“When we fail to plan, we plan to fail. ”

Planning is a skill I’ve been improving for many years. There’s always room for improvement here.

This article from John Maxwell gives us a good balance of planning, somewhere in between not planning at all (puro impromptu) and scientific planning where each detail is plotted out (too time-consuming and detailed).

Enjoy the article and learn from it as I have!

Principle-centered planning by John Maxwell

This article is used by permission from Leadership Wired, GiANT Impact’s premiere leadership newsletter, available for free subscription at www.giantimpact.com.

IF YOU’VE ever gone whitewater rafting, then you would know the importance of planning. Whenever the raft approaches rapids, the guide has to plan the best route to navigate safely through them. If the guide fails to plan, then the raft can easily smash into a rock or capsize.

Types of planning

Passive planning happens when leadership allows the raft to travel

downstream at the mercy of the current rather than steering, rowing and turning.

This kind of non-planning eventually leaves you unprepared to face the rapids. Worse yet, in the absence of a plan, the current may take the raft over the edge of a waterfall.

Panic planning happens when the raft gets into trouble. At this point, all of the organization’s resources are scrambled in a reactionary pattern in an attempt to solve the problem. With panic planning, you may or may not come out alive and well, but you are guaranteed some bumps and bruises.

Scientific planning is viable, but can be laborious, mechanical and often ends up abandoned in the process. Imagine if a raft guide constantly tried to measure the depth of the water, the distance between rocks, wind speed and water current. Although the information might be helpful, often the water would be moving too swiftly to take measurements. In like manner, leaders often have to respond to change in an instant. There’s no time to collect data on all variables before deciding which course of action is best.

Principle-centered planning is the key to effectiveness. It is the artistic or leadership approach. Principle-centered planning recognizes that life in general (and people in particular) can’t be graphed on a chart, but sees that planning still remains essential.

Why people don’t plan

Here are four reasons why people neglect planning:

They don’t possess planning skills or knowledge. Some people don’t have an innate ability to project themselves into the future. They’ve never been taught to prioritize their day or to prepare for tomorrow.

They believe that they don’t have time. Some people allow themselves to be pulled into the vortex of minutiae. As a consequence, they end up buried under a sea of details and they can’t pull their heads above water long enough to plan.

They don’t like the perceived hassle of planning. Instead of planning one event at a time, they become overwhelmed by the mountain of things to plan.

Many people don’t plan because the outcome varies greatly. “After all,” they say, “when I do make a plan, it normally doesn’t end up happening, so why bother?”

Why planning is essential

We all have desires and dreams, yet we’ll never accomplish our dreams in life just by wanting them bad enough. Planning bridges the gap between our desires and dreams by calling us to action.

As noted by William Danforth: “No plan is worth the paper it is printed on unless it starts you doing something.”

A concrete plan supplies us with tangible steps to take in the direction of our dreams.

Principle-centered planning

Principle-centered planning allows us to be flexible without losing focus. It allows us to be creative without losing concentration.

Planning is the structure. Principle-centered planning is the flesh.

Planning is the roadmap. Principle-centered planning is the movement.

Planning is the idea. Principle-centered planning is the action.

Planning is the paper. Principle-centered planning is the power.


It’s been said, “By failing to plan, you plan to fail.” I agree. People who ignore planning handicap themselves and stifle their effectiveness.

The good news about planning is that it’s a relatively simple discipline. Anyone can do it. No Ph.D. is required to make a solid plan – only a window of uninterrupted time for focused thought.

In the next edition of Leadership Wired, I’ll unwrap seven principles to guide your planning process and help you achieve your dreams.


This article is used by permission from Leadership Wired, GiANT Impact’s premiere leadership newsletter, available for free subscription at www.giantimpact.com. Thanks Chris!

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