Preparing for Leadership

Hamilton_Head Shot

Tanner Hamilton
University of Tennessee College of Law, Third-Year Student

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” In this simple quote, President Lincoln identified the importance of preparing before taking action. Countless articles and books have been written on the correlation between preparation and success, but too few address the importance of preparation on leadership. Preparation is essential to gain leadership and, once attained, to lead effectively. Consequently, a good leader should make preparation a regular practice.

First, preparation is essential to inspiring others to follow. Why? Because people are naturally inspired to follow competent people, and preparation produces competence through knowledge, expertise, and skill. To illustrate this point (as well as many others), my classmates and I were asked in a leadership class to simulate a hiring committee by selecting hypothetical applicants from fabricated resumes. Rather than follow the loudest voice in the room, I was surprised as the more prepared classmates began to sway more and more of the class to vote for their desired applicant. Although it felt natural for us to conform to the ideals of our more prepared classmates, I now see that this gravitation was not natural, but earned. These leaders had elevated their knowledge of the applicants through preparation, and the rest of us were eager, even if subconsciously, to follow their lead.

Even for those already esteemed as leaders, preparation is key. On this point, Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Leaders are responsible for creating the goals and strategies necessary for an organization to succeed. They must be prepared for inevitable mistakes and ready to alter their plans when beneficial to the organization. Finally, leaders must be prepared because leaders set an example for everyone else to follow. If a leader works hard, the rest of the organization is encouraged to work hard as well. If a leader slacks off, her entire organization has no incentive to continue. The work ethic of the team generally reflects the work ethic of its leader.

On this point, in light of the recent tragedy, I’m forced to consider the intense preparation of Kobe Bryant. Kobe is famous for his work ethic, as well as his skill. Several of his former coaches and teammates have told stories of entering the gym before practice, only to find Kobe sweating from hours of individual practice already. After team practices, Kobe was also known to ask teammates to play pick-up games to 100! Notably, he began this practice of asking teammates to stay after practice while still in high school. Kobe was absolutely relentless in his preparation, and his teammates admired him for it. Not only did Kobe’s preparation cause his teammates to look to him as a leader, but it encouraged his teammates to match his preparation, and this preparation bore fruit. While under the leadership of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers won five NBA championships– a feat, I would argue, would not have been possible without the unmatched preparation of Kobe Bryant.

Consequently, preparation is necessary both to inspire others to follow and to lead successfully. This is good news because it means that leadership is a choice. A person can choose to be prepared and will likely soon be regarded as a leader in whatever organization she is involved in. President Lincoln described this point by saying, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” The chance will come not simply by chance, but because of preparation; and through preparation, a good leader will be effective when the time comes. Because, as Kobe Bryant showed us through his career, the extra hours in the gym always show.

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