During my childhood, those words were preached to me by my dad and sports coaches. For a young, ambitious athlete, there was a constant focus on practice and preparation. In fact, practice seemed to be as important as the Friday night game where I came from.
That conditioning built into me a love for practice which I have carried into my professional life – so much so that I derive almost equal satisfaction from practice as I do from playing the game.
For that, I have not just my dad and coaches to thank, but famous basketball coach, Bobby Knight.
After all, the words repeated to me over and again as a kid were in fact his.
The rest of Knight’s quote went like this:
Everyone wants to win but not everyone wants to prepare to win. Preparing to win is where the determination that you will win, is made. Once the game or test or project is underway, it is too late to prepare to win. The actual game, test or project is just the end of a long process of getting ready, in which the outcome was really determined. So, if you want to win, you must want to prepare to win. Once you prepare to win, winning is almost anti-climactic.
In sports, it’s easy to focus on the need for practice – in fact, the majority of an athletes’ time is spent on exactly that – but in our professional lives, the demarcation between practice and “the game” is blurred.
In reality, very few professionals have time to practise, unless they are working with a coach.
It’s little wonder then that their leadership doesn’t improve.
Paul Fitts and Michael Posner, famed psychologists and experts in the area of performance improvement, argue that people stop improving because they stop preparing.
They’ve discovered that most of us pass through three distinct stages when acquiring a skill, a behaviour, or an attitude (the three core ingredients of performance).
- First stage: Practice – it is here that we consciously focus on getting better. When we improve, we then move into the second stage.
- Second stage: On the job improvements. That is, learning by simply doing, not thinking. During this second stage, we concentrate less, as we’re actually getting better at carrying out a task. Then comes the third stage.
- Third stage: Auto-pilot kicks in. Instead of improving, we just do.
At this point, we feel we’re as good as we need to be and therefore stop practising and preparing.
The trouble is, we’re not as good as we need to be, or can be. As Bobby Knight said, it is essential to keep the will to prepare.
Here’s the point: when it comes to being successful, there’s a lot more to it than desire.
Success largely comes down to putting in time and effort so that when an opportunity arises, we’re ready to give it our best.
Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, is a case in point.
He realised that his role at the helm meant he was effectively a professional decision-maker, so he set out to become the best decision-maker he could.
How? By spending decades studying how to make decisions effectively and constantly learning how to improve his odds of being right.
He embodies the will to prepare.
Dalio and many other famed executives understand the importance of having the will to prepare, do you?
As a chief executive officer (CEO) coach, I spend my life working privately with executives as they prepare to win.
You can think of the coaching sessions as practice.
Just as athletes spend time in the gym or on field before they step under the spotlights and in front of the crowds, executives need to do the same kind of vital preparation.
Knight once said, “Among all the things I believe, and all I’ve gathered from the people who have influenced me, I think one tops the list: The importance of preparation.”
He was right.
It is up to leaders to inspire oft over-extended, frustrated people and help them see the opportunities that come with any crisis. How does one person inspire others in such an environment, and encourage them to play to win? To check out how you can play to win, read this article.