It’s not Luck, it’s Leadership Preparation

If you pay attention to how often people talk about luck, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a concept we rely on quite a bit in leadership. Depending on the time and the culture, luck can mean a lot of different things, from a random event to the work of supernatural forces to a lucky object, number, or date.

It’s not Luck, it’s Leadership Preparation

In contemporary America, we think of luck most often as an event or occurrence that falls outside our control. We love to hear stories of chance and coincidence—the wilder and more improbable, the better.

In business, the meaning of luck is even more specialized. There’s often a suggestion that the promotion or deal or assignment wasn’t earned. “She fell into a gold mine there,” someone might say, or “He was really lucky to get to work with that client.”

But what are you really saying when you attribute success to luck?

First, there’s the limitation of a superficial perspective. Olympic athletes make running or pole vault look easy, but the ease you’re seeing represents thousands of hours of practice. It’s not luck. Similarly, you might call a colleague lucky if she strikes up a conversation with an airplane seatmate who turns out to be a person of great influence—but what’s not apparent is how hard she worked to overcome shyness and develop great communication skills.

Second, there is often an element of that-should-have-been-me envy, especially if someone else gets a promotion or assignment you think you deserved. It’s a spirit that quickly leads to a sense of personal entitlement and constant dissatisfaction, playing havoc with teamwork and collaboration.

We’re all born with different aptitudes, personalities, skill sets, and in a variety of environments. And external events like airplane seat assignments do sometimes favor one person over others.

But focusing on the role of luck—or chance or fate or favor, or the things you can’t control—leads to a sense of fatalism that amounts to a big shrug. What’s the difference? it says. You’re either going to get ahead or not, no matter how hard you work.

Instead, it’s important to focus on the side of the equation that is within your control—namely, building the best possible background, skill set and reputation for yourself and the team. Here’s what that means:

  • First and foremost, put in the hard work. Prepare. Keep your skills growing and your knowledge of your industry current and sharp. Stay up-to-date on your reading, maintain an active professional network, and show up every day ready to excel.
  • Be intentional and strategic in building on your strengths and shoring up any areas that need development. Assess your own preparation regularly, or enlist a trusted colleague and advise each other on the most important directions for professional growth.
  • If you’re in a leadership position, ensure that everyone on your team has the opportunities they need to stay well-prepared and sharp. Keep an emphasis on collaboration so people can help one another develop professionally.

You can’t control every circumstance or event that will influence your career and organization. What you can do is stay ready to embody the often-cited definition of luck: “Where preparation meets opportunity.”

{Image Credit: Stuart Miles via}

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