A couple of years before our 25th wedding anniversary, my wife and I began to plan a celebratory trip. We had long wanted to see the coast of New England and eastern Canada in the fall, when the leaves were turning, and we had decided the best way for us to do so would be by taking a New England cruise. So, we began the preparations. We searched out cruise lines to find the one that we thought would be best, and made reservations over a year in advance; we went through the process of updating our passports; we made flight reservations to and from Boston, MA (the departure port for the cruise), and hotel reservations for the days before and after the cruise. In addition, we made sure our personal arrangements were in order, by updating our will, giving all the travel information to our children and our parents, and reserving a kennel for our dog. And finally, as the time for the trip approached, we reviewed the itinerary and planned out our anticipated schedule and activities.
We had planned this trip for a year and a half, and when the day finally arrived, we embarked on a wonderful and memorable trip that, for us, was worthy of our 25th anniversary. We thoroughly enjoyed the food, the scenery, the amenities and the celebration of the big day, and in the end, we felt incredibly grateful and blessed to have been able to enjoy this experience (and even more so that we were celebrating 25 wonderful years of marriage!). However, a big part of the reason that it was such a wonderful trip was because we had done the work of planning it out in advance.
This is an important concept for good leadership: planning in advance. Although it may occasionally happen, spontaneity is very rarely an effective tool for planning. Instead, leaders and organizations need to be intentional about what they do and why they do it, which is why so much effort and time goes into activities like strategic planning, committees, and focus groups. Within this intentional planning process, I have learned that there are three things that you need to get before you can start: permission, people, and “presources.”
- Get permission. Getting permission means getting approval from two directions: above and below (and both are necessary and important). Those above would be the supervisors and financers, the ones with the authority to grant official permission. Those “below” are the followers, the subordinates, and the consumers, the ones who have to choose to accept your direction or your what you have to offer. If either one fails to give you permission, you will not be able to successfully move forward. Think about it – if those in authority over you don’t grant permission, you can’t begin, and if those on the receiving end aren’t willing to accept what you bring, you won’t get anywhere.
- Get People. Getting people means gathering the right mix of people that have the necessary skills, temperaments, and experience. For this to happen, the leader needs to decide what skills, temperaments, and experience are going to be needed, then must intentionally bring those people into the process. In other words, you must determine what it is that you need to do and what this plan is likely going to involve, then look for and select the people with the various areas of expertise that together will best meet those needs. Doing this on the front end helps to ensure a successful beginning because, even though you cannot foresee every outcome, having the right combination of people prepares the group for the most possible contingencies by virtue of their knowledge and abilities, relevant to the expected plan or idea.
- Get Presources. Now, this is a made-up word, so let me offer a little explanation. This refers to those resources, knowledge, or supplies that need to be gathered before the start of something – the “pre-resources,” or, presources. Like gathering the right mix of people, this involves determining what initial start-up resources will most likely be necessary to begin, and then gathering enough of those resources to start. This may include finances, facilities, tools, or any number of other things, but regardless, they are the things that need to be in hand before you get underway.
I unknowingly learned how to do this the first time I learned about a program of internships for high school students, I knew that I needed to implement a similar program in the school in which I was working at the time. I then went to a workshop on the concept, one that was being presented by an administrator of another school who had successfully implemented this program, to gather the information I needed. I took the idea to my supervisor to get permission to explore the possibility, and shared the idea with a group of parents and students to get their input. I spoke with several parents and faculty members to get their commitment to support the idea, and gathered a team who had organizational and promotional strengths. I considered the needs, including dates on the calendar, contacts for students, and procedures. I collected written forms and documents from other schools (with their permission) that were doing the same program. Without realizing it at the time, I was gathering permission, people, and presources, and these steps went a long way toward helping me to successfully initiate a program that became a valuable component of the school’s identity.
In much the same way, an effective leader will do these same things before undertaking a project, which will in turn set him or her up for a strong start. These three things – permission, people, and presources – are not a guarantee of an outcome of victory, but they will bring the greatest likelihood of a successful beginning, and a successful beginning increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. So, before you begin, get what you need, and that starts with getting permission, getting people, and getting presources.