Ansel Adams was fond of saying, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” a variation of a quote by Louis Pasteur:

“Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés,” or en englais: “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

Pasteur was a microbiologist and the scientist who invented pasteurization (the process that keeps milk and other beverages fresh and tasty). Adams was a photographer who captured images of the American Wilderness in the 20th century.

Both were keen observers of the world around them. But were they observers of the people who surrounded them?

Observing takes time. Becoming a leader requires observation, experience, and time. When we watch, listen, and apply what we learn from leaders we admire, time reveals the value of the insights we glean.

When I graduated from college, I thought I knew it all. 35 years later I’m still learning—with the knowledge, experience, and wisdom that grows over time.

Are you prepared to invest the time it requires to become a wise leader?

The book of Proverbs teaches us that leaders love wisdom, are guided by wisdom, and stay focused on wisdom.

In the language of leadership: Observe to learn, reflect to understand, follow to lead.

I’m often encouraged by Proverbs 4 where the writer of Proverbs speaks of the benefits of being prepared by observing, listening, and practicing the wisdom he teaches his child.

  • “Listen to your father’s discipline, and pay attention in order to gain understanding…”
  • “Acquire understanding with all that you have…”
  • “Listen and accept my words…”
  • “Open your ears to what I say…”
  • “Do not lose sight of these things. Keep them deep within your heart…”
  • “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your sight be focused in front of you.”

These truths are best summarized by this passage:

“Acquire wisdom.
Acquire understanding.
Do not forget. (emphasis mine)
Do not turn away from the words that I have spoken.

Do not abandon wisdom, and it will watch over you.
Love wisdom, and it will protect you.”

— excerpted from Proverbs 4, GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

Observing begins with your eyes and ears. Reflecting engages your mind. Acting upon what you observe and understand into practice calls your heart to action and your soul to commitment.

Three practices with one direction: Love. Follow. Focus.

Over the course of your life, as you explore career and calling, you’ll be attracted to certain leaders and repulsed by others. What makes you want to follow some and run from others? Who inspires you and who demotivates you?

If you could define one key aspect that defines leadership, what would it be?

Leadership is influence.

Who you are as a leader is revealed by your character. Who you become as a leader affects how you value relationships. You can’t afford to get the foundation of your leadership wrong, because your peers and coworkers are observing, learning, and following.

Influential leaders know and practice these six principles:

Purpose Sustains Passion

  • If you are confident in why you are driven to pursue your calling, your passion for it will inspire and compel you to achieve it.
  • Purpose is the foundation for a mission-driven life.
  • It’s your passion that will inspire you to achieve great things, but it’s purpose that sustains you when your passion fades.

Character is the Foundation of Influence

  • You can’t fake character.  Without character, you may be able to create a positive perception for a while; eventually, those around you will see through the facade.
  • Your true character is revealed through your words and actions, and people are always watching and listening.
  • Your character reveals what matters most to you. Your deeply-held beliefs are non-negotiable, the values that flow from them will determine how you treat others.

Words Matter, Words Inspire

  • Guard your tongue because what you say and how you say it reveals your character.
  • Words help leaders cast vision for the promise of the future. Words give life to ideas.
  • The impact of leadership is amplified by words that inspire. People want a cause to believe in, and a leader to follow.
  • Choose your words well, and they will motivate people to follow.

RELATED: The Surprising Truth About Measuring Your Success

Relationships Mirror Influence

  • Your relational network is like a mirror. You’ll see yourself reflected, without bias, in the character and lives of those whom you chose to surround yourself with.
  • Relational bridges are easy to burn and expensive to replace. These begin with your parents and their relational networks and then into your personal network.
  • The next impression you make on an individual is only as good as the last impression you made.

Hustle Powers Passion

  • If you don’t know how to hustle (hard work and perseverance applied over time), you need to learn—now. There’s no room in your life or regard for lack of motivation. Your family, friends, peers, and colleagues are watching.
  • Have a realistic perspective on what “hustle” really means. A hyperactive approach to hustle isn’t sustainable, to maintain your mental and physical health you need to balance hustle with periods of rest.

Mentors Make You a Better Leader

  • Seek out a mentor with 10 to 15 years of experience more than you have to guide you. You won’t get the same depth of wisdom or experience from peers your own age who haven’t experienced enough of life yet.
  • A mentor may be closer than you think. If you’re a young woman who needs a mentor, find one at The Aspire Foundation.  If you’re a young man, try Mentoring.org.

The people you meet today form the relationships that will make a difference in your life tomorrow and beyond. What you learn today is preparing you for challenges and problems you will face tomorrow.

Time not only increases wisdom (if you’re listening, learning, and observing); time adds to the depth and network of relationships.

The opportunities you have now will be dramatically different than those that a combination of time and relationships will present later in life. The key is for you to prepare yourself today for future opportunity, and be prepared now for the opportunities that you encounter today.

Listen. Learn. Observe. And put these things into practice.

Brian Sooy is a design consultant, author, and principal of the marketing agency Aespire. He is the author of the top-rated “Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto,” the EntreWorship® book series, and publisher of EntreWorship.com. Brian draws upon over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, business leader, and strategic advisor to serve business, nonprofit, and ministry leaders who seek purpose, clarity, and solutions to communications challenges.