Homework Ain't Optional

One common trait that is shared among successful people is the discipline by which they prepare. The most effective professionals with whom I meet, almost always come to a meeting having done their homework.

I find it even more impressive when senior managers come to a meeting having read all the materials that were distributed in advance of the meeting. We often assume that senior-level professionals don’t necessarily have the time to prepare, but in actuality it is their preparedness which has granted them a well-deserved position of leadership.

Impactful leaders also have an insatiable curiosity which keeps them on an endless quest for obtaining knowledge and seeking understanding. What I have also found to be a curious trend, is when attending a meeting that includes various levels of staff, those who are the most prepared tend to be the most senior professionals in the room. This further highlights the correlation between doing homework and success and one would be hard pressed to find a consequential leader who doesn’t do their homework.

“Doing your homework” is a broad term which I also use to refer to information sharing. We have gotten lazy and as a result we have developed a bad habit of sharing information without actually reading the content first. My ex-mother-in-law (whom I love, dearly) is a classic example of this as she loves to send me articles on topics which she believes are relevant to my work. Although I always appreciate that I am in her thoughts, I also recognize that her efforts feed her own ego as she boasts to impart knowledge on the “unenlightened.” But this is a dangerous practice and here is how it once played out for her, that should be a lesson for us all.   

One Sunday morning she rang me up as part of her typical weekend routine. She had just seen an article in her bible The New York Times that she insisted I should read. She explained that it was about a woman in New York City who teaches professional women, lawyers, bankers etc. how to shift the power dynamic with men, in a professional work environment. This was clearly a topic of interest to me so I grabbed my Ipad and scrolled through the newspaper searching. “Ah, found it!”

The title was a bit jolting “Here’s How to Deal with Men (Twack!).”  One or two paragraphs in and I picked up on the sadomasochistic epithets. I continued to read in shock and some horror, as I learned that the techniques that this woman was imploring were based on her experiences from a 17 year career as a dominatrix. “Oh, boy,” I sighed and then rolled my eyes with frustration.

Immediately after I finished reading, I phoned my mother-in-law and explained that the article that she smugly thought would school me, found its heroine in the dungeons of New York City, in an industry rooted in sexual deviance and fetishes. When I confronted her it was clear that she didn’t even know what a dominatrix was, which made the whole thing even worse. I obviously scolded her which did absolutely nothing to prevent this behavior from re-occurring. I do however keep this story in mind whenever I even think to share information or articles with friends and colleagues. If I ever am quick to send, I pause and make sure that I read every word. 

Now here is a quip from Seth Godin on this general topic:

Did you do the reading?

It's absurd to think of going to a book group meeting and opining about a book you didn't even read.

A first hurdle: Are you aware of what the reading (your reading) must include? What's on the list? The more professional your field, the more likely it is that people know what's on the list.

The reading isn't merely a book, of course. The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand.

The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.

If you haven't done the reading, why expect to be treated as a professional?