Leadership is a fat word. It sounds lofty and reserved for the few and the brave. The word itself is chock-full of various meanings and expectations, and the manifestation of it can be highly visible or understated. 

The good news is, leadership isn’t a birthright. Instead, the act of leadership is a set of skills that can be learned. To be a leader, you simply have to practice the craft of leading, whether that means leading people or ideas or standards.

Our book, I Wish I’d Known This; 6 Career-Accelerating Secrets for Women Leaders, is about how to develop these leadership skills. One chapter is devoted to the skill of preparation and practice, and this is where mastery takes root.

Three ways you can be intentional about growing leadership skills through preparation and practice:

  • Visualize the outcome you want – Be strategic about this. We often hear from women that the primary objective is to get the work done. That’s important. But doing the work is only part of getting the job done. The secret is to first set a strong vision for a desired outcome. See it. Know how to describe it in literal, factual terms. Ask, “If everything went well, what would happen?” 

  • Schedule your prep and practice routines – Laying the groundwork for true influence means carefully rehearsing, making phone calls, scheduling conversations to find out in advance where others stand on key issues that impact decision-making. One woman told us, “If you haven’t done the work ahead of time, it is more likely to go the wrong way.”

  • Hone your point of view – Decide in advance what you believe about a particular issue or strategy, where you might compromise, and where you will not budge. This work includes clarifying your intention, digesting relevant information, creating a compelling message, and knowing your various audiences. Ask, “What impact am I trying to make? What do I want and need from others to make it possible?” Mastering your storyline and clearly articulating your message deserves as much time as you devote to the technical aspects of the work.

Observe people who perform for a living – athletes, actors, musicians. They are relentless about their routines or rehearsals, practicing the fundamentals as well as the complexities. They are crystal clear about the outcome they seek and what specific tasks are required to achieve their goal. That discipline results in performances that can look natural and effortless. Performers know what we want you to know: that practice and preparation are key to maximizing impact, instilling confidence, and being successful.

As professionals on a different type of stage or playing field, our craft should be just as conscious and relentless. 

Winging it is not for great leaders. One woman told us that if it looks smooth and lands well, then most likely it was prepared for and practiced to perfection. It’s true. Someone once said, “The amateur works until they get it right. The professional works until they can’t get it wrong.”

Highly impactful leaders know this. And it shows.

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Brenda Wensil and Kathryn Heath are managing directors at Bravanti. They have coached hundreds of executive women for decades and are the co-authors of I Wish I’d Known This: 6 Career-Accelerating Secrets for Women Leaders.