When I was a young Captain going through the Infantry Officer Advance Course at Fort Benning, we had to do tons of mission planning. I’m talking six months of company-sized planning, planning missions for several hundred people. From there we advanced to battalion and brigade planning, which was much more complex, with thousands of people that we were planning to move around the battlefield.
It was incredibly challenging. Our instructor, Major Blaine, pushed hard and worked us late. He taught us so much about mission analysis, course-of-action development, and this thing that we called ‘Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield.’
Intelligence preparation is the work you do on the front-end before a mission, to really get to know the terrain, the climate, and the enemy—all of the things that you need to be familiar with at a micro level, all the way out to a macro level.
We would spend months preparing to go into a place like Columbia when I was in Special Forces. We would study the terrain, topography, political history, and the media. We would study the industry in that area. From a macro to a micro level, we would work it over and over until we understood the environment that we were going into intimately and we were confident we could operate and navigate in that complex environment.
What if we did that in our businesses? What would that look like? What if we put that kind of emphasis and energy into developing our understanding of the environment, the arena, in which we do business? Intelligence preparation is such an important thing to do because if we know our competition, our client, and ourself, then we maximize our relevance.
What do you do when a new prospect is interested in doing business with you? How much do you really learn about them before meeting them for lunch? Are you going to sit down with them and make small talk? The savvy interpersonal leaders will Google them. But there’s so much more we can do than that to really develop a better understanding of this prospect.
What are their likes and dislikes? Where did they go to school? Are they married? Do they have kids? What are their kids’ names? What are their kids’ ages? Where do their kids go to school? When you dig into this, it allows you to show up at that engagement much more informed about who they are as a person. So now, instead of asking an off-putting question like, “So where are you from?” you can actually ask thoughtful, open-ended questions. Like, “I hope you don’t mind, but, I did some background work on you before I came. I really wanted to know you better. And I noticed that your son plays lacrosse at the University of North Carolina. That’s amazing! We didn’t have lacrosse when I was in high school. What was that like? How did he get into lacrosse? What actually made him go that way?”
Mom or Dad will light up and they’ll start telling you about their son. It’s authentic. It’s thoughtful. You’re accelerating the speed of trust, and you’re speaking to their dreams. You’re speaking to their heart. You’re speaking to a connection point. Isn’t that why you’re in the room in the first place?
When they’ve told you about themselves, and you’ve done some backstory work, and active listening, before you dive in and start speaking, you should always ask permission. “Hey, would it be all right if I told you a little bit about our organization and what we do? And most importantly, how I think we could help meet your goals. Would that be okay?” Ask that permission. You’ve done your homework. You’ve allowed them to talk. You’ve brought the emotional temperature down. Now we ask permission to make the connection. And then speak to their pain, or speak to their dreams.
We are all goal-oriented creatures. We are all driven by resource scarcity or the perception of it. And the more you understand their pain point, the things that keep them up at night, their goals, and the things they dream about, the more relevant you will be in their life and business. Because at the end of the day, leadership is about being the most relevant person in the room. Relevant enough to address the pain points and dreams of the people you serve. And the only way to do that is to do intelligence preparation before you go in.
If you want to be free in the moment, to ‘wing it’, as so many people say, do your homework first. Know the person across from you. Know the arena. Then you’re free to make connections at the deepest level.
Do your intelligence preparation. Know your client. Know your people. Know your arena. I’ll see you on the Rooftop.
Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit RooftopLeadership.com