Be Prepared - A Requirement for Successful Leadership

By Gary Clayton

I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always been fascinated by the motto, “Be Prepared”. It’s a motto that all leaders should heed. How can you expect to last long as a leader if you are not prepared?

Being prepared has several dimensions: knowing what may happen, having the tools to respond to what does happen – and having the right network (employees and advisors) to leverage your leadership on your path to success.

Victorinox® has made an entire business out of “Be Prepared”, using the innovative ideas of a Swiss cutlery maker 125 years ago to provide the tools to handle many physical situations. Victorinox® makes the well-known “Swiss Army knife.” The Huntsman model, illustrated here, is supposed to provide practical solutions to many needs that you might have out in the woods. It isn’t the perfect solution for most of those needs, but in a pinch, it is much better than nothing, especially when you don’t have time to drive to a hardware or camping supplies store – or can’t carry an additional cubic foot of ideal tools.

Victorinox even has a version called the Executive. Now, I don’t know how often you have thought, “Gee, here’s an Executive Task that I could use my Swiss Army knife to solve,” but they have made a stab at it (maybe the scissors attachment can be used to trim budgets?). The idea of “Be Prepared”, though, has great applicability to the executive environment.

We live in a tough world where we can’t predict the likelihood of an event like a programming error obliterating our bank account (Ref. 1) or finding ourselves listed on a “no-fly” list. Yet such an event will affect our lives, our families and our businesses in ways we are not likely to imagine.

Executive leaders must be prepared

What we need is a collection of tools. For a commonly occurring situation, we should invest in the best or ideal tool to handle that problem. But what about things that are somewhat likely to happen and will require an immediate response? We won’t have the time to research the ideal tool, acquire it and the skills needed to use it affectively. We need to determine whether to contract out that service (snow removal for our parking lot or physical security reviews for our data center) in advance of a problem or at least have a plan in place as to how we will deal with the situation. Our personal “Swiss Army knife” needs to at least give us a guide on how to handle catastrophic situations, should they occur.

We saw a prime example when Captain “Sully” Sullenburger used his personal “Swiss Army knife” to land his jet in the Hudson River with 155 people on board (Ref. 2). No fatalities, truly the mark of being prepared in many different ways for an eventuality that he had no reason to suspect would ever happen to him.

How do you prepare yourself - and your organization?

The first step in preparing yourself is to take stock and list all the things you know can go wrong with your organizational life. Think about your vision for your organization and your vision of the business and social environments within which your organization will operate. List all the problems you can imagine happening. Use your network of internal and external advisors to identify items not on your list.

The next step is to recognize how much control you have over planning for and resolving each item. One way to do this is to recognize which decision-making environment each item fits into (see Experts: What Type are Needed Now? for more on decision-making). Again, don’t rely solely on your own judgement, but involve your advisors in assessing this list.

The final step is documenting how to deal with each item. As you move upward from the Simple to the Chaotic decision-making environment, your plans will move from being very clear and quick to implement (e.g., “train my employees” or “write a procedure”) to very vague and unknown time to implement (i.e., “assess fire damage, arrange for temporary alternative sourcing and remediate the damage”).


  1. Kessler, J. (2009) Glitch hits Visa users with more than $23 quadrillion charge. CNN Retrieved on July 16, 2009 at http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/15/quadrillion.dollar.glitch/.
  2. Airplane crash-lands into Hudson River; all aboard reported safe. CNN. Retrieved on January 15, 2009 at http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/01/15/new.york.plane.crash/index.html

Gary Clayton is a leadership coach who works with leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life. He has worked with many companies to identify and better manage their business risks. Gary’s mission is to empower leaders to greater success and larger leadership roles in business and life through leadership skill development and behavior modification.

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