The Challenge

Sometimes we know about challenges we are going to face and when they will be. Other times we simply have to respond to the challenge as and when it happens and hope that we are prepared enough for it. In many ways not knowing about a challenge that we have to deal with is the easier option of the two as we simply have to deal with it then and there. Knowing the date, time and nature of the challenge itself can play on our minds.

Surely Knowing Means We Can Prepare?

Knowing when we will have to face a challenge is one thing, knowing exactly what it will be is something else altogether. A job interview or negotiating a deal have one thing in common. We know what we want the outcome to be but the actual interview or negotiation can’t be predicted at all. This is what plays on our mind in the days and weeks ahead. Trying to work through likely scenarios, reading up on so called ‘best practice’ and talking through with friends and colleagues can cause more anxiety than anything else.

The Right Preparation

Preparation does of course help in this sort of situation. You will always want to get your head in the right frame of mind for an interview. Whether filling it with well meaning but other peoples’ ideas is a good idea or not is debatable. What is certain though is that allotting a set amount of time for appropriate research will pay dividends. This means making sure you are reading the right kinds of articles and talking with people who can give you relevant advice or prepare you accordingly.

Keeping a focus on the end game, your desired outcome is key. Lose sight of your outcome during the research stage and you end up reading lots of interesting articles that are of no use for your immediate need whatsoever.

What Have You Learned

Keeping to a time limit on your research allows you to spend time reflecting on it and how you can take what you have discovered and use it for yourself. There may be hints and tips you can use directly but never be afraid to modify them to suit your own needs. Tom Peters talked about creative swiping and this is exactly what you are doing here.

Put Learning Into Action

Once you have figured out what was useful from your reading and talked things through with friends now is the time to put it into action. Sounds strange but this is what many often forget to do as they spend all the time available to them on the research. If you have discovered a great way of how to work out your walk-away position ahead of a negotiation it wouldn’t be any use to you if you didn’t use that knowledge to work out your own position ahead of time. Having the knowledge is one thing but you only really learn by putting it into practice.

So for those challenges you know about ahead of time you need to:

  1. Be as specific as you possibly can be on your desired outcome,
  2. Put aside a set amount of time to do your research – reading, talking with colleagues and friends,
  3. Reflect on what you have learned and work out how you will incorporate it into your own personal preparation,
  4. Do your preparation for real using what you have learned.

And then you are as ready as you possibly can be for whatever the challenge is you have to deal with. No matter the outcome you know that you were as prepared as you could have been. Reflecting on how it went after the event will further improve your own knowledge ahead of having to overcome similar challenges in the future.

We have to overcome challenges as individuals often enough but we also have to do it as part or a team or as the leader of a team. When you have to ensure others are as prepared as they can be as well as yourself there are the complexities of matching strengths to the expected challenge that have to be dealt with. Perhaps that and related issues can be the subject of another post.

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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2014.