Several centuries ago, a Japanese emperor commissioned an artist to paint a bird. A number of months passed, then several years, and still no painting was brought to the palace. Finally, the emperor became so exasperated; he went to the artist’s home to demand an explanation.

Instead of making excuses, the artist placed a blank canvas on the easel. In less than an hour, he completed a painting that was nothing short of brilliant. When the emperor asked the reason for the delay, the artist showed him armloads of drawings of feathers, wings, heads and feet. Then he explained himself. All of this research and study had been necessary before he could complete the painting.

How often do you overlook the time it takes to prepare and to plan anything you accomplish?

Just like the Japanese artist who took years and years to research, study and practice drawing and painting the details of the brilliant bird that eventually resulted on his canvas… any goal, anything worth accomplishing takes planning and preparation.

In today’s warp-speed pace of business, planning and preparing are often the two steps that tend to get short-circuited on the way to achieving your goals. Add to this increasing speed of business the greater complexity of the internal systems, consumer markets, strategic alliances and distribution channels, and it’s easy to see how the need for planning is greater than ever.

In fact, planning is a crucial step in every success and a requirement of all things excellent. Planning is important leadership work because your product is a work of art. British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein was once visited in his studio by the eminent author and fellow Briton, George Bernard Shaw. During their chat, Shaw noticed a huge block of marble standing in one corner and asked what it was for.

“I don’t know yet,” Epstein replied. “I’m still making plans.”

Shaw was astounded. “You mean you plan your work? Why, I change my mind several times a day!”

“That’s all very well when you’re working with a four-ounce manuscript,” replied the sculptor, “but not with a four-ton block of marble.”

Leaders are sculptors.  You may not be shaping marble, but you are shaping something much more important and precious–people’s lives and their livelihoods. Your product cannot be measured in pounds or tons. A leader’s product has immeasurable psychological, emotional and professional weight.

A defining moment for excellent leaders is the day they take time to plan–to chart a course for their teams–versus reacting to daily, tactical demands. It’s in that moment a manager becomes a leader. This defining moment has less to do with an official title than it does with a decision you each make. Seize this moment to plan… and excel.

For more about the 7 Moments that Define Excellent Leaders, read sample pages here.