We decided recently to refurbish our house so we contacted a labourer who is currently unemployed and looking for work. He inspected the premises and confirmed that he could carry out the work and the price was agreed. On the day in question the man failed to turn up or call but a day later he came and reported that he had had to address a personal situation so he apologised and asked for a second chance. We agreed that he would start in a few days. On the day in question he turned up two hours late and without tools, offering an excuse as to why he wasn't able to start as agreed. We contacted another labourer and soon the work got underway. Labourer number 1 lost the opportunity and is still looking for work. There is a Spanish proverb: Rey muerto, rey puesto - no one is indispensable!
This scenario highlighted to me the fact that some people miss opportunities due to their state of unpreparedness. Irrespective of how well you know your craft, if you are consistently unprepared you risk losing out to those who may well be less skilled. If you get spoon you will drink soup is a Jamaican proverb which captures the essence of this sentiment. Without your tools you may miss out on the spoils.
It is important to keep your lamp oiled for that moment when the groom may enter. There is no point in scurrying off to get your tools, for when you return the door may be shut; the opportune moment does not wait. Each of us has been given the same number of hours in the day – ample time to prepare ourselves to take opportunities which often show up unexpectedly. I recall many years ago I was offered a post in a Spanish-speaking country. At the time I was not the most senior or the most experienced but I was the most prepared. I was at the only one available with the required level of Spanish language knowledge to function effectively in that role. Instead of waiting the usual least three years for such an opportunity I was offered the post after just one year.
Sometimes we are unaware of the object of our preparation. "I will prepare and some day my chance will come - Abraham Lincoln. Our trajectory in life is not always obvious - some courses on which we embark simply emerge as we traverse through life. I recall when I was at post I took the opportunity to study the Portuguese language. This move was criticised by some who thought it was a silly decision, since the language did not figure among the most popular. Several years later I was head-hunted by a top UK university to lecture Portuguese Translation at the postgraduate level. Your dreams and aspirations are planted in you; others don’t have to be able to see it.
Preparedness is not only demonstrated in having access to your tools, skills or information but also in being in the right frame of mind. There is no point in turning up if you are just going through the motions, without motivation or passion. A lack-lustre approach in a meeting, a limp greeting or a generally unenthusiastic attitude will not gather traction. Being in the right place at the right time is just half the story; we have to be able to turn up, identify and take opportunities and be able to create a positive impact on the minds of those who are able to make that moment count.
I have seen people turn up to key events without their business cards, or they turn up too late to meet key people. I have been in the right place at the right time but failed to bring samples of my work for showcasing to potential stakeholders. Sometimes this happens because we think it’s too bulky, heavy or inconvenient; there is a Jamaican proverb that says “horse is not too good to carry its own grass”. Most people who make it in life have been helped by someone – for no man is an island. Many of us screw up our elevator pitch because we are unprepared. We know the value of what we have but we are unprepared to promote it; and since movers and shakers cannot access the information the moment slips by, uneventful. Preparedness is a natural phenomenon - even animals prepare for winter as they gather their food and dress their abode.
Many of us spend hours preparing our bodies for the rigours of daily life. While it is important for us to pay attention to our flesh we are not just a body; we are also mind and spirit. Any change we experience has to start from within. Preparation helps us focus, to feel worthy and to excel. There is nothing special in being ordinary; we have to step out of that sphere and venture into the unknown in order to explore our horizons. Despite our level of preparedness we can fail but that failure will provide key lessons that will place us in good stead for our next adventure.
An attitude of preparedness will position us in the right frame of mind to keep exploring and pushing boundaries which so often place limits on us and hinder our progress. If we believe that each person has a purpose in life we need to build our capacity to fulfil that purpose. The African proverb: tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today sums it up well.
As leaders of organisations we have to ensure that our organisations are fit to access business opportunities that may come our way. We should continuously pursue professional development training for self and staff; acquire appropriate quality marks which may be required by prospective buyers; and build meaningful relationships that add value, increase competitiveness and give access to bigger contracts, improved supply chains and strategic partnerships. We should attend events to gather key information that is relevant to our industry and get to know who’s who in our unique marketplace. We should have contingency plans and engage in succession planning. Disasters (man-made or natural) can strike at any time. I've heard it said: It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark. Perhaps we too should build our arks not only to withstand the tests of time but to chart its course.
Preparedness is a key ingredient in success building.