Preparation Is the Key to Career Success

“Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln”

As I read, there are some words or phrases that cause me to stop and reread. The Lincoln statement did it for me.

Einstein is credited, if erroneously, with saying: “If I were about to die and I had only 1 hour to figure out how to save my life, I would spend the first 55 minutes of that hour searching for the right question. Once I had formulated the question, finding the answer would take only 5 minutes.”

Getting Prepared Is a Job Itself

As I work to develop HR leaders across the world, my statements and missives all reflect the same theme: In these days of constant change, the role of a leader is to be prepared as much as possible. It is why, in the sports world, they practice, practice and practice some more. For anyone who has participated in sports, you know the drill: Game day, then 4 to 5 days of practice till the next game. Sharpening the axe, as Lincoln said.

Today, anyone working in any role within an organization must be in the learning zone for the most part of every day. As I travel 3 weeks out of the month, I spend down time reading, making notes and loading up my iPad with reading material. I had a steward on whose flight I’d been a few times say to me, “You never use our entertainment system and I notice that you always read and work.” Sheepishly I said yes that is me.

What Are You Doing To Get Prepared?

Many years ago, when I started getting interested in HR from a strategic perspective, I was at Martha Stewart Living in NYC as vice president of HR. I noticed that the publishing and TV business we were in was going through seismic shifts. Publishing was moving from paper to digital and TV from analog to digital. The transition had severe ramifications throughout our business and the industry as well. Talent and technology were driving the change. How do you begin the process of analyzing these situations and charting a path forward?

While we were successful in programs and initiatives that we created, it gave me a thirst for tackling these types of issues as opposed to the mundane work of HR. As part of that mindset, I would read incessantly, and when I saw a story that had human capital implications, I thought about what I would do if I were involved.

I saw the CEO of Microsoft talk about a changing strategy. My mind game was to think how it would affect the organization and what would be HR’s role in creating the new human capital strategy.

When Amazon showed a video of a new fulfillment center basically run by robots, I considered what HR’s role would be in the existing facilities and how would HR build the people model for the new warehouse.

Finally, when Google recently purchased HTC it showed that they are serious about getting into this space controlled by Apple and Samsung. What would HTC have to do now to ramp up its talent? What must Apple and Samsung do to maintain their strategic position?

For some reading this you may think overkill, but that is cool. Prepartion is important; you must start the process of getting prepared now. So my advice to the people still reading this:

Know What You Want to Accomplish

This sounds simple, and it is the most fundamental step. But it is often the most neglected aspect of being prepared.

What is it you really want to do with your professional self? It does not matter what role you are in. I have often felt that the dysfunction within an organization is caused by people who do not want to be there. Imagine if the vast majority of your workforce knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish.

But let’s get back to you: What do YOU want to accomplish as this is the key? Figure this one out and you are 50% there. Do not figure this out and you are on the road to muddling along with no clear direction.

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Someone asked me recently, “How do you find the time to do all of that” My response was “Easy. We always find time for what it is that we REALLY WANT to do.” If you want it bad enough you will find the time and will not procrastinate.

Reflective Discourse

As Plato reported, Socrates once described reflection as “a discourse the mind carries on with itself.” We all have to first be able to lead ourselves. This takes constant learning and self-awareness, a knowledge of yourself that’s best gained by understanding your strengths, your shortcomings, and how you show up in different situations. It can be hard to create space for reflection, for this takes honesty. But the more you work on this process the more realistic you can be in building out your new self and becoming prepared.

So remember: preparation is the key. We each have our own tree, but we must prepare when the time comes to cut that sucker down.

Sharpen that axe now!!

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.