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Preparing to lead

kirkFrequently, we think of leadership as a heat of the moment endeavor. A situation has developed to a point where decisiveness is needed. A clear need for action exists. It may be a crisis, or it may be an opportunity. Leadership is called for, and great leaders rise to the challenge.

These moments crystalize the story of leadership. And while they are authentic, they are incomplete. The moments are built upon a foundation established gradually over time. Good leaders understand this and go about that foundation building very intentionally. This deliberate effort is not at all glamorous. Progress is slow. Incremental improvements are small. Setbacks come often. And it just doesn’t make a sexy story. Movies tell these story elements with a montage, which does at least acknowledge that hard work when nobody’s looking is a key element of success. But in real life, in real time, it’s just plain work. Stuff you’re doing now that should be worth something at some point. A leap of faith more than an explicit tradeoff.

Unpredictable as it may be, good leaders know that this effort does shift the odds in their favor. And in the heat of the moment, those small changes can mean a lot. Decisions can be informed by a framework that’s been explored and tested and examined little by little over time. Crises can be met by teams that are well-trained, that understand their goals clearly, that feel ownership over the outcome. Investments can be cashed in for real value, just when it’s needed most.

Incremental improvements, pursued steadily over time, build a foundation for moments of leadership to crystallize. Building that foundation is an important part of leadership.

Photo credit: x-ray delta one