts say: “Be prepared.” I would rather not have my inbox decide my schedule. I prefer to initiate over having my surroundings decide for me.
Much of the urgent is only urgent because we didn’t address it last month, last week, or yesterday. I’m a believer in the “clear the inbox” and “every problem should be addressed now” mentality—whenever possible. Yet, this too must be built into our planning. (I certainly don’t live up to this, but it’s a goal.) Problems often seem more manageable in retrospect; so, if we make retrospect now, we will be able to apply the lesson from today to tomorrow’s problems before they begin.
Planning for problems isn’t for everyone, but it’s the business of leading. Being a visionary is crucial, but foreseeing how to move obstacles out of the way of a team is equally essential.
People who coach on hiring and firing often say that whoever you’re firing probably should have been fired months ago, and that you (as their leader) were either too inept or too much of a procrastinator to take care of the problem when it arose. This same lesson can be applied to all leadership settings. If we plan, the problems should be minimal, not crises: our plans should build in time to take care of today’s problems today and time to re-plan as necessary. And there must be contingency built in for when the small problems arise. If we can’t anticipate the future, we will fail. Things will happen that are unexpected, but the schedule and budget must have enough flex to allow for it.
And an even bigger issue: If we’re not building the team we’re probably going to need next month or six months from now, we’re going to all suffer. Because by the time the next major initiative rolls around, it will be too late. Future projects matter as much as todays, and often deserve more of the primary leader’s time. Initiate, then plan, and initiate and plan again. Tomorrow will only look different if today does.
If we’re not preparing or doing today’s work (in alignment with our agreed upon schedule), we’re procrastinating and showing our ineptitude in the process. We must be ready for what’s next before next happens.
How do you prepare? Share your tips. How do you fight the inevitable inaptitude we all have when beginning a new project?
P.S. Shortly after writing this post, an urgent problem surfaced that required my attention through the middle of the night and required making a late night trip into the office on icy roads. I learned the same lesson as this post (again): this crisis could have been prevented through better planning. Irony is a bitter friend.